Maiko Mameharu in Summer

The maiko Mameharu of Gion Kobu on a summer afternoon in Kyoto
The maiko Mameharu of Gion Kobu on a summer afternoon in Kyoto

It has been a cold and dreary January this year in Kyoto, so I thought I'd start the year off with a post that reminds me of much warmer times with the maiko Mameharu of Gion Kobu.

However, before I get to the story behind this portrait, I'd like to make everyone aware of 2 changes to my blog and website:

  1. I have updated my portfolio on my main site with new work.
  2. I am making it easier for people to share my photographs on social media, so you'll find new sharing buttons at the end of each post. I respectfully ask that anyone who shares my work attribute it to me and link back to the original image on my blog or website.

Now, back to summer and Mameharu!

This photo session with Mameharu was the first time I had ever met her, and it started out a complete disaster.

I always prepare lighting diagrams, a shot list, and a schedule before every portrait session to ensure I make the best use possible of my limited time with geiko and maiko, which is usually between 2-3 hours.

Since this was going to be my first encounter with Mameharu and it was already quite hot on this June day, I wanted to keep my lighting simple. I was going to utilize the translucent shoji doors on the tea house's veranda as a diffuser for my strobe lights, as I have done many times before.

I arrived at the tea house right on schedule and was greeted by my friend Toyoda-san, who accompanied me up the dark and steep staircase to the second floor of the ochaya to the zashiki, the room where I photograph.

The fusuma sliding doors of the zashiki were closed, and Toyoda-san slid them open for me. And I almost had a heart attack.

The zashiki I knew was gone. I was staring at a room I had never seen before. The tatami mats on the floor were now covered by some orange material I didn't recognize. Even worse, the shoji I was planning to use as part of my lighting had been replaced by bamboo screens, doors that were not translucent at all. They would block my strobes, not diffuse them.

"What happened?" I stammered in Japanese to Toyoda-san.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

I explained what I meant. He told me that they always prepare the zashiki for the hot summer months by replacing the shoji screens with bamboo ones, and they cover the floor with a different kind of bamboo. "It's very expensive," Toyoda-san added.

"And you didn't think to tell me about this?" I asked.

"You've seen this before, haven't you?" Toyoda-san asked me.

I had not. I had been photographing at the ochaya for four years at this point, and I had definitely photographed in June before. I had never seen the summer version of the zashiki.

"Sumimasen," Toyoda-san said.

I told him not to worry about it, but I was in a complete panic. Mameharu would be arriving in less than three hours, and all my plans had gone out the window with the shoji.

I sat down to think. What could I do in the limited time I had that would still work?

It took a few minutes, but I did come up with a new plan, the best I could do under the circumstances. When Mameharu arrived, I was ready to go.

As it turned out, the bamboo sliding doors were both a blessing and a curse.

The portraits I made of Mameharu dancing inside the zashiki with the bamboo as the background did not come out as well as I would have liked, but the bamboo was a much better background than the shoji for the portraits I made of her on the veranda just outside the zashiki, like the image I have posted here.

I like this portrait of Mameharu very much, and the only reason I have not included it in my new portfolio is because all the other images in my portfolio are verticals. This horizontal one just didn't fit.

I had enjoyed meeting Mameharu, but it had been a long and stressful day. When Mameharu left, Toyoda-san asked me kind of sheepishly, "How'd it go?" I told him it went okay, which was the truth.

"The zashiki's going to be like this next week and the rest of the summer, right?" I asked him. I was photographing Mamehana there the following week, so I wanted to plan accordingly.

I was much happier with my lighting inside the zashiki with Mamehana, and one of those images has already appeared on my blog and is also in the new portfolio. All's well that ends well, for the most part.

If you have gotten this far, thanks for reading to the end!