An Exceptional Day in Gion

Two Girls in Gion Coloured pencil drawing, 2007.

Two Girls in Gion
Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki, 2007.

On Saturday 29th September 2007 Lucy (youngest daughter) and I took the train from Kobe to Kyoto for an afternoon visit where we hoped, as always, to see maiko and geiko to photograph.  Matthew (husband) and Alicia (middle daughter), who were not so enthralled at such a prospect, went shopping in Osaka instead.   As Lucy and I glided towards Kyoto on the Nozomi Super-Express, we could not imagine what riches Kyoto had in store for us that day.

Travel finished (train and taxi), we set ourselves up outside Ichiriki tea-house in Gion.   We didn’t have to wait long before a businesslike young maiko (Katsuyuki) rushed past.  The drawing at the top of the page is a record of this encounter.  Soon afterwards we saw a young lady in a kimono (not a maiko or geiko) being photographed at the entrance to Ichiriki tea house.  I took photos but didn’t think I would draw her because she wasn’t a maiko.   However a few months later I changed my mind.   I called the drawing “Kyoto Chic”.

Kyoto Chic Coloured pencil drawing, 2008.

Kyoto Chic
Coloured pencil drawing, 2008.

While the young lady in the kimono was being photographed, the first maiko I had seen (Katsuyuki)  returned and chatted to her.  The pair were soon joined by a second maiko.  It was hard to get photos because suddenly there was a crowd of people also trying to photograph the fabulously-attired threesome.   “The Feminine Mystique” is my drawing of the second maiko (Mameyuri) as she posed with and talked to her colleagues.

The Feminine Mystique 2008 Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri.

The Feminine Mystique
2008 Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri.

Lucy and I were ecstatic.  We were getting good photos and having a wonderful time.  Eventually the three girls wandered away.  We stayed in the area for a while longer but then decided to meander north up Hanamikoji dori to the Shirakawa stream which is another area in Gion where one may encounter maiko and geiko.  With its weeping willows and historic wooden buildings, it is a charming part of Kyoto.

Can you believe how our eyes widened (and jaws dropped) as we saw that Katsuyuki and Mameyuri were having a photoshoot at the Shirakawa stream!!!  This was manna from heaven.  For the next hour or so Lucy and I put on our invisible cloaks; that is, we tried not to get in the way or be noticed.   We stayed with the small group of photographers who had undoubtedly paid a handsome sum to have this session with the two maiko.  If they had asked us to leave we would have but nobody seemed to mind two interlopers.   I wanted material for new drawings hence I was determined to stay as long as I could.  You see, usually one has seconds to grab a photo of a passing maiko or geiko.  Imagine having as long as you want while two maiko parade and pose amongst Kyoto’s most beautiful scenery.

Now I will show you the rest of the drawings I made from this window of opportunity.

Les Papillons Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008

Les Papillons
Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008

Gift Wrapped Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008.

Gift Wrapped
Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008.  This is a favourite of mine.

La Belle Epoque Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki, 2010

La Belle Epoque
Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki, 2010

Mameyuri-san Coloured pencil drawing, 2013.

Coloured pencil drawing, 2013.

Kyoto a la Mode Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki and Mameyuri.

Kyoto à la Mode
Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki and Mameyuri. 2010  My daugher, Lucy, took the photo for this drawing.

Some time later in the day after the photoshoot was finished, Katsuyuki walked past us again.  This time she didn’t look stern like the first time we saw her hours earlier.  She acknowledged us with a polite nod.  We called out our heartfelt thanks.  I thought of all the drawings to follow…

If you look at the dates of the drawings, you can see that I have drawn them over several years.  The drawing “Mameyuri-san” was only done last year.  Eight drawings from one afternoon is incredible.  It wasn’t until I got back to Australia and did some research on the internet that I found the names of the two maiko, Katsuyuki and Mameyuri.  Because I drew them so many times, I was interested in following their careers as maiko and then geiko.  Both became geiko eventually, however both have since retired and moved on to different lives.

In the following 15 months after our exceptional day in Gion, our family had some challenging health problems filled with medical procedures, operations and recuperations.  Working on the 2007/8 drawings gave me tremendous comfort during these months.  A point that I haven’t made in my posts before is that drawing can be calming and therapeutic when other parts of life resemble an out-of-control roller coaster ride.  Katsuyuki and Mameyuri, thank you for your serenity and grace.  Drawing you both has been pure joy.

