The Geisha Yukako with Hana-bi


One of the ways people in Kyoto try to stay cool during the brutally hot and humid summer months is by setting off fireworks (hana-bi in Japanese). There are fireworks festivals all around Japan in July and August, just as there are in many other countries. I first had the idea of photographing a geisha with fireworks years ago when I saw a group of children setting off sparklers and other kinds of hana-bi right in the middle of Miyagawa-suji, the main street of Miyagawa-cho, on a typically scorching summer night.

I was reminded of the idea on my way to a photo session with the geiko Yukako. I stopped off at a convenience store to get a drink, and I noticed several sets of sparklers and fireworks on display right next to the counter. I didn't know if Yukako would be willing to pose with them or not, but I thought it would was worth a shot just to ask. Yukako agreed, with some trepidation. We were both a little worried that a stray spark might land on her kimono. If that happened, I would have been washing dishes in her okiya for about five years just to pay her back, something neither she nor I really wanted.

We did a few test runs with me holding a sparkler just to see how far the sparks would fly, and we determined that it would be safe for Yukako to hold one. Since the sparklers fizzled out after about 30 seconds, I had to move fast, especially in determining my exposure. We did two takes just to be sure, and the photo posted here is the result. Since today is July 4, a day famous for fireworks in the United States, I thought it would be a good time to share it.

My crack legal team has advised me that I should sternly warn you not to try this at home, especially while wearing an expensive silk kimono with very long sleeves...