The Backstage of Maiko Debut
～A Diary of strenuous effort by Minarai san～
Do you remember maiko, Umechie san of Kamishichiken who appeared on Monthly Geisha, October 2012 【1】? Well, for this month, I shall introduce a column about her challenging shironuri (the white-makeup) for herself. This was when she was still a ‘minarai san’ (maiko apprenticeship).
“Are you starting to get used to a box-shaped wooden pillow,Hakomakura?”
“No, I can hardly sleep on it!”
The appointed time was 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I went up to the second floor of her yakata (a boarding house for maiko), Umechie san was sitting in a room with four mirror stands. “Thank you very much for coming. I would appreciate you for an interview,”she bowed deeply so that I got worried her chignon ,tied in wareshinobu style, might touch tatami mat on the floor.
It was late May this year when I first met her. One night, I went to ozashiki she was working. Coming and going the banquet room, every time she served us food and drinks, or cleared the finished plates, it was impressive to see her bowing through a fusuma (a papered sliding door).
When my eyes met hers, a faint smile came to her compressed lips and it was very sweet. And during the whole summer, I had chances to see her almost every month, then she told me the story of a life in hanamachi (the flower town) as ‘shikomi san’.
“Finally, Umechie san is going to do ‘tameshiyui’this time. ”It was the beginning of August when I heard of this news from okami(proprietress of tea house.) Tameshiyui is to do a trial for doing hair up in maiko’s coiffure. It is when okami thinks one is ready for the official debut as maiko.
I am told that their feeling both happen to be changed often, though shikomi san is full of desire to debut as fast as possible and okami wants her to be debuted with the least possible delay.
Okami might say,“I thought she was ready for it, but maybe we should give a little bit more time ”or“She can make it earlier than I imagined”,etc. You’ll never know when to debut until you trial. It is, therefore, they decide when to debut by trying first, not that fixing coiffure after a debut date is fixed.
Maiko’s coiffure is all dressed in real hair. Umechie san’s hair was initially quite short,“If it doesn’t grow, she can’t have her hair done. Nevertheless, it is not growing so much. That is what troubles me…,”okami always said so.
But it all went well more than they thought. Soon afterwards, she consulted a hairdresser whether her hair will be really all right. “I am afraid it will be fine,” he answered and they came to an agreement on her debut.
When she was in shikomi period, she barely wore a make-up, hair was tied in a low position, so frankly speaking, I couldn’t help flinching to see her in maiko’s make-up and coiffure. The look gave me an impression as if innocent girl became a mature woman like a bolt out of the blue.
But to my wonder, after some time later, I looked at her again and noticed that really suited her well. It must be a proof of getting over all the tests in hard-training days. And okami says. “Japanese coiffure is so unique. It must be kept in a certain way. Her hair type is very fragile, so she needs to go to a barber more often than that of the other. ‘If it’s O.K with her, I can take care of her hair’, the hairdresser says.”
And Umechie san became ‘minarai san’(maiko apprenticeship) from ‘shikomi san’,but another new test has began then. Her ‘pillow’ changed. While a shikomi period, she used to sleep on a soft one just like those we use, and it is now replaced with a hakomakura (a box-shaped wooden pillow), to keep the shape of coiffure, from the very day of doing up her hair.
All maiko live their everyday lives with hair fixed, just in the same way as women in old days. The only time they have their hair down is when hairdresser re-do it up. The general pace is about every 7-10 days.
“The width of hakomakura is only this much,”elder maiko,Umechie san showed a size of it with spreading her thumb and index finger.“We try keeping our hair not to touch it by placing behind ears, but if we turn over in our sleep, heads can fall so easily.”
It seems that a dexterous person can put the head up and replace the position unconsciously while sleeping though, Umechie san says,“No, I can hardly sleep on it!”
However, mage-the coiffure is a symbol for maiko. No matter how hard it is to get used to, she must start getting used to it until the day to become geiko, whether willing or not. It is easy for me to say in words, but ‘to sleep on a hakomakura for a night’ or ’to wake up all night in a sitting position’…if someone asked me to choose either of them, I am afraid that I choose the latter without hesitation, even though there will be an absolute shortage of sleep. Please do your best, Umechie san!
Shironuri ,the white make-upFirst of all, to begin with imitating elder maiko’s make-up thoroughly
There was a picture placed beside Umechie san facing to a mirror stand. It is her portrait taken on the day when her onesan (the elder maiko, literally means an elder sister) applied maiko’s make-up for her.
