Manaha, Gion Kobu's Newest Geisha

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Manaha is the newest geisha in Gion Kobu, Kyoto's largest geisha district

This photo of Manaha, Gion Kobu's newest geisha, was taken on her sixth day as geiko and her third and final day wearing this special iro montsuki (brightly colored kimono). Of all the new geiko I have photographed over the years, I think Manaha's transformation from maiko to geiko has been the most stunning.

I found that at times I hardly recognized the woman I was seeing through my lens during our portrait session even though I had photographed her several times in the previous ten days. Her new katsura (wig) has really changed her, at least in my opinion. When I told Manaha this, she simply gave me the thumbs up sign and a coy smile.

I had not been planning on photographing Manaha so soon after her erikae, but the Fates intervened, as they often have in my encounters with Gion Kobu's geiko and maiko.  I knew Manaha would be wearing her iro montsuki for only three days, but I also knew that I was exhausted for a variety of reasons after her erikae and that she would probably be more relaxed and settled in to her new life as a geiko if I waited a few weeks to photograph her in mid-June.

I came to this decision after talking things over with my friends at the ochaya on Thursday, May 30, the first day Manaha was wearing her new kimono. I left the ochaya not too late in the evening and was walking to the subway station, feeling very light for once since I did not have several bags of camera equipment with me. I stopped at the red light at the Shijo-Hanamikoji intersection, and I noticed a geiko on the other side of the street. It was too dark to see her face, but the light changed and we met in the middle of the street.

Of course, it was Manaha.

She was as surprised to see me as I was to see her. The first thing I noticed was that she was as happy as I had ever seen her. Her feet were barely touching the cobblestones of Hanamikoji as we chatted about her erikae and other things as I walked her to her next engagement. A little voice inside was telling me I better not wait to photograph her, because this mood would be long gone by mid-June.

I asked her when she wanted me to photograph her next. She told me she really liked the colors and pattern of her new kimono, so we should meet Saturday, not in a few weeks. I had been really looking forward to doing nothing on a Saturday for once, but I knew she was right. Better to photograph her now, when life as a geiko was all new and fresh.

I said good night to Manaha, returned to the ochaya, made the appointment, and was back on the corner of Shijo-Hanamikoji about fifteen minutes later. I didn't see any maiko or geiko this time, but by then my thoughts were occupied with how I was going to light Manaha's kimono the day after next.