Last weekend I interviewed Kojima-san, an otokoshi in Gion Kobu pictured here with the geisha Mameharu, about his work with geiko and maiko. I have photographed him several times over the years on the day of a geiko’s erikae, but this year I have had the good fortune to photograph him inside an okiya twice, the first time during Mameharu’s erikae and the second time on one of the last days that the geiko Mamehana ever wore oshiroi and a katsura.
Most of our talk was about the photographs of him with Mameharu and Mamehana, but I also asked him about his career and life in the hanamachi in general. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what an otokoshi does before our interview, but I found out right away that I had several misconceptions about the job.
Almost the first thing Kojima-san said was that although he does help geiko and maiko dress every day, that is not really the main part of his job. His biggest responsibility is making sure that a geiko or maiko’s accoutrements are returned safely to her home after a banquet or dance performance. He mentioned that he is particularly busy during Miyako Odori because maiko and geiko go directly from the theater to their evening’s engagements. As a result, he has to make sure that anything the women leave at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo gets returned safely to them.
I was also very surprised to learn that the most difficult women for him to help dress are not the newest and youngest maiko with little or no experience wearing kimono. He has the most challenging time with senior geiko because they each have very specific demands and preferences. For instance, he is expected to know exactly where each one likes their obi to be positioned, and if he is off by even one centimeter they realize it and let him know about it!
I was able to ask Kojima-san several of the questions readers submitted to me. He said that even though he does dress a maiko for several years before her erikae, the day is not an emotional experience for him. He only needs five minutes to help a geiko or maiko get dressed, so there is not very much interaction between them.
As I’ve already mentioned, he does dress geiko and maiko during Miyako Odori, but it isn’t really different from any other day except for the fact he has more things to transport for them. (He is responsible for helping about 25 geiko and maiko). He said the biggest difference between the day of a maiko’s omisedashi or geiko’s erikae is that it takes him about 15 minutes to dress them on these days instead of the usual 5 minutes.
Finally and sadly, he said that the biggest change he has seen in his over 20 years in Gion Kobu is that ochaya are not doing as well as they used to, which does not bode well for the future of geiko, maiko, and the people whose jobs it is to support them. Hopefully this will be a trend that does not continue.