Baikasai in Kamishichiken


When I first went to Baikasai in 2005, I felt like a kid in a candy store again. Baikasai is an event held ever February 25 at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto. One of the highlights is that geisha and maiko from Kamishichiken serve tea to guests, so it is a good chance to get a photograph of a geiko or maiko. Of course, back in 2005, I didn't know how good an event it was going to be.

I don't even remember where I heard about Baikasai. I just remember thinking that I should go check it out, and I had no expectations whatsoever. When I arrived, the geiko and maiko were just coming into the main tent. I got so excited that I just started making pictures, which was a big mistake. I was still shooting film in those days, and I only brought five or six roles of film with me since I wasn't expecting much. Some of the roles had 36 frames, but others had only 24. After just a few minutes, I had wasted two roles of film. I say wasted because I was just photographing the geiko and maiko as they walked back and forth, which was not very exciting at all. I didn't know what was coming next. If I had known, I would have saved my film.

After a few minutes, the geiko and maiko started serving tea to the guests. Just by sheer luck, I was standing in a perfect spot. I could photograph the geiko or maiko putting tea down in front of the guest, and if I waited for just the right moment, the background behind them would be free of distractions. I used a few more roles of  film from this position, and I put these roles to much better use. Five photographs I took at Baikasai that day appeared in my first book, OneHundred Views of Maiko and Geiko, including the cover image and the first image of the book. Both these images were taken as I stood behind a barricade and waited for the perfect moment to capture a maiko serving tea.

By this time, I had only one or two roles of film left, and it was my turn to be served tea. I sat down, and a maiko served me tea. I didn't photograph her, but I photographed the maiko off to either side of me. In a minute or two, I had used up all my film, which was just as well. I could sense the maiko and geiko worrying if I was going to sit there forever and make photos, but I left before the guests on either side of me who were seated at the same time. It's always better to leave too early instead of too late.

I was out of film, but I knew I had gotten some fantastic images. I thought about finding a camera store nearby and buying more film, but I decided not to press my luck. I walked around the flea market that is held every month at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine on the 25th, and then I took a bus back to central Kyoto. It was a great day.

I have only been back to Baikasai once since then, in 2007. Part of the reason I haven't gone back much is that I'll never be able to recapture that magic of discovering Baikasai for the first time. Another part is that I don't like repeating myself. Finally, there were about ten times as many photographers when I went back in 2007 as there were in 2005, which just added to the feeling that something I had discovered was no longer the wonderful secret it had been. It was time to move on. But that's the beauty of photography -- you always have the memories, in your mind and on book covers and pages, prints, and computer screens.