The Geisha Toshikana, My "Topu Moderu"!

The geisha Toshikana of Miyagawa-cho in June 2014
The geisha Toshikana of Miyagawa-cho in June 2014

I was coming out of an alley in Miyagawa-cho on a sunny afternoon a few months ago when I almost bumped into the geisha Toshimana. "Oh, hello," she said to me. I don't think Toshimana knows my name, but she knows that I photograph her best friend, the geiko Toshikana, on a regular basis.

Then, as expected, I got "the look." Toshimana's eyebrows crinkled in curiousity.

She was looking at the object in my right hand, a Sekonic incident light meter. I tried to explain. "I'm searching for beautiful light, and this helps me. I'm photographing Toshikana again in a few days, and I want to make some portraits of her around here."

She nodded as if she understood, although I'm not sure if she really did. "Please tell Toshikana 'Yoroshiku ne,'" I said. Toshimana laughed at the added emphasis I put on the ne, and we both went on our ways.

A few minutes later I saw Toshimana again as she was returning to her okiya. We just nodded at each other this time, but then she suddenly pointed behind me. "Here comes Toshikana now," she said.

Sure enough, Toshikana had just come out of her okiya and was approaching us. Toshimana told Toshikana how we had met and even said I told her to say, "Yoroshiku ne."

Toshikana laughed and said to me, "Long time, no see!" I hadn't seen her since the day of her erikae in February, so I complimented her on her katsura and new geiko look.

"You want me to dance Kurokami, right?" she asked me. I said I did. "And is this kimono okay?" she gestured at the kimono she was wearing, a unique blue and white striped pattern. I said it was fine.

I thought to myself that I was glad I had had my friends at the teahouse where I photograph call Toshikana's okiya and remind them that I wanted her to dance Kurokami and check on the color of her kimono. Then I had a question for her: "Which door would you like me to meet you at, the front or the back?"

She thought for a moment. "The front." I nodded. "Okay, I'll see you there at x:xx p.m. sharp." And we were finished.

When Toshikana was gone, I called my friend T-san at the teahouse to thank him for calling Toshikana's okiya for me, but he told me he hadn't called yet.

I was stunned. Toshikana and I hadn't spoken at length since the end of January when I photographed her with the sakko hairstyle a week before she became a geiko, but she instantly remembered all the important details of our conversation from that day more than three months later!

And that's one of the reasons why I call Toshikana my "top moderu" or top model. She makes it very easy to photograph her because she pays attention to the details that are important for us to have a successful collaboration.

The blue and white striped kimono matched perfectly with a deep blue background I have that I rarely get a chance to use because of color harmony issues. I could create some really unique images with this kimono and background combination.

When I returned to photograph her two days later, I told her she was now my "top moderu." She smiled a shy smile, but she shook her head and said, "No, no," trying to deflect my praise.

We went to the location I had scouted and had a great outdoor session. We ran out of time because a taxi was waiting to take us to the teahouse in Gion Kobu where I had already set up the lights and background to photograph Toshikana dancing Kurokami.

Before we got into the cab I saw another beautiful patch of light, and I stopped Toshikana to make one more photograph. She quickly came over to look at the image on the my back of my camera. "Wow. That doesn't look like a photo of a maiko or geiko," she said.

That's another reason Toshikana is my top model. She gets it. The point is not to make another photo of a geiko or maiko. The point is to make a unique image of a geiko or maiko, which is easy to say, but hard to do. Toshikana makes doing so easier than most, whether she want to admit it or not!