Although Miyako Odori begins April 1 and Kyo Odori begins April 6 this year, the geisha and maiko of Gion Kobu and Miyagawa-cho start selling tickets to their customers and teahouses in February. As with most things in Kyoto’s hanamachi, the selling is done softly and subtly.
The geiko and maiko let you know they would like you to purchase tickets from them by giving you the pamphlet for that year’s odori wrapped in white paper. On the white paper they have personally written your name, their name, and the name of the dance.
It has been interesting for me to see how my status has risen through the years. I think the first few times I received a pamphlet, my name was not written on the white paper at all. Then one year, “John-san” was written in katakana (the Japanese script for foreign words in Japanese). Now my name is written “John-o-danna-sama” in katakana and kanji. When I first received this new type, I couldn’t read the kanji. The ochaya-san (who does not speak English) said it was like saying “John-master-sir!” in English. In other words, it is the most polite and formal way a customer can be greeted.
It is also interesting how the geiko and maiko coordinate the giving of these pamphlets. Although I am usually photographing between 3 and 6 geiko and maiko at a time in Gion Kobu, I never receive more than 3 pamphlets a year, and I receive pamphlets from different women each year. However, if I am photographing two geiko or maiko from the same okiya, I always get the pamphlet from the senior geiko or maiko. The pecking order is always observed.
Many times, I receive the pamphlet from the ochaya-san when I go for a drink. The geiko or maiko leave the pamphlets at the ochaya for whatever customers they know at that ochaya, and then the ochaya-san distributes them. This year I had several photo sessions in February, so I received pamphlets directly from maiko and geiko.
When I decide how many tickets I want and from whom I want to purchase them, I tell the ochaya-san, the ochaya-san calls the geiko or maiko’s okiya, and the tickets are delivered to the ochaya for me to pick up a few days before the dance. I decide which days I want to go by looking inside the pamphlet where the names of all the geiko and maiko performing on a certain series of days are listed.
Since this is all in Japanese and the names of many geiko and maiko contain similar kanji, it is often hard for me to read. That’s why I was very relieved when I opened up the pamphlet given to me by the maiko Toshikana of Miyagawa-cho this year. She had kindly put a red dot above her name each time she was performing, so it was easy for me to choose the days I wanted to go.
Until this year, I thought geiko and maiko tried to sell tickets only to their customers, but they also give the pamphlets to the owners of ochaya as well. Several times in February while I was setting up for a photo session I would hear a geiko or maiko enter the ochaya downstairs, greet the okamisan, and hand her a pamphlet.
The ochaya-san sell their own tickets as well, so I don’t know if they buy from the geiko or maiko or not. Probably not, but when you have several hundred tickets to sell, I guess it pays to cover all the bases you can…