Momotaro was a Taisho era maiko and eventually, geiko working in the Gion Kobu district of Kyoto, Japan.
To date, no publications have yet been located that speak in depth about Momotaro with the exception of a brief paragraph in "Gion Yoi-banashi" (祇園よいばなし: 早崎 春勇 : A Drunken Story of Gion by Haruyu Hayasaki). Therefore, the majority of information presented here about her life is purely circumstantial, being based upon what we see of her in postcards.
Momotaro first came to attention in the 1917 Miyako Odori. Based on her appearance in the program: what appears to be a mostly red haneri, two Bira-bira kanzashi and Kuromontsuki Furisode Hikizuri, it is possible that the photograph was taken for her Misedashi, thus, putting her as a first year maiko in 1917. While modern day maiko start their official training at the age of 16, during during Meiji, Taisho and early Showa, it was common for girls to start their maiko training anywhere between the ages of 6 to 12. Once these girls reached the age of 16, they graduated from maiko to geiko. Therefore, based on historical age for training, and her diminutive size in photographs in contrast to her peers, it is highly likely Momotaro was just only around 10-12 years old at the time of the photo.
When one browses through a collection of photographs of maiko and geiko from Taisho era, it soon becomes apparent that Momotaro, with her warm and infectious smile, must have been a photographer favourite of the times. She was frequently photographed not only as a sole model, but with a large group of the same maiko, along with the same two geiko, Tomigiku and Danko who are assumed to be her oneesan. When photographed as a group, she is often featured in a nurturing role with either maiko that appear to be her direct peers, or younger maiko.
In Haruyu Hayasaki's "Gion Yoi-banashi" (A Drunken Story of Gion), it is mentioned (translated):
"Momotaro-san was indeed beautiful in person, but on photo she was photogenic or a shashin-bijin. Even when bromide postcards were being sold, customers would always say, "Oh, who is this cute girl? I will buy one." That shows how much beautiful she was."
While there exists photographs of Momotaro playing the Shime daiko, it appears that Momotaro was a skilled dancer, having often been photographed in various dance poses using fans with the kamon from Inoue School of Dance. Additionally, Momotaro has appeared to participate in the Miyako Odori over a number of years as there exists photos of Momotaro as a maiko wearing the iconic Miyako Odori opening scene costume, along with a photo series of her as a geisha wearing the costume of Yase villiage women. Momotaro's multiple appearence in the Miyako Odori is of particular interest with evidence to her dance skill, as the popularity of geisha was at peak during late Meiji and early Taisho, which meant there were no shortages of geisha and maiko and only the best dancers and musicians in the hanamachi would have been selected to perform.
Photographs show that Momotaro did go on to become a geiko, being an oneesan to a number of maiko. It appears that she may not have remained a geiko for long, however, as by 1926, the Miyako Odori program for the year shows a new first year maiko with the name of Momotaro while "Gion Yoi-banashi" mentions that she worked as a server (nakai) at a ryotei restaurant in her latter years.
- Either Tomigiku or Danko were possibly Momotaro's oneesan based on the frequency of them appearing in photographs together. While Danko has the same kamon as Momotaro which indicates she was from the same okiya, Tomigiku and Momotaro appear together much more frequently on a sisterly basis, leading one to believe she was Momotaro's official oneesan.
Momotaro as Maiko
Momotaro as Geiko
Momotaro as a Bathing Beauty
Momotaro Wearing Yofuku
- All images from the private collection of Naomi Graham Hormozi unless otherwise stated.
Authors & Contributors
Author/s: Naomi Graham Hormozi (Immortal Geisha (IG Username))