Japan has many interesting customs, taking shoes off when entering a house, not shaking hands, bowing 45 degrees when showing respect, making a slurping sound when eating noodles, and many more. But none of these compare or are as interesting as the Geisha. For those that are unfamiliar with this term, Geisha is the traditional Japanese female entertainers of men. In America (and in movies) the term Geisha has been connoted to be sexual in nature. In Japan, it is farthest from the truth. Geishas are highly respected artists, entertainers, and party hosts. We are in Kyoto and in Kyoto, the Geisha are called Geiko. We met up with a Geiko and a Maiko (a Geiko in training) for a visit.
This is where our story begins.
Our Geiko is named Kana while our Maiko is named Naho. They began our visit with a traditional dance, both beautiful and subtle.
Then the real fun began. They introduced us to a traditional drinking game called Konpira. The rules are quite simple. The two players face each other and alternate touching the box between them. If the box is on the table when it is their turn, they must touch the box with a flat hand. If the box is not on the table when it is their turn, they must touch the table with a fist. Failure to do either means you lose the game. The winner’s prize is a cup filled with sake. This brings me back to my college days where drinking games were the norm. However, in my day, I was never pitted against a beautiful Geiko or Maiko.
It was my turn now, face to face with the Maiko. Rushing through my mind was, I expect her to win, she expects to win, and she knows that I expect her to win. She holds all the advantages including years of training, just for this moment. But the prize is sake, so you never know. I might be able to use my superpowers and pull out a victory. I am playing for my country!
The game began slowly, my confidence growing by the second. I touch the box with a flat hand, then her with the flat hand. She removes the box. What was I supposed to do? My mind is blank. Then the thought of sake floods my mind and I quickly remember to tap the floor with a fist. I am back in the game. Back and forth we go, time moving forward. The speed is suddenly increased. I don’t think I can keep up with the skilled Maiko. Back and forth we go, our hands are a blur. I am working on pure instinct. Then, the most amazing thing happens, the Maiko makes a mistake. I win. I raise my hands in pure joy. My country will be so proud of me.
As I am awarded my cup of sake, I realize that perhaps this was the intent of the Maiko all along, to let me win in such a way that brings me happiness. That is their job as entertainers. This matters not to me, I swallow the sake, its beautiful burning sensation down my throat into my stomach. Can I play again? Can I bring her home?
The game is strangely compelling. Watch it to see what I mean.
Finally, it was time for the portrait shoot. First, I photographed Kana (the Geiko).
Lastly, I photographed Naho (the Maiko).
It was over in a flash. They left, leaving me with great memories (and a bit of a hangover).