The maiko Mameharu emerges from a teahouse during Shigyoshiki, an event held every year on January 7 in Kyoto. I started photographing Mameharu last year, and she is very easy to photograph, not unlike the geisha Kimina from Miyagawa-cho who appeared in my book Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto: Beauty, Art, & Dance. Both are very relaxed in front of the camera and are quick to smile and laugh, qualities I often look for in the women I photograph.
I go through a fairly involved process before I choose a new maiko to photograph, but it often comes down to my gut feeling about them. I also let serendipity play a part. I started photographing Satomi, Yukako, and Makiko because they were the people I encountered the most in my early days in Gion and thus became the women I was most friendly with. I chose Kimina because she was one of the few geiko I got to thank in person for appearing in my first book, One Hundred Views of Maiko and Geiko. She just happend to be at the ochaya when I visited, and I was struck by her immediately.
When I was looking for a new maiko to photograph early last year, I had narrowed my choice down to Mameharu and one other. I was thinking about it one evening when I turned on the television. There was a documentary about maiko on, and Mameharu was the first maiko I saw on the screen. Choice made.
I’m not at all superstitious, but I do believe we encounter certain people at certain times in our lives, and these people can sometimes change the course of our lives, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. A good friend of mine refers to this as serendipity. I don’t really have a name for it, but I believe it exists.
Just yesterday might have been another example. There was a Japanese percussion recital (ohayashi) at the Yasaka Club in the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo, and maiko and geiko were performing with other musicians. There was no dancing involved, just percussion instruments like the taiko and tsuzumi. During the performance two young maiko sat down in front of me. I didn’t notice them at first, but then I realized that one of the young women was particularly photogenic. Unfortunately, I had no idea who she was, and the concert wasn’t really the appropriate place to ask her name.
After the concert, I stopped by the Starbucks in Gion to get a cup of coffee. As I was about to leave, two maiko walked in. Who? The very same maiko who had been sitting in front of me at the concert about an hour before and whose name I wanted to know. I don’t usually approach maiko I don’t know unless I am with someone who already knows them, but I figured that this was a bit more than coincidence. I went up to the maiko, explained that I had been sitting behind them at the concert, and just wanted to know their names. They told me, I thanked them, and I left. The maiko is relatively new at the moment, so I don’t know if I’ll start photographing her soon. But the next time I need a new maiko to photograph, I know who I am going to ask.
By the way, the only other time I have met maiko in that Starbucks in Gion was back in December of 2006. I had just finished my visits to ochaya and okiya to thank all the maiko and geiko who had appeared in my first book. (As I wrote earlier, this is how I met Kimina). Who were right in front of me on line? Yukako and Makiko. They both thanked me for the book (unlike Kimina, they had not been home when I visited their okiya), and I told them that I was planning on doing another book, and I wanted both of them to appear in it. They both said yes on the spot, and I was photographing them a little more than a month later for Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto.
Call it serendipity or luck or karma or coincidence, I don’t care. Whatever it is, I’m glad it has happened to me when I needed it to, especially in Gion Kobu and Miyagawa-cho.