Geisha Go Beyond Glamour

The geisha Yukako of Gion Kobu with a scarf
The geisha Yukako of Gion Kobu with a scarf

When I asked the geisha Yukako of Gion Kobu what makes a geiko stand out from her peers, she said a special geiko must be "Someone who is popular and beloved not only by the customers, but also by everyone, including seniors, juniors, and the okasan at a teahouse."

I wondered how any geiko could be so well-liked, and a few weeks ago I got my answer.

I sometimes work as a guide to select groups, first giving talks about the world of geiko and maiko and then introducing them to ozashiki were geiko and maiko entertain.

On some of these occasions, I actually plan the party with the okasan of the ochaya to make the ozashiki more understandable for guests who have never met a geiko or maiko before.

One of the first things I discuss with the okasan is which geiko or maiko would be best to have with us. The parties we were planning earlier this month were happening during Onshukai, Gion Kobu's fall dance performance, a very busy time. Many geiko and maiko would not be available.

I told the okasan what geiko and maiko I would like to have, and then I asked for her recommendations. "What about M-san? She's really good at parties," she said. I know M-san by sight, but I had never met her and didn't know anything about her.

However, I did realize that the okasan knows much more about ozashiki than I do, and I could trust her opinion. I told her M-san would be fine with me.

On this particular day we were actually entertaining two groups at the teahouse with about a 45 minute break in between so the zashiki (room were the parties are held) could be cleaned and prepared before the second group arrived.

M-san, two maiko, and I saw the first group off, and then the four of us went back upstairs to the zashiki. The okasan had already started cleaning when we got back.

Without being asked, M-san literally rolled up the sleeves of her kimono and started gathering up empty glasses and dishes and started putting them on trays to bring back downstairs to the kitchen.

When I saw M-san helping, I thought to myself, "If she's doing it, I should be, too!" I also moved to help.

The okasan stopped us both almost immediately. She said we had been working hard and should go downstairs to the home bar and relax for a few minutes before the next group arrived.

When the four of us entered the home bar, the okasan's father (and my very good friend) was already washing dishes. He asked us how things had gone with the first group, and M-san started telling him.

It seemed that M-san was talking to my friend, but I think some of the time she was actually talking to me. She mentioned several interesting facts about geiko and maiko that I did not realize or had not touched on in my first talk. I quickly incorporated some of the things she said into my second talk.

And that's when I realized why the okasan had recommended M-san, and how a geiko could become popular with her peers, as Yukako had said. I had known M-san for only 2 hours and I was already grateful I had met her.

Why? She helped me, and she made my job easier. She did the same for the okasan and the two maiko who were also with us.

That's when I realized that the secret to becoming a special geiko is no different than being special in whatever walk of life you are in.

If you think about other people before you think of yourself, if you help them and make their lives easier, they will appreciate you.

I thank M-san for reminding me of these things, and I look forward to working with her again. Hopefully, I can make her job a little easier the next time, too!