The geisha Takamaru prepares the implements used in the tea ceremony before the very first show of the Miyako Odori on April 1, 2012. Takamaru was one of the first geiko I met in Gion Kobu, and she will soon be retiring from her career as a geiko. The first time I remember seeing her was at Koto Hajime in 2003.
In those days, Takamaru often attended events with Satomi, the only geiko I knew slightly at the time. I was very disappointed at my first Koto Hajime (an event held every December 13 in Gion Kobu) because most of the geiko were not wearing their oshiroi makeup and katsura (wigs). I felt it was an invasion of their privacy to photograph them without the accoutrements of their profession, so I mainly just stood in the background and watched groups of geiko and maiko pass by.
The hundreds of other photographers there that day apparently did not feel the same way as I, and they would swarm around any geiko or maiko that came near. Satomi and Takamaru made their way through one such swarm, and I was standing a short distance away when they came out of it. Satomi greeted me, which made Takamaru give me a second look. It’s pretty rare for a geiko to talk to anyone on the streets at one of these big events, and Takamaru probably picked up on that. I just waved to them, and they went on their way. Whenever I saw Takamaru after that, she remembered who I was and would occasionally pose for me. One of those portraits is included in my first book, One Hundred Views of Maiko and Geiko.
I’ve gotten to know Takamaru more in recent years, especially since I started photographing Takahina, who is from the same okiya as Takamaru. “Cool” is not a word I use very often. It has been overused to death and has lost much of its original meaning. When I think of cool, I think of James Dean, the Fonz, and Steve McQueen. Without a doubt, Takamaru is the coolest geiko I have met. I don’t know of anyone else who would even think of wearing a snakeskin-pattern kimono to Miyako Odori. That is cool. I’ll miss you, Takamaru, even though I know you are not going very far.