Monthly Archives: July 2014

Smile, you’re on candid camera

I was in this carriage. No I wasn't. This was a poster I saw in Miyagawacho. But all the rest of the photos are real.

I was in this carriage.
No I wasn’t. This was a poster I saw in Miyagawacho. But all the rest of the photos are real.

When I go to Kyoto I spend an inordinate amount of time in the streets photographing maiko and geiko.  This post shows thirteen of my favourite ‘candid camera’ photos from my last trip in July 2014.  No doubt some drawings will come from these photos in the next couple of years.  As always, click on each photo if you’d like to enlarge it.



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The last photo shows the scary doorman at Ichiriki Teahouse.  He always reminds me of Bill Murray (Japanese version).    He does not suffer inquisitive tourists gladly.

By the end of every trip I don’t care whether I never see another maiko or geiko again.  I don’t mean what I say of course.  But this business of hanging out on streets is very tiring!  The things I do for art.


postscript:  Here are a few more you might like…added 24 hours after the ones above…






All identifications most welcome.

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Enfolded Coloured pencil drawing, 335 x 400 mm. July 2014.

Coloured pencil drawing, 335 x 400 mm. July 2014.

The geiko, swathed in fine cloth, passes beneath coarse fabric panels.  She is about to disappear behind the noren curtain into Ichiriki, Kyoto’s most famous teahouse (though it has little to do with tea).

An international and insatiable public is gathered outside Ichiriki to see maiko and geiko.  After a long empty wait, all of a sudden a harried geiko walks into the fray.  The ungracious crowd exclaims and surges forward.  Grim expression on her face, she casts her eyes down, mentally blocking out cameras flashing furiously upon her person.   People jostle as they vie with one another to capture this unique Japanese curiosity.  She hastens forward.   The noren curtain enfolds her, pulling her into the inner sanctum.

A great divide can be as solid as the Rocky Mountains or the Southern Alps.  Or it can be as insubstantial and fluid as panels of fabric wafting in the breeze.  Through this floating fabric nobody uninvited may pass.  Keep Out.  Inside the courtyard oasis she lifts her eyes, breathes out and gathers herself into the charming witty hostess she has come here to be.

An unusual way of saying KEEP OUT seen outside another of the Gion establishments. I liked it so much that I photographed it, printed it and put it on my bedroom door.

An unusual way of saying KEEP OUT –  seen outside another  Gion establishment. I liked it so much that I photographed it, printed it and stuck it to the outside of my bedroom door.

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Sleepless in Kyoto


I woke at 2.30 on Sunday morning having passed out with exhaustion early the previous evening.  Around midnight there had been a thunderstorm but it was no longer raining.  I was sure I wouldn’t return to sleep so decided to get up and walk.   I was out with my camera at 3.15 knowing that it would be light in about an hour.



How tropical it was.  The lens of my camera steamed up when I took my first photos of the night/morning, creating digital haloes around the lamps.  It was quiet but not completely empty in the Gion streets.  I never felt the slightest bit unsafe.  This was Kyoto.


I wandered across to Pontocho and slowly walked its length, marvelling all the while at the lights reflecting and glowing in the wet pavement.  I knew that I was capturing what I would later turn into drawings.  And I will…



Around 4 a m the sky got a little lighter.  (Can you find the cat in the photo above?)  I meandered back to Shinbashi, buying a roll and an iced coffee on the way to fully wake myself up.



Can you imagine the reverie I was in, alone in Kyoto with my thoughts and the beauty all around?  It still makes me swoon to think about.  After observing the streets transform in the increasing light I walked up to the nearby eastern hills; Higashiyama.


At 4.45 the birds were awake and singing.  In the distance I could hear the low powerful thrum of a temple gong being struck at intervals – reverberating with satisfaction.  Close up, summer flowers glistened from the previous night’s rain.  The senses were inspired; sound, sight – and smell – the latter from the flowers’ scents plus lingering incense from the (still-closed) shops.




I walked, stopped, composed…on and on.  By now it was thoroughly light though not even 6 a.m.  Higashiyama was all spirit and soul.  The tourists were still asleep.  Just the odd local walked his dog, “Ohayo gozaimasu”.  But mostly, it was just me.


I took my portrait in front of the ‘Blue Stocking’ dress shop.  No; I didn’t even notice my reflection in this photo (below) until today.  I took the photo originally because I was fascinated with the conservative frocks on display.  They reminded me of the 1950s.


Around 7.30 a.m, with full heart but empty stomach, I returned to my hotel for breakfast.  Then I went straight out and caught the subway to the botanical gardens in the north of Kyoto…but that is another story.

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PS: To really appreciate the Kyoto morning, please click on photos to enlarge them.






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A few weeks ago when I wrote that I was planning a trip to Kyoto, my good friend Atsushi-san invited me to an ozashiki.  Who would not jump at such an invitation?  I wrote back “YES PLEASE!”  On 27th June at the appointed time and place we met and walked to the ochaya (traditional teahouse) where the ozashiki was to be.  I was introduced to the owners of the establishment, Master and Okaasan, who are warm-hearted lovely people.  Soon after, Satsuki-san entered the room.   If she looks amazing in photos, she is even more beautiful in real life.  Her glow lights up the room.

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I had found a funny little person at Perth Airport called “Koala-Mate”.  If you spoke to him, he repeated what you said – but in a high-pitched voice.  Needless to say, he was a big hit.  Satsuki-san could hit a high note but Koala-Mate talked back even higher.

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After chatting for a while (and drinking sake) it was time to go upstairs to see dancing.  At this stage our second maiko companion arrived; effervescent and exquisite Chiyoko-san.  The two elegant maiko danced a summer dance about fireflies.  They danced to the accompaniment of shamisen played soulfully by Mameyoshi-san.

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While an ozashiki is relaxed and joyful, the dance is performed with utmost respect.  This is high art and one feels privileged to be watching.   So much grace – it is enough to bring a tear to one’s eye – (and it did).


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After the dancing there was plenty of time for photos before we all descended back downstairs to the bar for more refreshments and merriment.

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Isn’t Chiyoko-san gorgeous!?  I noticed the circular window behind her and asked her to pose for photos.  I was mentally composing how she would look in this harmonious setting.  The little horse on the right reminds us that 2014 is the ‘Year of the Horse’.

How do I feel now that I am back in Australia?  I feel that I visited an ‘other’ world; a world as magic as those created by, say, Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, P.L Travers or Hayao Miyazaki.  I am still under the influence of the enchantment.

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Will any drawings come out of this night?  YOU BET!

Thank you, Atsushi-san.

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