Tayū in Kyoto

Yoshino_Tayu_Memorial_Service
Yoshino_Tayu_Memorial_Service

This is the first of three tayū in a procession down the street outside Josho-ji Temple in Kyoto. The little bit of green you see just over the tayū's left shoulder is actually the robe of a man standing right behind her who is holding a very large umbrella to prevent the sun from falling on the tayū. The two red blotches farther in the background are two young girls who attend on tayū.

What you can't see are the security guards in front of the tayu holding a bar across the street so photographers like me can't get too close. You also can't see the crowds of people on either side of the street or the police officer a few feet behind the tayu's right shoulder who was wearing a very bright white reflective vest that ruined all the photos he was in!

I have received several questions about tayu since I posted the photo of Kisaragi Tayu last Sunday. I'm afraid I don't know much about tayu even though I have encountered one personally, but what I do know I will share with you now.

1. Tayu make two major public appearances in Kyoto every year, and both are connected to famous tayu from the past. The first is Yoshino Tayu Hana Kuyo (Yoshino Tayu Memorial Service) held in April every year at Josho-ji. There is a procession of tayu down the street outside the temple, and then there is a brief memorial service followed by a tea ceremony for several hours inside the temple grounds. The photo posted above was taken at Yoshino Tayu Hana Kuyo.

The second major event is the Yugiri Memorial Service held at Seiryo-ji Temple in Arashiyama in Kyoto. This service takes place in November just as the maple leaves are turning color, and it is much shorter than the Yoshino Tayu Memorial Service.

2. If I remember correctly, all three of the tayu who were at Yoshino Tayu Hana Kuyo were from Shimabara in Kyoto, but I cannot confirm that. The only tayu I have seen on more than one occasion is Kisaragi-san.

3. Tayu in Kyoto are based in Shimabara, and there is the equivalent of an ochaya (an ageya) and okiya there, the Wachigaiya. Customers can go for drinks and meet a tayu, but like ochaya, you must be introduced first.

4. I have been to the Wachigaiya only once, to get permission from Kisaragi-san to include one of the photos I took at Yugiri Memorial Service in my second book, One Hundred Views of Kyoto. It was similar to ochaya I have been in, but a little bigger. I did not get to talk to Kisaragi directly then because it was mid-afternoon and she was in the middle of putting on her makeup, just as geiko are doing at that time of day.

Of course, I did meet Kisaragi at Seiryo-ji before the Yugiri Memorial Service, but I only had five minutes to photograph her. I introduced myself, thanked her for her time, and photographed her in as many different angles as I could get in such a short time. I believe I finished in four minutes, and I thanked her again and left.

I will be photographing a tayu at least once in 2013. I am looking for a new photographic challenge, and I can't think of a better or more unique one.