Mi naran to omo
Wasure nu yori mo
"To wish to be forgotten by the beloved is a soul-task harder far than trying not to forget." - Poem by Kimiko.
The name is on a paper-lantern at the entrance of a house in the Street of the Geisha.
Seen at night the street is one of the queerest in the world. It is narrow as a gangway; and the dark shining woodwork of the house-fronts, all tightly closed, - each having a tiny sliding door with paper-panes that look just like frosted glass, - makes you think of first-class passenger-cabins. Really the buildings are several stories high; but you do not observe this at once, - especially if there be no moon, - because only the lower stories are illuminated up to their awnings, above which all is darkness. The illumination is made by lamps behind the narrow paper-paned doors, and by the paper-lanterns hanging outside, - one at every door. You look down the street between two lines of these lanterns, - lines converging far-off into one motionless bar of yellow light. Some of the lanterns are egg-shaped, some cylindrical; others four-sided or six-sided; and Japanese characters are beautifully written upon them. The street is very quiet, - silent as a display of cabinet-work in some great exhibition after closing-time. This is because the inmates are mostly away, - at tending banquets and other festivities. Their life is of the night.
The legend upon the first lantern to the left as you go south is "Kinoya: uchi O-Kata;" and that means The House of Gold wherein O-Kata dwells. The lantern to the right tells of the House of Nishimura, and of a girl Miyotsuru, - which name signifies The Stork Magnificently Existing. Next upon the left comes the House of Kajita; - and in that house are Kohana, the Flower-Bud, and Hinako, whose face is pretty as the face of a doll. Opposite is the House Nagaye, wherein live Kimika and Kimiko.... And this luminous double litany of names is half-a-mile long.
The inscription on the lantern of the last-named house reveals the relationship between Kimika and Kimiko, - and yet something more; for Kimiko is styled Ni-dai-me, an honorary untranslatable title which signifies that she is only Kimiko No.2. Kimika is the teacher and mistress: she has educated two geisha, both named, or rather renamed by her, Kimiko; and this use of the same name twice is proof positive that the first Kimiko - Ichi-dai-me - must have been celebrated. The professional appellation borne by an unlucky or unsuccessful geisha is never given to her successor. If you should ever have good and sufficient reason to enter the house, - pushing open that lantern-slide of a door which sets a gong-bell ringing to announce visits, - you might be able to see Kimika, provided her little troupe be not engaged for the evening. You would find her a very intelligent person, and well worth talking to. She can tell, when she pleases, the most remarkable stories, - real flesh-and-blood stories, - true stories of human nature. For the Street of the Geisha is full of traditions, - tragic, comic, melodramatic; - every house has its memories; - and Kimika knows them all. Some are very, very terrible; and some would make you laugh; and some would make you think. The story of the first Kimiko belongs to the last class. It is not one of the most extraordinary; but it is one of the least difficult for Western people to understand.
There is no more Ichi-dai-me Kimiko: she is only a remembrance. Kimika was quite young when she called that Kimiko her professional sister.
"An exceedingly wonderful girl," is what Kimika says of Kimiko. To win any renown in her profession, a geisha must be pretty or very clever; and the famous ones are usually both, - having been selected at a very early age by their trainers according to the promise of such qualities Even the commoner class of singing-girls must have some charm in their best years, - if only that beaute du diable which inspired the Japanese proverb that even a devil is pretty at eighteen(1). But Kimiko was much more than pretty. She was according to the Japanese ideal of beauty; and that standard is not reached by one woman in a hundred thousand. Also she was more than clever: she was accomplished. She composed very dainty poems, - could arrange flowers exquisitely, perform tea-ceremonies faultlessly, embroider, make silk mosaic: in short, she was genteel. And her first public appearance made a flutter in the fast world of Kyoto. it was evident that she could make almost any conquest she pleased, and that fortune was before her.