The Flower and Willow World
Because they fall we love them— the cherry blossoms. In this floating world, does anything endure?
Ariwara no Narihira (823-880)
Strolling through the main streets of Gion Kobu (Kyoto’s largest Geisha district) is like being whisked back through time. My intention was to photograph Geisha in their environment, however, I wasn’t fully prepared with how visually arresting they are. The word Geisha means ‘arts person’, requiring many years of study to master various performing Japanese arts such as classical music, dance and tea ceremony. Once they have completed their studies of ‘gei’ (arts), only then will they progress to Geisha.
It took several nights to discover the right places to photograph these ladies. Every evening Kimono clad beauties emerge shyly yet suddenly, like some rare colourful exotic bird flitting from ‘ochaya’ (teahouse) to teahouse. My images are inspired by the hand coloured postcards from the early decades of the twentieth century. In life, we all place a particular importance on time and place in large because humans are mortal, and thus maintaining a connection to the past – creating a sense of continuity with those who have come before us. In a sense the Geisha transgress the passages of time like apparitions walking through the rickety streets into modernity.
The street scape of Gion serves as a perfect landscape – dark wooden houses, tiny lanes disappearing into dark corridors, and glowing red lanterns lighting the way for these beautiful ghostly beings. Much can be written about this secret vanishing world – steeped in symbology and old traditions. These ladies who sell not their bodies but their arts. The Flower and Willow World remains unchanged from hundreds of years ago.