The Japan Foundation, Sydney recently held their Jewels of Kyoto performance at Sydney’s Monkey Baa Theatre. The highlight of the Jewels of Kyoto performance was the performance of four Geisha directly from Kyoto. Hello Asia Editor Johnny Au sat down with Geiko-san Ryoka (Geisha) and Maiko-san Tomitsuyu (trainee) and talked about their craft and advice for girls who aspire to be a Geisha.
Welcome to Australia Geiko-san & Maiko-san. Great to have you perform in our country. First off I want to ask why you both chose this profession as your career?
Ryoka: I love traditional Japanese dance but its very hard to have a career in that field. So I decided to take the profession of a Geiko so I can express myself in traditional Japanese dance.
Tomitsuyu: I was born in Kyoto and some of my family works in the kimono industry. So I loved wearing kimonos since I was little and I was always very interested in Japanese tradition. So that’s why I chose this career.
Geiko-san can you talk to me about your training to become a fully qualified Geiko? What is your favourite performance discipline?
Ryoka: I have been training in traditional Japanese dance, tea ceremony and on the musical side I am a trained on a shamisen (Japanese three string instrument). I also sing in Nagauta which is a traditional long form style of Japanese music. I can also play the shakuhachi (Japanese Flute) and drums. So you see my musical training is quite varied. But my favourite performance discipline is dancing. I love to dance.
Maiko how is your training progressing? How long have you been a Maiko? Do you remember meeting your Oka-san for the first time?
Tomitsuyu: It’s been three years since I made my debut as a Maiko-san. When I was in junior high school I was living in New Zealand at that time and I applied for this career and contacted the mother of the tea house (Oka-san). She suggested we have an interview in Kyoto and I went back to Kyoto during the Christmas holidays and that was my first experience with my Oka-san.
What about you Geiko-san? Do you have memories of your first Oka-san and the first Okiya (tea house) you worked in?
Ryoka: I first got into the tea house in Kyoto via an introduction from a shamisen musician. I handed over my resume to the Oka-san and I was accepted as a Maiko. That’s how I got into the tea house. The tea house I worked for had Geiko-san and Oto-san (father of the house) as well as the Oka-san so it was like a big family. So spending time with my work family is my favourite memories of the first Okiya I worked in.
Geiko-san what is main difference in performing for an audience in a theatre compared to a Okiya?
Ryoka: In a tea house as we perform in a smaller room it sometimes can be a friendlier and more intimate atmosphere. Its a warm atmosphere because we are closer to the guests. Performing in a larger theatre like the one in Sydney, the purpose is to introduce Japanese culture so we get to do live music and singing. Its a more dynamic atmosphere so I really enjoy that aspect of performing in a theatre.
What has been some of the highlights in both your careers so far?
Ryoka: The highlight for me was when I was promoted from Maiko to Geiko. The last two weeks when I was a Maiko was the most memorable for me and it was the hardest weeks. When I was promoted I got a haircut so that’s my highlight.
Tomitsuyu: As a Maiko-san there are things a normal teenage girl can’t do. At the same time I can’t do things a normal teenage girl can do like go to high school or see my parents. There are quite a few things we are prohibited to do as a Maiko-san. I have enjoyed learning all the traditional skills of being a Maiko so that for me has been the highlight.
What advice do you have for girls who aspire to join your profession?
Ryoka: Because you learn so much about the culture and traditional arts of being a Geiko and Maiko my advice would be to love the art of Geiko and Maiko. That I feel is the most important thing.
Tomitsuyu: I would tell girls not to give up. Nowdays a lot of Maiko trainees quit their training because it is difficult and hard. About 60% of girls retire before they debut. So my advice is not to give up.