One of the key moments in a geisha’s debut is when her katsura (wig of human hair) is placed on her head. Once it has been fitted, the young woman can study herself in the mirror and see how she looks.
All of a sudden, there is a geiko staring back at her.
I still remember Mameharu’s reaction quite vividly even though it happened exactly six years and 3 days ago.
Yasutomo Imanishi of Kyo Katsura Imanishi came to the Tama okiya by himself that morning (May 24, 2012). Since Mameharu’s erikae was my first, I didn’t realize that this was unusual.
Most of the time, Yasutomo and his father Yasuo (the founder of the family business) come to an erikae together. Yasuo did come to check on Mameharu’s katsura a bit later, but he had to assist another new geiko, Ichiwaka, first. Ichiwaka was also having her debut that day, so father and son had to split up to handle both.
Yasutomo and Mameharu were laughing and joking as he prepared to place the katsura on her head. He slipped it on in a few seconds, and I remember being surprised at how flexible the katsura was as he held it in his hands. I thought a katsura would be quite stiff, but it reminded me of a rubbery Halloween mask.
Yasutomo moved out the way and reached for the combs he would soon be placing in Mameharu’s katsura. Mameharu stared at her reflection in the mirror. And kept staring. And staring.
I wanted to whisper, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall – who’s the fairest of them all?” But I wisely kept my mouth shut.
Too Many Cooks…
I think Mameharu stared a little too long, because she was soon asking if her katsura was on perfectly straight. First she asked Imanishi-san, and then her okasan, standing behind her in the photo posted here, came to look.
Then Mameharu’s onesan, Mamesuzu, also wanted to see. At one point Mameharu even turned to her family members and the other geiko and maiko in the room to see what they thought.
I was full of clichès that morning, so at this point I was tempted to say, “Too many cooks spoil the soup!” Again, I wisely stayed silent.
It took about 10 minutes to reach the conclusion that the katsura was indeed on perfectly straight. There was a lot of laughter and speculation, so it wasn’t really a serious problem. Mameharu just wanted to be certain everything was perfect, and it was.
When I interviewed her about six months later for Now a Geisha, I asked her what she remembered most about the day of her erikae. She told me, “I will remember the first moment I wore a wig. It took a while, and it was hard to get used to wearing it.”
“If it isn’t one thing…”
Looking back, it’s interesting for me to see that there was some little hitch in all three erikae I photographed. For Mameharu, it was getting used to her wig. For Manaha, it took longer to have her collar sewn to her kimono. For Momifuku, it took two attempts to get her under kimono on properly.
“It’s always something! If it isn’t one thing, it’s another,” Gilda Radner used to say way, way back on Saturday Night Live.
I miss Gildna Radner, who’s no longer with us, and Mameharu, who still is, just not in Kyoto as a geiko anymore.
I’m glad Mameharu let me come along for the ride, and now you have come along, too, if you’ve made it this far!
See you next month!