National | Regional voices: Chubu

Torn between airplanes and Japanese arts, former Air Self-Defense Force officer debuts as geisha in Gifu

Chunichi Shimbun

A 32-year-old woman who used to serve in the Air Self-Defense Force debuted last month as a geiko — another term used to refer to geisha — in Gifu, a city known for having a unique tradition of entertaining guests on riverboats with geisha performances and ukai cormorant fishing.

“I hope more people will become interested in me and also in karyūkai (the world of geisha),” said Miho Koketsu, a native of Mino, Gifu Prefecture, who goes by the name Kikumatsu.

On Dec. 2, Kikumatsu made her debut performance at a hotel in Gifu. As she danced to shamisen music wearing a black kimono and holding a fan in her hand, she received a warm round of applause from the audience.

As a child, Kikumatsu was fond of airplanes and almost every year she went to see an air show held at the ASDF’s Gifu Air Base in Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture.

She studied English at Kyoto Notre Dame University and after graduating from university she joined the ASDF, serving for 9½ years until last fall.

She worked mainly as an officer in charge of making flight arrangements and correspondence, and she was proud of being an SDF member.

But she also had another dream of getting involved with traditional Japanese culture — something she adored since she was a child.

In her childhood, she would go to watch the local fireworks display wearing a kimono made by her mother, a kimono-maker.

While attending college in Kyoto, she joined a koto music club and also took Japanese traditional dance lessons. She enjoyed watching kimono-clad geisha walking down the street.

She began dreaming about becoming a geisha after finding on the internet that a woman debuted as a maiko — an apprentice geisha — in 2010 while a member of Hosen Giren, a geiko agency in Gifu. She began checking the agency’s blog and was impressed by its efforts to promote the tradition of geiko culture.

It is said that there were 700 to 800 geiko in the city before World War II, but the number has dropped to about 20, many of whom are members of the Gifu Geiko Union. Hosen Giren, a separate agency launched in 1998, dispatches performers to teahouses, high-class Japanese restaurants and boats on the Nagara River to entertain guests.

After she joined the agency, Kikumatsu has been busy taking lessons in drums, shamisen, Tokiwazu theatrical music, traditional dancing and tea ceremony, but she says everything is new and exciting.

The former SDF officer says she still can’t get rid of her habit of waking up at 5 a.m. every morning and answering “Yes!” with a sharp voice when someone speaks to her.

“She is always cheerful. I’m sure she can make her own way,” said Kikuji, 48, head of Hosen Giren.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Dec. 27.