Art journal extract: 13 January 2011. “A couple of days ago I did something really crazy. I booked a trip to Kyoto, leaving in just over a fortnight from now, to see Katsuyuki’s erikae. [An erikae is the day when a maiko becomes a geiko or geisha.] Has anybody ever travelled from Australia to Kyoto just to see an erikae – especially when one is just an anonymous street photographer like me? Matthew told me I could use frequent flyer points. Lucy was encouraging me to go. When I wrote to Alicia she replied that for Katsuyuki she would expect nothing less than a trip to Kyoto. So in the end I just booked it.”
30th January 2011: “What a luxury! It is 4.30 pm and I am airborne, having just flown out of Perth on SQ226 to Singapore. I wrote a quick email to L [my New York friend] earlier in the day to tell her I was leaving. She sent me a photo of the exact okiya [maiko/geiko house] which Katsuyuki will exit from. She said that I should be there from 10.30am and that I would see many other maiko and geiko going to pay their respects. I wrote a card to M [my Kyoto friend] to thank him for his help and bought him a small present from Perth airport.”
31 January 2011: “I saw Katsuyuki and she looked exquisite in sakkou [the outfit a maiko wears in the weeks and days BEFORE she becomes a geiko] but the photos I took were awful. Some were blurred and in ALL the light was wrong. I didn’t have any time to get the exposures right so I just shot and hoped. What a disappointment! I DID so want to take good photos of Katsuyuki. Of course I’ll have lots more chances tomorrow.”
2nd February 2011: “KATSUYUKI’S ERIKAE! I was one of the first photographers to wait outside Katsuyuki’s okiya. I was there at 10 which is ridiculous but I didn’t have anything better to do. Got some good shots of various maiko while I waited. An enormous number of photographers showed up. Eventually M [my friend] turned up too and we exchanged news. When Katsuyuki finally showed, she was worth waiting for. She was magnificent; she looked regal and beautiful. She was marvellously relaxed, glowing with quiet confidence. Her otokoshi* [the person who accompanies her on the walk around Gion] was entertaining and humorous. We all followed them around for about two exhausting hours. Of course in that time I got terrific photos.”
3rd February 2011: [The second day of the erikae; the new geiko, Katsuyuki, walks around Gion paying respects to her community while wearing a different kimono from the previous day.] “Katsuyuki appeared today in a powder blue kimono ensemble. There were not nearly so many photographers as yesterday so it felt quite intimate and relaxed. I felt, being part of a small group, that we were somehow supporters of Katsuyuki. She was asked to pose near Shimbashi. I was standing slightly away from the photographic group at this point. Katsuyuki was smiling at the main group. Then a kind man suggested she look at me. So she turned and gave me a lovely smile. I took a photo.” (next image)
4th February 2011: “The journey home has begun. I am sitting on Haruka no 5 [the Kansai Airport Express train] with ten minutes until departure. Two words describe this short February trip to Kyoto: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. I am determined to do a drawing of Katsuyuki. My cup runneth over. Whatever vessel inside me needed filling up, it certainly has reached capacity now. I don’t think I’ll be able to remove Japan from my heart. It is stuck there.”
Back to the present: I drew Katsuyuki in her powder blue kimono in September 2013. The post I wrote about that drawing is called “Observation“. I have finally drawn her (May 2014) wearing the formal black kimono which she wore on the day of her 2011 erikae. It is over three years since that trip but time doesn’t matter. A drawing is born when it is ready to be, even if it is long after the original photo was taken.
Would I ever go to Kyoto just to see another erikae? Yes. I would go for Satsuki. So if anybody finds out when her erikae will be, please let me know!
*The same otokoshi who accompanied Katsuyuki also supported Kiyono during her misedashi (first day as a maiko). You will find him in my post A Girl’s Best Friend.
Note: In last week’s post “An Exceptional Day in Gion” you can see some of my older drawings of Katsuyuki when she was a maiko. Notice how different her hairstyle was in those maiko drawings from these geiko drawings. A maiko has her own hair styled but a geiko wears a wig (called a katsura). A katsura is liberating for a geiko for she does not have to keep her own hair in perfect maiko style 24/7 any more…(though it must be hot to wear in summer)!
A very good site for learning all about maiko and geiko is http://www.lizadalby.com
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