Today is Baikasai (梅花祭), the annual Plum Blossom Festival at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Every year on February 25th the maiko and geiko of Kamishichiken hold a large outdoor tea ceremony that serves approximately 3,000 guests (you must purchase a ticket beforehand as seating is limited).
I could highlight all of the people being served tea, but nothing can compare to senior maiko Katsuna (勝奈) of Daimonji (大文字) helping out junior maiko Umekana (梅叶菜) of Umeno (梅乃) with a small adjustment of her shidare. The moment lasted just a second (as can be seen on other videos), but it shows the unique solidarity between all maiko and geiko to help each other out and to not leave anyone behind.
Umekana has been a maiko for 5 months now and Katsuna has an impressive 51 months (4 years and 3 months) and four previous Baikasai under her koshihimo. This may be Katsuna’s last Baikasai as a maiko as she will likely have her erikae at the end of the year if she chooses to stay.
Since pine was first and bamboo was second it’d only fitting that the third would be the final member of the Shōchikubai trio: Plum Blossoms!
Plum Blossoms - 梅 (Ume) Rarity: Common Season(s): October through May, especially January and February
The third herald of spring, the plum blossom are a welcome sight that declares the dark winters to be over. While being called a “plum” in English, the fruits themselves are actually closer to that of an apricot. You can differentiate plum blossoms from other blossoms by observing the following:
Plum blossoms always have rounded petals and buds Plum tree branches are never straight and often twist and bend The blooms appear as bunches together on stems A blossom, a half open bud, and a closed bud are always shown together
Even in the abstract example shown you can still tell that it’s a plum due to the rounded petals. The maiko and geiko of Kamishichiken celebrate Baikasai (梅花祭 - literally “Plum Blossom Festival”) with a grand outdoor tea ceremony at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine on February 25th when the blossoms are at their peak. Plum blossoms have the following meanings:
Bare/Budded Plum Branches: Patience, Winter, Rebirth Blooming Plum Branches: Spring, Renewed Vigor, Hope White Plum Blossom: Spring, Protection From Evil, Purity Red Plum Blossoms: Spring, Protection From Evil, Love
Before cherry blossoms became popular in the Heian Period (794-1158) the plum was considered the greater flower to observe during the Nara Period (710-794).
Kitano Tenmangu, part two! We wondered why there were cow statues all over the grounds, and there’s a legend that says that the cow pulling Sugawara no Michizane’s body to the grave site stopped and refused to budge, so it was buried at the closet temple along with him.
On the 11th Day of Fun I present… a calendar! Every time there’s a new even going on there’s always questions about what it is and why it’s happening, so to save some time he’s a handy chart of who celebrates what and when. January Shin Aisatsu (新挨拶) - First greetings of the new year. All maiko and geiko dress in kuromontsuki and pay their respects to the local okiya and ochaya. Kamishichiken: January 4th Pontocho: January 4th Miyagawa Cho: January 5th Gion Higashi: January 6th Gion Kobu: January 7th
Shigyōshiki (始業式) - Commencement ceremony for the new year. The most popular maiko and geiko are given awards as are the most studious. Gion Kobu, Pontocho, Miyagawa Cho, Gion Higashi: January 7th Kamishichiken: January 9th
Hatsu Ebisu (初ゑびす) - Maiko hand out lucky bamboo at the Ebisu Shrine. Gion Kobu and Miyagawa Cho: January 11th
Hatsuyori (初寄り) - Formal New Year’s greetings by maiko and geiko. All will be dressed in iromontsuki and pay their respects to the establishments in their neighbourhood Gion Kobu: January 13th
February Setsubun (節分) - Traditional start of the lunar new year celebrated on fixed days (February 2nd-4th). Maiko and geiko will perform at their local shrines and toss out packages of lucky beans after their performance
Gion Kobu, Pontocho, Miyagawa Cho, Gion Higashi: Yasaka Shrine Kamishichiken: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Miyagawa Cho: 5 Maiko in Kuromontsuki - February 2nd Pontocho: 2 Maiko - February 2nd
Gion Kobu: 3 Senior Maiko - February 3rd
Gion Higashi: 5 Maiko - February 3rd Kamishichiken: 4 Maiko, 2 Geiko - February 3rd
Obake (お化け) - Similar to Western Halloween, geiko dress up and perform skits for their customers. The costumes were originally meant to confuse spirits. All Hanamachi: February 2nd-4th
Baikasai (梅花祭) - The plum festival at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Maiko and geiko will hold a special outdoor tea ceremony. Kamishichiken: February 25th
March Hina Nagashi (雛流し) - Girls’ Day festival at Shimogamo Shrine. Three maiko will say a prayer and set small floating baskets onto the river. Miyagawa Cho: March 3rd
Higashiyama Hanatōro (東山花灯路) - Spring dedication dances by two maiko at Yasaka Shrine. Gion Kobu: March 13th Kamishichiken: March 14th Pontocho: March 15th Miyagawa Cho: March 20th Gion Higashi: March 21st
Oishi Ki (大石忌) - Maiko and geiko gather at the Ichiriki to pay tribute to Oishi, leader of the 47 Ronin, who plotted his revenge at the ochaya. Yachiyo Inoue will perform a special dance. Gion Kobu: March 20th
Kitano Odori (北野をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Kamishichiken at the Kamishichiken Kaburenjo. Runs March 25th to April 7th.
Gion Shirakawa Yoizakura (祇園白川酔桜) - Two maiko or a maiko and geiko are chosen to pose for photographs in front of the cherry blossoms along the Shirakawa River. Gion Kobu, Miyagawa Cho, and Gion Higashi: March 31st and April 1st
April Miyako Odori (都をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu. Runs April 1st to 30th at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo. In 2017 it will be at the Shunjuza and will run from April 1st to 23rd with no performances on April 10th or 17th due to renovations at the kaburenjo.
