The Maiko Eriha of Gion Kobu

The maiko Eriha enters a teahouse during Hassaku in Gion Kobu in Kyoto
The maiko Eriha enters a teahouse during Hassaku in Gion Kobu in Kyoto

I don't know the maiko Eriha of Gion Kobu very well, and until two days ago I never thought of writing a blog post about her.

I encounter Eriha from time to time mostly because of Mameharu and Manaha, two geisha from the same okiya as Eriha (Tama in Gion Kobu). I photographed Mameharu right up to her retirement several months ago, and I am still photographing Manaha.

This photo of Eriha from Hassaku 2012 was made only because I was photographing Manaha at the time. During events like Hassaku, geiko and maiko enter and exit teahouses in the order of seniority. In the -ha line of geiko and maiko from Tama, Eriha is the youngest at the moment, after Mayuha, Tsuruha, and Manaha.

Since Eriha was often right behind Manaha as they entered a teahouse, I often caught Eriha in a photo without really meaning to, like this one.

When I see Eriha around Gion Kobu, I usually greet her, ask her how she's doing, ask her to say hi to Manaha for me, and go about my business. I don't really expect her to tell Manaha that she saw me and I was asking after her, but I've just gotten in the habit of saying it anyway. I know Eriha knows my face, but I doubt she knows my name.

This past Friday was no different. I was on my was to a photo session just after 10:30 a.m., and I met Eriha and another girl on the main street of Gion. I was thinking about the day ahead, so I said hello to Eriha, asked her if she was "genki" (the Japanese equivalent for fine) and asked her to say hello to Manaha for me.

I was about to go on my way when I thought to myself, "I bet she's tired of you always asking her to say hi to Manaha for you." Eriha and the other girl didn't seem to be in a rush, so I decided to engage them more about themselves, not about Manaha.

I turned back to them, and we chatted a bit more. The girl with Eriha was the maiko Katsue, who I had never met before, so I introduced myself to her as well. I didn't recognize her at first because she wasn't in full makeup. When it was time to go, I said I was off to photograph a maiko from Miyagawa-cho and wished them both a good day.

Almost twelve hours later, just after 10:00 p.m., I again met Eriha on the street. This time she was coming and I was going, and Eriha was in full makeup. The street was still crowded with tourists even at this late hour, but Eriha stopped to greet me again. Then she said that she hoped my photo session with the maiko from Miyagawa-cho had gone well.

I was impressed that after what must have been a long day, she still had the presence of mind to ask about my photo session.

Then I realized that every time I have met Eriha, she has been unfailingly and genuinely calm and pleasant, which is pretty rare for a first or second-year maiko. She is always smiling, too.

I decided to write this post just to send some good thoughts and good karma her way. I hope she continues to keep her equanimity as the years go by.

And I hope I remember not to automatically ask her about Manaha the next time I see her!