A Tale of Two Days of Photography at Setsubun

The maiko Yukako of Gion Kobu performs at Yasaka Shrine on February 3 during Setsubun in Kyoto
The maiko Yukako of Gion Kobu performs at Yasaka Shrine on February 3 during Setsubun in Kyoto
The maiko Taneju of Miyagawa-cho performs at Yasaka Shrine on February 2 during Setsubun
The maiko Taneju of Miyagawa-cho performs at Yasaka Shrine on February 2 during Setsubun

What a difference a day makes.

The photos of Yukako (in the light blue kimono) and Taneju (in the black kimono) were taken in the same year, 2007, and at the same place, Yasaka Shrine during Setsubun. I was using the same camera (Nikon F100) and the same lens (Nikkor 70-200mm VR1) both days as well. I was standing in the exact same spot, too, and as I recall the weather was pretty much the same both days, with a very bright and harsh sun popping out from behind heavy clouds every once in a while for several minutes at a time.

Unfortunately, there were two key differences that were beyond my control that affected how these photographs turned out. Yukako was dancing right in front of me at center stage at 11:00 a.m., but Taneju was at stage left, and she performed at 1:00 p.m.

Why were these factors so important? Since Yukako was right in front of me, she was closer. I could keep all the photographers on the other side of the stage out of the images of Yukako, but I couldn't with the images of Taneju. She was just too far away to zoom in any closer. More importantly, Yukako was dancing in front of a relatively clean background, while the giant rope is coming right out of Taneju's head in almost every photo I made of her. I still cringe every time I see it.

Even Mother Nature was being her old fickle self. When Taneju was dancing, the sun made a prolonged appearance from just before Taneju ascended the stage to just before she descended after the performance. The sun was incredibly bright when Yukako ascended the stage the very next morning, but it slipped partially behind the clouds as she began dancing. As a result, the background wasn't as bright and distracting when Yukako was dancing, so you don't notice the rope in the background as much since it wasn't lit so brightly.

At the time, I was hoping to include both Yukako and Taneju in my book Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto: Beauty, Art, & Dance, and these were the first images I was hoping to use in the book. As fate would have it, my experience at Setsubun became an omen of things to come. Everything went very well with Yukako, and she became one of the four maiko and geisha who appeared in the book.

It became apparent to me shortly after Setsubun that it wasn't going to be so easy to have Taneju appear in the book, again for factors beyond my control like the ones I experienced during Setsubun. I had to reluctantly cross her off my list.

The good news is that both women are still very active geiko, two of the very few who were maiko back in 2007 who are still around in 2013.

Finally, I'm happy to announce that this is my very first post as a full-time resident of Kyoto. Now I don't need to take the Keihan Line to get to Gion and Miyagawa-cho from Osaka; I just have to hop on the Tozai Line (one of Kyoto's two subway lines) across town to get there!