Kyō Odori (京をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Miyagawa Cho at the Miyagawa Kaburenjo. Runs April 1st to 20th.
Reitaisai Hono Būyo Matsuri (平安神宮例大祭奉納舞踊) - Dedication dances at the Heian Shrine on April 16th. Gion Kobu: 2 or 3 Maiko Pontocho: 2 Maiko Miyagawa Cho: 5 Maiko Gion Higashi: 4 Maiko
Oreimairi (お礼参り) - Giving thanks at a local shrine after the completion of an odori. Kamishichiken: April 8th Miyagawa Cho: April 21st
May Miyako Odori Shūryō Hōgoku Matsuri (都をどり終了奉告祭) - Maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu giving thanks for a successful odori. Gion Kobu: May 1st
Kamogawa Odori (鴨川をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Pontocho at the Pontocho Kaburenjo. Runs from May 1st to 24th.
Kanki Inari Shrine Blessing (観亀稲荷神社例祭) - Maiko and geiko pray for continued blessings and serve sake at the Kanki Inari Shrine. Gion Higashi: May 13th.
Oreimairi (お礼参り) - Pontocho maiko and geiko give thanks after the Kamogawa Odori on May 25th.
June Gion Hojoe Festival (祇園放生会) - Two maiko release fish into the Shirakawa River from the Tatsumi Bridge to show appreciation for all life. Gion Kobu: June 3rd
Miyako No Nigiwai (都の賑わい) - Joint performance of all five kagai on June 23rd and 24th.
July Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) - Massive festival where the gods who are enshrined at the Yasaka Shrine are brought out to celebrate with the people. Runs from July 1st to 24th and has various events during this period. Miyabi Kai (みやび会) - All maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu dress in identical yukata and pray at the Yasaka Shrine with their dance teachers for continued success. Gion Kobu: July 7th
Hanagasa Junko (花笠巡行) - Maiko and geiko attend a parade at the end of the Gion Matsuri where they will perform at the shrine upon the commencement of the parade. Gion Higashi Maiko and Pontocho Geiko: July 24th (Rotating Years) Gion Kobu Maiko and Miyagawa Cho Maiko: July 24th (Rotating Years)
Yukata Kai (ゆかた会) - Maiko and geiko perform with musical instruments or vocal accompaniments while wearing yukata. Miyagawa Cho: July 15th Gion Higashi: July 31st
August Hassaku (八朔) - Maiko and geiko pay respects to their teachers and local establishments. Gion Kobu maiko and geiko will dress in kuromontsuki while all other districts will wear casual komon or iromuji. All Kagai: August 1st
September Takasegawa Boat Festival (高瀬川舟まつり) - Two maiko participate in a blessing for the boats that traverse the Takasegawa Canal and perform a tea ceremony afterwards. Pontocho: September 22nd or 23rd
October Onshūkai (温習会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo from October 1st to 6th.
Zuiki Matsuri (ずいき祭) - Maiko and geiko stand outside of their okiya to watch the procession of the Zuiki Matsuri parade. Kamishichiken: October 4th
Mizuekai (みずゑ会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Miyagawa Cho at the Miyagawa Kaburenjo from October 6th to 9th.
Kotobukai (寿会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Kamishichiken at the Kamishichiken Kaburenjo from October 8th to 12th.
Jidai Matsuri (時代祭) - Maiko and geiko from two different kagai participate on a rotating basis in a festival that celebrates the 1,300 year history of the people and costumes of Japan. Rotating Kagai: October 22nd
Suimeikai (水明会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Pontocho at the Pontocho Kaburenjo from October 27th to 30th.
November Gion Odori (祇園をどり) - Annual dance by the maiko and geiko of Gion Higashi at the Gion Higashi Kaburenjo from November 1st to 10th.
Nishijin Obi and Kimono Festival (きもので集う園遊会) - Maiko and geiko hold an outdoor tea ceremony at the Kamigamo Shrine to celebrate the beautiful works of the Nishijin Weaving District. Kamishichiken: November 3rd
Kanikakunisai (かにかくに祭) - A geiko and three maiko will offer flowers in front of the monument inscribed with the poem “Kanikakuni” by Isamu Yoshi. Gion Kobu: November 8th
Gion Kouta Festival (祇園小唄祭) - Two maiko offer flowers and recite the Gion Kouta in front of a monument in Maruyama Park. All Kagai: November 23rd
December Kaomise Soken (顔見世素見) - Maiko and geiko view the first performances of the kabuki year at the Minamiza Theatre. All Kagai: December 1st to 5th (Rotating Schedule)
Kotohajime (事始め) - Maiko and geiko visit their dance teachers and offer them new year’s gifts while receiving a new fan. All Kagai: December 13th.
Okotosan (お事多うさん) - Maiko and geiko will go around to various ochaya and say “Okotosandesu!” at the entrance and are greeted by the okasan and given pink and white kusudama. Gion Kobu and Miyagawa Cho: December 30th
Okera Mairi (おけら詣り) - Maiko and geiko will light a special rope with the flame from the okerabi and bring it back to their homes for luck in the new year. Gion Kobu and Miyagawa Cho: December 31st
Edit: This list is now available in its own tab called “Calendar of Events”
Kitano Tenmangu, part one! The shrine was dedicated to scholar Sugawara no Michizane, so it’s become the place to pray if you’re a student with exams coming up. I thought I ought to pay a visit to pray for the collective wisdom of America, which has been lacking as of late.