The Maiko Yukako of Gion Kobu in March

The maiko Yukako of Gion Kobu on a rainy day in March 2007
The maiko Yukako of Gion Kobu on a rainy day in March 2007

March is traditionally the slowest month of the year for me when it comes to photographing the geisha and maiko of Kyoto, especially in Gion Kobu. The reason for this is that geiko and maiko are incredibly busy almost every afternoon from the end of February to the end of March with rehearsals for Miyako Odori.

They do have normal engagements in the evening, but they are more tired and stressed because of the lengthy rehearsals earlier in the day. As a result, I have never booked a photo session at an ochaya in March until this year, and I've only done it this year because of unusual circumstances.

I started thinking if I've ever photographed a maiko in March, and then I realized I had, in 2007. I met with the maiko Yukako just about a month after Setsubun that year as I started work on my book Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto: Beauty, Art, & Dance, and I photographed her on the streets of Gion on a rainy afternoon.

I decided to go through those photos and see if there were any good ones that I had not included in the book, and I was shocked by what I found. I have no idea why I did not include this photo of Yukako in the book; my only guess is that there is a very slight loss of sharpness around the eyes because Yukako moved as she smiled, but I believe (now, at least) that her expression more than makes up for it.

Yukako was always the easiest maiko to photograph. Most of the time, all I would have to do is say "Smile," and her face would light up. It always looked natural and was never forced. I would never even try this with another maiko (or any other subject) because the smile would most likely look very forced and unnatural. Not with Yukako!

I first met Yukako in 2003 and photographed her until 2011. She is still active in Gion Kobu, and she now has a new maiko (Mikako) as her little sister.