An Apprentice-Geisha Photoshoot Quite Unlike Any Other
Alluring and a bit mysterious -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 2500 — map & image datanearby photos
Alluring
and a bit mysterious
desktop background image of a young Japanese women, dressed in full regalia of a maiko (apprentice geisha), in Kyoto Japan -- Laughing because I said something funny -- Gion -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos
Laughing
because I said something funny
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Serious probably because I said something nonsensical, as I'm apt to do -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos
Serious
probably because I said something nonsensical, as I'm apt to do
Contemplative (not really; I'd actually instructed her to look at my shoes) -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
Contemplative
(not really; I'd actually instructed her to look at my shoes)
( I just can't get enough of that red umbrella ) -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 4500 — map & image datanearby photos
( I just can't get enough of that red umbrella )
Drawing a Crowd Wherever She Goes in this case it was a walk through the Gion entertainment district of Kyoto -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1400 — map & image datanearby photos
Drawing a Crowd Wherever She Goes
in this case it was a walk through the Gion entertainment district of Kyoto
Quite Tall especially with those shoes -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Quite Tall
especially with those shoes
(though still not quite as tall as me) photo by Zak Braverman -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
(though still not quite as tall as me)
photo by Zak Braverman
desktop background image of a young Japanese women, dressed in full regalia of a maiko (apprentice geisha), in Kyoto Japan -- Posing Here... -- Gion -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/800 sec, f/2, ISO 3600 — map & image datanearby photos
Posing Here...
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Posing There... -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/400 sec, f/2, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Posing There...
Posing With Tourists -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Posing With Tourists
Posing With Shy Japanese Schoolkids -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/640 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Posing With Shy Japanese Schoolkids
Posing for Zak -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/800 sec, f/2, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Posing for Zak
Peace -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/800 sec, f/2, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Peace

And that last picture provides the first real clue that this girl is not the maiko (apprentice geisha) that she otherwise appears to be, because I don't think that a real maiko would flash the peace sign for a passer's-by photo like this.

February 3rd is the cultural holiday setsubun, known for bean throwing, the warding off of evil spirits, and some Shinto rites that involve intense bonfires.

There's also an old tradition, fallen out of popularity in recent decades and now mostly unknown to the younger generations, of transforming your appearance for the day into something you're not... if you do this, so the tradition goes, you'll be free of evil spirits for the next year.

And that brings us to today's photos. Ikuko, the 20-year-old girl in these photos, is a normal collage student who transformed into a maiko for the Setsubun holiday.

For most girls wanting to do something like this (for the Setsubun holiday, or just for fun), Kyoto has plenty of places where one can pay some small fee to play dress-up as a maiko and go for an attention-grabbing photo-op stroll. I see it all the time, and these fake maiko are easy to spot (such as seen here) by their mannerisms and the cheap quality of their clothes and accessories, in the same way you can easily tell that the kid showing up at your doorstep on Halloween is not really Spider Man.

Ikuko, for her transformation, did something very different.

Not so Fake -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
Not so Fake

I showed these photos to an older lady who really knew the subject, and even when she saw the Peace photo she wasn't quite sure that Ikuko wasn't a real maiko, because everything else about her seemed spot-on correct.... because it was. The clothes and accessories are all real, as was the preparation: she had spent three and a half hours being prepared by a bevy of professionals that normally exclusively serve the real maiko and geiko (Kyoto geisha) population. People to do the hair (which, like a real maiko, is Ikuko's real hair), her makeup, and even a specialist to help her get into the kimono. Not many women, maiko and geiko included, can actually dress themselves in these kimono.

Having natural grace and class, as Ikuko does, helps to complete the package.

This kind of experience is just not something one can normally have, but Ikuko comes from an artist's family with connections in the wider cultural community (her dad is the potter mentioned here), so I suppose that's how this unique opportunity came about. Her family is friends with Zak's, and I met Ikuko a few years ago when she came to his house to babysit Zak's kids.

Zak was asked to take photos for Ikuko's transformation, and Zak was kind enough to invite me along as well.

