White powder, cherry lips, a dazzling robe, and flirty eyes—the geisha wins the audience’s attention in the hidden ochaya, a wooden teahouse tucked down a Kyoto back alley. Graceful arm gestures are the prelude to a carefully crafted joke, then, suddenly a low voice bellows from the geisha’s mouth. This isn’t a drag show—it’s a rare appearance by the elusive taikomochi, or male geisha.
“Today there are only a handful of taikomochi left in the country,” says Akemi Toyama, the head concierge of the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, “but long ago they were much more popular.”
“Actually, the original geisha were only men,” adds Laura Miller, a leading professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.