The interview date was the third time for her to do shironuri (the white make-up) by herself. “I try hard to complete it in the same way by looking at this picture, but things don’t go so well like I imagine,”she says. I came across with her holding a small piece of paper in four. She opened it and placed on a tatami mat gently. It was a memo written with all the procedures of white make-up, taught by her onesan.
“May I come in?”an elder maiko (that is the onesan), Umeyae san came into the room when Umechie san was dissolving face powder with water. She closed a fusuma (a fitting which is used us a partition in a Japanese-style room) and sat in the background. She started to look dead straight at every action of her imouto’s (literally means a younger sister) and the eyes were full of severity.
After dissolving white powder, she did the same for pink one as well. Just like mixing watercolors with water, she adds water little by little, mixes it with a brush and put it on back of her hands to check a mixing condition.
“Everything is measured with eyes. We use our own sense. It’s not like we have a certain recipe for make-up. There is nothing like, ‘See, if you add this much of water and texture of powder turns out like this…’It is more like cooking in your own way. When I was a fresh maiko like her, I was told by onesan, too.
You just learn by the practice with elder’s support,”Umeyae san says.
Once oshiroi(face powder) is ready, next thing is to make a foundation of make-up. Maiko use a special oil called ‘bindukeabura’as a base. You might imagine something liquid, but it is a solid like wax. If you take a little piece and knead for few minutes, it soon melts softly with hand’s temperature and become a transparent liquid. They say it is difficult to apply evenly and Umechie san is training intensively nowadays.
Oshiroi is first applied on face. She paints forehead, cheeks and neck with a brush by turns, uses a sponge to blend on skin. Two mirrors are used when it comes to paint the back.
It is said to be the hardest task for fresh maiko to draw a nihonashi (V-shaped pattern on the back of neck). If you were a woman, perhaps you might have had a similar experience, I guess.
Think back the days when you first started to do make-up. Didn’t you struggle to make it symmetrical when you drew eyebrows or eyeliners? Well, she is now doing the same on her back with one hand. Still more, she is in even harder situation that is to look in another mirror through a small mirror in a hand! I think you could imagine how serious this matters.
After oshiroi, colors are applied on cheeks, eyebrow and eyes. There are only three limited colors for maiko’s face. Except for the white color for skin, it is red, pink and black.
They never use other colors or use complex techniques. For example, to apply gradation colors on colors, to draw an outline of lips with pens or adding lip gloss to have a shiny effect. As mentioned before, it is thoroughly to do with adding colors.
The process and details are both simple, “therefore it is so difficult to express one’s originality,”Umeyae san says.“Gradually, you can start doing make-up in your own way after a year of being maiko, but at the beginning, you imitate the elders.
On the day I put make-up on Umechie chan’s face, people said to me,‘oh, she looks like your face!’Please have a look at her on that picture. That’s the one I am talking about,”she pointed a photo placed near Umechie san facing a mirror stand with great concentration.
It is said that lifestyle itself changes dramatically since you debut as a professional maiko. A range of work will be expanded greatly. In the past, it was only her duty to manage helping works for yakata and ochaya (a place where ozashi is held) where she belongs to.
Now there are other yakatakas, different hanamachi or even different areas in Japan to work at. Wherever and whenever she is needed or invited, she goes there to treat and entertain customers.
At the moment, she is learning 8 different trainings, and there will be 6 more plus including the tea cult, the flute, the other musical instruments, once she debuted as maiko.
Make-up seems to be finished. Umechie san stares at her in a mirror with an apprehensive look. “Oh, you see here, texture is so irregular”,“Why didn’t you paint face powder here?”Every single time Umechie san points out, she gave a shrug and said,“I am sorry”,nodding deeply.
I asked Umeyae san if she already has some plans for ozashiki the night. “You mean today? Well, there’s nothing fixed at this time yet. There may be something or not. Anyway, she gets ready for work and waits.
Even if there’s no plan for the night, it is good for her to practice how to get ready for work.”It is not long since she started doing the make-up by herself, but I hear that she practices it with a watch counting a time to see how fast she can go.
“Daily diligence”-I think there is no other woman suitable for this word than Umechie san right now. She faces up to every little thing squarely in a tenacious manner and never to perform carelessly. Until she can do it in a proper way, repetitive challenge is continued carefully. At the interview, I’ve been taught an important thing that was almost forgotten in a restless everyday life.
Photos：Copyright(c)2012 Geisha Japan All Rights Reserved