I love edgy 20th century block prints of traditional Japanese subjects, like this print Two Maiko by Sekino Jun’ichirō. He uses the regimented trappings of a maiko’s (apprentice geisha) appearance abstractly, placing the young women in juxtaposition to each other. You might only see these women positioned like this if they were dancing (maiko means “women of dance”), yet the artist positions them in a streetscape, the only place where outsiders to this world might catch a glimpse of these elusive artisans. Overhead hangs a paper lantern. The designs on these lanterns are specific to particular Gion geisha districts; the chained dots on this lantern denotes that these women belong to either the Gion Kobu or Gion Higashi districts.
The artist does not aim to represent the maiko’s traditional dress faithfully. Rather, he uses the parts of their dress for presentation of various patterns of his craft. The top maiko has the three-tined stencil on her neck of celebration, generally worn only for omisedashi, or the celebratory start of business. This maiko doesn’t wear the black formal kimono of that event; instead she wears contrasting, richly patterned fabrics, as if she were on her way to an o-zashiki, a type of party that comprises the major work of maiko and geiko.
I love the expression on the lower maiko’s face. Her face does not depict the sweet teenager seen in so many maiko photographs. It looks more determined, closed, and tired, in contrast to the colorful raucous circles depicting the hair ornaments at the top of her head and the energy of the wings depicted on her kimono, pouring over her arms.