Strolling in Old Kyoto -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1800 — map & image datanearby photos
Strolling in Old Kyoto
Family Fun with Zak, her folks, and a brother -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Family Fun
with Zak, her folks, and a brother
Typical Scene she's in the background to the left -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Typical Scene
she's in the background to the left

The narrow streets made for a picturesque setting at times, and for mild crowded chaos at others. Japanese and foreign tourists alike would crowd in for photos of Ikuko, and with Ikuko.

I chose to include the picture above because I like the daring bold of the couple in the foreground, who had just had their photo taken with Ikuko. The fuzzy guy in the near foreground is a mailman who had just ridden his scooter through the scrum around Ikuko with a certain indifference that I'm sure comes from the frequency with which he encounters this kind of scene during the course of his day in Gion.

Ikuko was much more accommodating to stopping for others than a real maiko would be, so someone familiar with Kyoto would pretty quickly realize that she wasn't a maiko. Real maiko, when encountered out on the street like this, can not generally be accommodating to passers by because they are either working (and it would be rude to divert concentration from their customer for your photo), or they're busy on their way somewhere.

The evening after I took these photos, on the way back from dinner at Uroko with Damien, I came across two maiko, a geiko, and their customers piling into taxis near the Shijo Ohashi bridge. A crowd had gathered, but the maiko and geiko completely ignored everyone but their customers to the point that a maiko was almost plowed over because without looking she stepped right into the path of the flow of foot traffic on the sidewalk. The person who almost crashed into her happened to be the person right in front of me, and I'm glad there wasn't an event because I might have then tripped over both of them, and even if not, I didn't have my camera with me so what's the point?😉.

Anyway, I don't really care for the whole geisha thing and generally make a specific point not to pay attention when I come across them like this, but I really enjoyed the photoshoot with Ikuko. Perhaps it's because it was a normal Japanese girl dipping, just for a moment, into part of her cultural history in a culturally-authentic way.

Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos

Also, it helps that Ikuko was accommodating for photos and was just generally a nice person, and of course it helps a lot that, unlike the majority of maiko and geiko that I come across, she is actually attractive. I hope to do a normal photoshoot with her when the weather warms up, perhaps at the Haradanien Garden.

Like Culture, Like Kimono layers deep -- Gion -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 200mm f/2 — 1/800 sec, f/2, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Like Culture, Like Kimono
layers deep

All 6 comments so far, oldest first...

Awesome shots that put mine to shame.

But…I don’t like the first shot. Cutting off the eye and the mouth is something I consider a big photographic no-no. Maybe it’s just me, but it instills an almost superstitious feeling of wrongness about the shot. Eyes should be kept whole.

Also, the origin of the tradition about dressing up on Setsubun is a pun. “Bakeru” (化ける) means “to change” and is the linguistic root of the word “ghost” (ostensibly because a ghost is a changed thing), so changing into something you’re not for the day will help keep the ghosts away for the coming year.

About the eye, I guess I’m just daring. —Jeffrey

— comment by Zak on February 9th, 2014 at 5:10pm JST (3 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Wow!! Great shots you have there… 🙂

— comment by Damien on February 9th, 2014 at 10:43pm JST (3 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Considering how vapid contemporary young Japanese women are shown to be, like the so-called singing “Talents”, a maiko, geiko or geisha is a refreshing exception.

— comment by An Expat on February 10th, 2014 at 12:00am JST (3 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

This came up on my Facebook. I thought It had something to do with gender. I thought male dressed as a female geisha. I was wrong! Sorry! I’m surprised geisha still exists!
Like so much else in a traditional culture would “modern” ways just not kill it off somehow? Who wants to be a geisha these days? A very interesting documentary by BBC about young Yukina starting her training to be a geisha. I saw I on YouTube.

— comment by Michael R Murphy on February 18th, 2014 at 11:43am JST (3 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Oh-hi! Eastern Canada-a place called Halifax. An hour by air northeast of Boston. We are a “twin city” of Hakodate on Hokkaido Island. Cheers!

— comment by Michael R Murphy on February 19th, 2014 at 1:34am JST (3 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Fiona Graham, is the only foreigner in 400 years to be accepted into the ranks of the geisha.. get a look: http://www.sayuki.net

— comment by Ian on June 19th, 2015 at 11:37am JST (1 year, 11 months ago) comment permalink
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