Good-bye to the Maiko Tanewaka of Miyagawa-cho

Tanewaka is a maiko in Miyagawa-cho, one of Kyoto's five geisha districts.
Tanewaka is a maiko in Miyagawa-cho, one of Kyoto's five geisha districts.

A few days ago on August 8, Tanewaka went around to the tea houses in the Miyagawa-cho geisha district to greet the owners for the last time before she left her career as a maiko. I first met Tanewaka back in 2006 when she was a shikomi, a girl in training to become a maiko. I was often visiting Miyagawa-cho back then to get permission for the photos in my first book, One Hundred Views of Maiko and Geiko. I visited Tanewaka's okiya (Takayoshi) several times, and Tanewaka would usually be somewhere in the background as I spoke to her okasan and her onesan Taneju about my photographs and the book. After that, I would sometimes see Tanewaka walking on Miyagawa-suji, the main street of Miyagawa-cho, and we would often chat for a moment or two when I asked her how her training was going. She was quite tall for a shikomi, and I seem to remember her always being dressed in a light gray sweatshirt and blue jeans. She also had a sweet, shy smile.

One Hundred Views of Maiko and Geiko was released in December 2006, and I made sure all the maiko and geiko who appeared in the book received copies, along with their okasan. Takayoshi-san and Taneju liked the book very much, and Takayoshi-san told me that I should come back the next month (January 2007) to photograph Tanewaka's omisedashi (debut as a maiko). I did, and to this day it remains the only misedashi I have photographed. So, Tanewaka has always had a special place in my photography of Kyoto's geiko and maiko because she is the last maiko I have known since she was a shikomi and she is the only maiko whose debut I have captured in photos.

Right after Tanewaka's debut I started work on my next book, Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto: Beauty, Art, & Dance. I was working on this book from 2007 - 2009, so I lost track of Tanewaka during those years, except at Kyo Odori, Miyagawa-cho's most important dance performance in April. I attended Kyo Odori in those years mainly to photograph the geiko Kimina, but when Tanewaka appeared in 2008 and 2009, I managed to get a few photographs of her in case I had the chance to photograph her again for a future project.

That chance finally came in 2011, and I have photographed her several times in the past two years, the last time this June when I also had the chance to interview her about her five-plus years as a maiko. I was also able to speak to Tanewaka quite recently, and she told me the official date she would be leaving. I wished her good luck and a bright future in her life beyond the borders of Miyagawa-cho.

I can still hear her humming the music to the dances she was performing during our photo sessions. I hope the sound stays with me for a long time.

Once the summer is over, I will do a retrospective on Tanewaka's career, beginning with her debut in January of 2007 and ending with our last photo session in June of 2012. I hope you'll come back for it!