Update: May 2016.  I have made two more drawings from this photo session.  These are from photos which Lucy took.  Even though they are blurry (especially the first one) I like them very much and they have made lovely small drawings.

"Ephemeron" (Mameyuri) 170 x 260 mm May 2016

“Ephemeron” (Mameyuri)
170 x 260 mm
May 2016

"Ephemera" Mameyuri and Katsuyuki 170 x 260 mm May 2016

Mameyuri and Katsuyuki
170 x 260 mm
May 2016

Related page:  Subject 2: Geisha   Related post:  Ephemeron and Ephemera

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15 thoughts on “An Exceptional Day in Gion

  1. Barbara moore

    The artwork stemming from your fabulous encounter with the subjects is outstanding, both in execution and content.. I can well imagine your excitement at having this rare photographic opportunity. My visit to Gion in 2008 resulted in just a brief glimpse of a Meiko quick stepping down a busy lane at dusk… No chance of a photo! Oh the disappointment…

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Barbara, unless you are just dead lucky, it takes a great deal of time to properly see maiko and geiko. I have spent hours and hours and hours waiting in various parts of Kyoto to see/photograph them over the years. I think it must be like bird watching or other wildlife watching. Patience without bounds is required. Oh the times that I have been thoroughly worn out by standing for too long. There are too many to even remember!

  2. anna warren portfolio

    Japan is deeply in your psyche now isn’t it? You can see how much it means to you in each image, the delicacy of touch and richness of colour. I think you will keep going back and absorbing more every time. I can imagine the excitement you felt that day, it was such a gift to not once but twice get the opportunity for so many pictures. And they are so timeless, no wonder you can keep coming back to them. Being able to immerse yourself in them would surely take you away from all the health issues you were dealing with at the time. These images make a wonderful set, even though they are in new homes, widely scattered now I imagine. I especially like ‘Gift Wrapped’ too, there is something about the intricacy of the fabrics mingling together, almost abstract.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Anna, you are right. Whatever else I draw, every so often I have to return to my Kyoto subject matter. I have said before that I can’t just turn up at a place and start to draw it. I need possibly several trips before I become attuned but this didn’t happen with Japan. I wanted to make drawings of what I saw from my very first trip; from day two. It hit me with such force…and the love for it has not gone away. The drawings are widely scattered as you say. Only the top one “Two Girls in Gion” is still at home. Most of the others are in Perth homes but “The Feminine Mystique” is in Kurashiki, Japan.

  3. Lissa Rachelle

    What a beautiful post, Julie. As others have said, your love for Japan, and especially for the maiko and geiko, shines through your words. Your thrill and excitement with that day’s shooting opportunities is obvious, even all these many years later. And the drawings themselves are just stunning!! It’s hard to pick a favourite…though If I force myself too, I think Kyoto à la Mode would have to be it. Not sure why…I think it’s the movement in the piece. I can literally feel the almost imperceptible elegant sway in their walk. Always such a pleasure to read your posts and see a place I have never been, through your eyes 🙂

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Lissa, what thoughtful words. Actually, when I posted yesterday, a friend from Sydney rang to ask me if Kyoto à la Mode was available. I had to tell him that it sold in 2010. It is one of my favourite drawings too. And that one wasn’t from my own photo but my daughter’s. (She got a cut of the selling price!) I felt I could use the photo since we were both there and both experiencing the same thing simultaneously.

  4. mousy

    Your work is amazing, so full of life! The maikos expressions, the kimonos and obis, are wonderfully drawn!

  5. occasionalartist

    So lovely to see so many of your Geisha pictures together and hear about such a miraculous day. My favourite is The Feminine Mystique, the profile is a great angle and her expression though reserved seems softer and less formal. Isn’t art fabulous, when making it you not only are challenged by composition, technique and materials that keep you thinking, you (hopefully), get a tangible result, but the process of making is so therapeutic and calming, it really gives back so much. Karen

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Karen, some of the expressions of my maiko were rather severe. I agree about ‘The Feminine Mystique’ being softer than some of the others. When maiko and geiko walk by themselves they often wear a particularly severe expression. I think that comes from being stared at and photographed every time they step outside. Sometimes when they see a lens they purposely close their eyes to ruin the shot. Passive protest – and who can blame them?!

  6. Robyn Varpins

    WOW, WOW, Oh!….”Gift Wrapped” is my favorite, but all together they are a symphony! it is better than real life as you can focus on all the beauty that is caught in the camera. the volume and textures and colours and patterns…..and then together they make a story.


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