We were staring at the heart of exotic Japan--a vision as ephemeral as the cherry blossoms that shivered in their hair
Two geishas, in fact.
Fukuhina, 17, and Fukuyu, 16, were presented to us at dinner. They glided through the door in their stunning kimonos, a burst of cherry blossoms dancing on their hair, their white faces breaking into shy, modest smiles.
We were a group of Asia-Pacific journalists wrapping up our tour of Sharp Corporation's new state-of-the-art Kameyama Plant in Japan's Mie Prefecture. Our farewell dinner, held at Kyoto's upscale Gangko restaurant, was an immersion into everything Nippon: low tables, tatami mats, tofu in various incarnations, sushi, sashimi and wasabi everywhere.
Iko-san, our Japanese guide and interpreter, made a request before the geishas came in: Please stay in your seats while the girls do their singing and dancing. We can have the Q&A and picture-taking afterwards.
Her request was promptly forgotten the moment the twin visions in kimono materialized at the door. We stood up, gasped at the sight, and scrambled for a good spot from which to capture them with our cameras. All finesse in the presence of these avatars of propriety were gone.
We were staring at the heart of exotic Japan, and damn if we failed to bring a piece of it home.
Through all the bedlam, the nasty flashes of light, the two girls were the picture of calm, silently turning this way and that to smile at the volley of lenses aimed their way. Clearly, we weren't the first gaijin (foreigners) to fall prey to their charms. They were trained to catch the eye; we were simply putty in their hands.
Fukuyu and Fukuhina were introduced to us with the caveat that these were but their stage names. They were both maiko (apprentices), undergoing rigid everyday training from 15 years old until they became geiko (professional geishas) at 20. This could be gleaned immediately from their kimonos, which had extended sleeves to indicate their apprentice status.
Their lips, too, betrayed their lack of longevity in the business: Fukuyu, unlike the older Fukuhina, had only her lower lip painted red, because she'd been training for less than a year. While very young, both had finished secondary schooling, to comply with a Japanese law mandating that all maiko should at least be high school graduates. More here...
[photo 3 copyright © Philippine Daily Inquirer]