Taikomochi or Houkan, the Male Counterpart to the Geishaby Caroline Seawright
March 17, 2003
Updated: July 1, 2013
Taikomochi and Houkan
太鼓持ち - Taikomochi
幇間 - Houkan
A time of peace began in the 1600s and the otogishu and hanashishu no longer were required by their lords, and so they had to take on a new role. They changed from being advisors to becoming pure entertainers, and a number of them found employment with the yujo, high class Japanese courtesans. Seisuisho ('Laughs to Banish Sleep'), a collection of comic stories written by Sakuden Anrakuan, was compiled during this time.
Geisha means "arts person", while houkan was the formal name for "jester". Taikomochi was a less formal name for these men, which literally means "drum bearer", though not all of them used the drum. It could also have been a corrupted way of saying "to flatter someone". These three terms came into use during the 1600s. In 1751 the first onna geisha (female geisha) arrived at a party and caused quite a stir. She was called geiko ("arts girl"), which is still the term for geisha in Kyoto today. By the end of the 1700s these onna geisha outnumbered the male geisha - the taikomochi - and the men became so few that they started to be known as otoko geisha ("male geisha"). The geisha even took over from the yujo due to their artistic skills, their contemporary outlook and their sophistication. The men continued to assist the women - this time the geisha - in the entertainment field.
There were between five or six hundred taikomochi in Japan during the peak of their popularity. Since then the geisha started to decline as the popularity of the jokyuu (cafe girls and show girls) in the 1920s due to westernisation. This new profession with its attractive salary originated in Tokyo, and largely comprised of girls from the country. Becoming a jokyuu was a much easier way to earn money, and so fewer women joined the ranks of the geisha.
Very few women chose to work as jokyuu out of curiosity or as desire for excitement; instead, they realized that the work was more profitable, less tiring, and less time-consuming than other types of unskilled labor or apprenticeships. Unlike the geisha, the jokyuu entered the profession without a debt to her employer, and she was free to quit her job any time. Requirements for success involved only a good appearance, the ability to make conversation with customers, and the perseverance to withstand the teasing or rude behaviour of drunks; training took the form of on-the-job imitation of other jokyuu.
-- Laura Jackson, 'Women in Changing Japan'
This in turn caused the decline of the taikomochi. Their decline sped up with World War II, and the taikomochi continue to decline today. Although there are still small communities of geisha in Kyoto and Tokyo, there are only five taikomochi in Japan. Four taikomochi are in Tokyo, one is in Kyoto. Unfortunately few young women are interested in becoming geisha, and even fewer young men are interested in becoming taikomochi.
Enosuke Hirose, whose geisha name is Eitaro, is the only current male geisha in Japan. However, he is not performing the original role of the male geisha or even the role of a taikomochi, but is, instead, playing the role of a female geisha. Coming from a family of geisha, with his great-grandmother being a wealthy geisha in Fukushima, he began learning the female dances at the age of eight. At ten years old, his mother, geisha Mariko Hirose, encouraged him to dress up and dance at her geisha parties by bribing him with offers of new computer games! Since then, he has had almost a decade of training in the geisha arts.
Eitaro has had more to learn than most. The gracefulness exhibited in the dances, the feminine movements as drinks are poured, the coquettishness required when conversing with male patrons, the shy looks away at a compliment, the delicate hand covering a smile and the final wave as a customer is bidden farewell - none of this is likely to have come as second nature.
-- Ryall, J. 2012, 'Like a Natural', PostMagazine, 23 December
He and his sister, Maika Hirose, continue in the footsteps of their mother who, unfortunately, succumbed to cancer in 2009. Her goal had been to devoted her life to restoring the geisha culture, and had run the Matsunoya Okiya (geisha house) in Tokyo's Omori port district. After her death, Eitaro became the 'mother' of the okiya, and he and his sister oversee six geisha. With his popularity, due to his unique status as the only male geisha in Japan, he is sought after for parties. Using this popularity, he is hoping to fulfil his mother's wishes and re-energise the geisha culture in Japan.
