(Place of action Kyoto, Capital city of Japan until 1868)
She is sitting in front of me, beautiful like a doll! Maiko- a Geisha apprentice! We can meet them only in Kyoto. She has make-up on (white cheeks, small lips), a stylish hairstyle with decorative hairpins changed every season. Dressed in a kimono with an embroidered collar, she suddenly moves and casts down her eyes when she sees that I am literally staring at her. “Yes, she’s alive”, I tell myself quietly.
No, I don’t have any hallucinations after the fantastic traditional dinner of Shabu-Shabu where we cooked slices of beef, vegetables and “mushrooms” in a boiling pot. Even through the outstanding white make-up, I can see she’s lightly blushing. It looks as though she is embarrassed just like me.
Information is circulating in my head, all inspired by literature. Geisha is a professional companion and she really has nothing to do with sexual services!
Nevertheless, she has knowledge from art, history, musical skills; she is conversing socially and obtains admiration from companions who order her. History of this purely Japanese profession goes all way back to the 17th century and has preserved itself in the original form in Kyoto. I never heard about Maiko until the locals explained me that they are young girls (apprentices), that decide to have a profession of a Geisha, leaving their families to “study” for several years before becoming an official Geisha. Something in the style of nuns- but no, I don’t find the right comparison for it… Geishas can have families in their mature age, so again something different.
In fact, everything is different in Japan; it’s very clean everywhere. People are very polite and respectful. If someone is ill, they wear a mask covering their mouths. In restaurants you can slurp but you cannot blow your nose (I caught a cold…great). They wait in orderly lines even while waiting for the bus and never push each other. Cars don’t horn. Be careful, the cars drive on the left. Cleaniest taxis I have ever seen, all with white lace interior! Next to modern dressed women, I can also catch a glimpse of women in traditional kimonos or traditionally hair styled and dressed geishas in the historical part.
They respect traditional rules of society for hundreds of years and simultaneously belong to the most developed countries of the world. How does this society manage to combine all this diversity? From an early age of elementary school, children are being taught respect towards the older people as well as the power of collective over individual. Everything has its own order and nobody rises doubts about it.. if they do, would it be collective strength..? I have no clue; I’m here too shortly. I obediently take off my shoes (I have to) at the entrance of our classical hotel (ryokan). A smiling receptionist welcomes us also in socks only! Completely at ease. The room is homey with a view on the Kamu River and we sleep with my husband on the ground, well on mattresses that are separated from each other. At eight thirty in the morning, a smiling woman is unmercifully waking us up. She briskly stores the mattresses and builds up a small table for traditional breakfast that is very filling (bowl of rice, tofu, pickled vegetables, grilled fish, noodles.. every bowl has its own place, I cannot modify anything so I obediently consume my tofu.
Back to the dinner. Already there’s the fact that I am sitting down with my legs crossed and again shoeless, only in socks. The other ones around our table are doing the same, 4 Europeans and 2 Japanese that are giving “the rules of dinner and actually of the entire evening”.
We are in a stylish restaurant, near a well-known entertainment street Pontoco, built in the 17th century. The owner of the restaurant, a friend of our host is a successful entrepreneur so he bought us “company”, an apprentice. Unfortunately, our maiko only knows “liiitle English” so I only discover that her name is Yoko and that she is 17 years old. Despite all, she is still fascinating, almost like some phantom of the past… When we are leaving, she helps us with our coats and distributes her visit cards to everyone. If we keep them in our wallets, it shall be full of money forever…you just cannot resist to believe in this!