Twenty-year-old Ryoka and 18-year-old Tomitae, who are on a maiden visit to India, are known as Maiko, which means they are apprentices of Geisha. “We have never been to India or Chennai. We only knew the city is part of India,” says Ryoka, who is undergoing training to graduate as Geisha, a traditional female artiste accomplished in Japanese art such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement and dancing.
The city may be new to Japanese traditional artistes, but the unfamiliarity did not stop the duo from enthralling a small group of audience at the residence of the Consul General of Japan with their dances and languages spoken in Kyoto, the capital of ancient dynasties of Japan. Geishas are becoming extinct in Japan with just around 200 Geishas in Kyoto. “Although there is enthusiasm among young girls, it also requires them to be mentally and physically strong. Monetarily it is not a rewarding profession either,” says 61-year old Reiko Tomimori, who is part of the delegation.
“Every year, 50 Maikos are selected to be trained as Geishas. During the training, the girls don’t have access to phones and they can visit their families only twice,” says Tomimori.
At the event in Chennai, Ryoka and Tomitae performed two dances — ‘Plenty of Pine Trees’ and ‘The Garden of Imperial Court.’ “Pine is considered auspicious in Japan; it brings happiness in life,” says Tomimori. With heavy make up and decked in kimonos that weigh at least 10 kilograms, the performers move around gracefully in a pair of wooden sandals that are about 10 centimetres high.
Ryoko and Tomitae have elaborate hair decorations called Kanzashi, which represents the transition of seasons in Kyoto. The main Kanzashi is called Daikan and is placed at the front of her chignon. She says there is a different motif every month. Tomimori says that there is no retirement age for Geishas, but they leave the profession if they get married. “Some still work beyond 80,” she adds. During the performance there were some technical glitches, but that did not deter the artists from performing much to the delight of the audience.
Tomimori rejects Geishas now have anything to do with sex. They are the keepers of Japan’s traditional arts, she says. “I hope the tradition does not die out,” she adds.