February 25th is Baikasai: Plum Viewing Festival.  It is held at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. In this ceremony for the masses, maiko and geiko from Kamishichiken prepare and serve green tea.   I am reminded of the Bible story of the loaves and fishes.  There are so many people that I think the maiko and geiko might be serving tea and cake until the moon is full (March 5th).


I had the presence of mind to turn up an hour before the ceremony was due to begin. Therefore I only had to queue for one hour.   I wasn’t sure what to expect or whether I would have an opportunity to capture photos.

Leaflets were handed out asking that we respect our hostesses and take photos with discretion.  It was written in Japanese however a nice man explained the gist of it to me.

The queue was divided into two: those who chose to sit in chairs and those who wanted to kneel on the floor.  I chose the kneeling queue.  Why?  Because the instructions were spoken in Japanese so I didn’t understand.  When I realised I would have to kneel for 15 or so minutes I didn’t know if I would be able to sustain that position.  However when my turn came to kneel for the ceremony I was so engrossed that I didn’t mind the ebbing away of circulation behind the knees.

Here are a few images from inside the marquee from my kneeling position.








I love bitter frothy green tea taken with sweet bean-paste cake.  Delicious!


Even though the event was not unlike a factory production line  (maiko, geiko and plum blossom for 3000 people) I found it enjoyable.  I had come with a completely open mind and I was not disappointed.  When it was time for me to unravel my legs and rise, they were somewhat dead.  I tried not to show it.  With concentrated pretence at composure I pushed my feet back into my shoes and stumbled off to view the ornamental plum trees.



You can see who is who in the comments section.  My friend, Stéphanie, identified them all.  (And thank you to Justine who also identified them in a private message to me.)


13 thoughts on “Baikasai

  1. stefan2009

    I wonder how was the sound atmosphere despite the crowd.
    I have always imagined that it is necessarily a peaceful one to drink tea served by lovely maiko and geiko but I guess I’m far from the truth.

    To help you to identify :
    -Umechô :

    -Naosuzu :
    Ichitaka :

    -Ichiteru :

    -Ichimomo :

    -Katsune :

    -From left to right : Ichimari, Ichitaka, Katsuya (light blue), Naosome (purple), Ichiteru, minarai Naokinu, Ichitomo (green kimono & black obi), Ichimomo

      1. juliepodstolski Post author

        Terrific, Stéphanie. Justine also sent me the list in a message. Thank you both for going to the trouble to identify for me.
        I wanted to describe the crowds because you are correct, if you weren’t there you might think (from looking at people’s photos on-line) that it was tranquil and quiet. Photographers always try to take photos of maiko and geiko without OTHER people in – but believe me, OTHER people were there.

  2. occasionalartist

    Lovely Julie, what an amazing experience. I also loved the Geiko behind the blossom, but all great photos. Glad you were able to maintain your kneeling position, you kept ‘face’ for all us westerners. Karen

  3. Tig

    Thank you. One day I’d love to go back to Japan as an adult. Meanwhile I’m gathering information on what, where and when should be on the list via your posts. This looks amazing but as mentioned, it must’ve been quite different in reality. Not sure I could take the crowds and noise. Looks like lots of drawing material though. The visual images are stunning 🙂

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      I don’t like crowds but Japanese crowds are extremely orderly and patient. To go to something like this, one knows there are going to be a LOT of people. You just have to shift your mind into the right gear to deal with it. The atmosphere was a happy one.

  4. anna warren portfolio

    Another insight into the traditional Japanese way of life. Not sure I would have been as patient as you with the crowds, even if they were orderly and calm, but I expect for you the occasion outweighed all discomforts. I particularly like the photo of Ichimomo, interesting shapes and relationships of forms.


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