As part of his repertoire, Ms Downer was shocked by one particular skit - one that is a classic erotic skit. The taikomochi pretends to be talking to a pretend danna (patron) who obviously wants to have sex. The taikomochi explains that he isn't gay, and that he had called a geisha to come and tend to the patron, but the pretend danna is impatient. So the taikomochi gives in to please the client, and acts out (half hidden by a screen) the sex with moans and rolling of eyes, until the climax. The taikomochi then gets a tissue to 'clean up'. The audience roared with laughter because they all knew that this was a joke, making fun of how geisha and taikomochi were thought to please their customers! Of course they don't go that far today, which is why it is a classic, amusingly erotic skit.
Outside of these ozashiki, he responds to requests for his performance and appearance at various events including home parties for women which focus on the history and culture of ozashiki. He also gives lectures at the Asahi Culture Centers in Osaka and Kobe, writes newspaper columns and has his own radio show about Japan's traditional entertainment culture. He has also published a book, Ma no Gokui (The Essence of Timing in Performing Arts). He was involved with giving advice for the taikomochi character in the movie Nagasaki Burabura Bushi. He runs his own web site about his profession, and hopes to share the history and culture of the taikomochi with the world.
However, unlike other showy traditional cultures appearing on the main stage, Taikomochi is a backstage one, which I have dared to pursue as my occupation, knowing that nobody can guarantee and protect it, but still receiving inquiries from top enterprise leaders for attendance at their traditional banquets, where they have shown interest in what I am doing, while trying to get business hints from their conversation with me during such entertainment sessions. I have also been encouraged to take pride in my business by receiving requests from young enterprise managers to give lectures on my experiences in the entertainment business involving human relations. I really hope that I will be able to continue to be of service to people somehow through my occupation.
-- Taikomochi Arai
The geisha still have young women wishing to become maiko, but their world is dying. Unfortunately there are too few men who wish to become taikomochi. This artform is likely to die soon, long before that of the geisha, unless more young men find an interest in these traditional arts.
Further Information about Taikomochi
- Japan's Traditional Male Entertainer (Houkan/Taikomochi) ARAI - a site about the Taikomochi, the male counterpart to the geisha. These are the traditional jesters of the flower and willow world in Japan.
- Taikomochi Arai - A small site with photos of Taikomochi Arai in a costume, as well as information on his web page and his book. A Japanese page.
- Ma no Gokui - A Japanese summary of Taikomochi Arai's book. A Japanese page.
- EDO Tradition Plan - In Tokyo, this place offers everything from a Taikomochi Course to a Hangyoku (Tokyo's apprentice geisha) and Geisha metamorphosis Experience Course!
- Tsuta-Club - A club had a Taikomochi Art evening with some photos from the event. A Japanese PDF.
- Gion-Mitoko - Through this site you can find out about - and see - the taikomochi in Kyoto (though the taikomochi page seems to be under construction at the moment). A Japanese page.
- The Art of the Taikomochi - A page about taikomochi with a list of skills that a taikomochi has to have, photos and information. A Japanese page.
- Japan's only GUY-sha: The Geisha's Son who Wanted to Follow in his Dead Mother's Footsteps - News article about Geisha Eitaro, with many photos of him both in and out of costume.
- Like a Natural - An in-depth article about Geisha Eitaro, and how he came to be Japan's only current male geisha.
Video of Taikomochi
A playlist of video showing taikomochi games and skits, by AThousandTales:
A special thank you goes to Taikomochi Arai for his help and for all the information on his web site. Thanks also go to Peter Gilder of Arts and Designs of Japan, Alex Nisbet of Virtual Ukiyo-E and Beth Cullom of Carolyn Staley Fine Japanese Prints for allowing use of their ukiyo-e images.
Please also note that this article has been used for the basis of the Taikomochi article on Wikipedia and H2G2.
© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2003 - present
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