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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Kamuro 禿



In ancient Japan, Kamuro (禿) were children, usually seven to fifteen years of age, who served as attendants for courtesans and Tayūs. Generally, a courtesan had only one kamuro in the 1600s, while in the 1700s, each courtesan (above a certain rank) came to have two kamuro accompanying her.


They are rarely seen nowadays, as they only appear in Kyoto in the presence of a Tayū.

Tayū (太夫) are the highest class of traditional entertainer in Japan. Though technically the highest class of geisha, a general term for the highest-ranking entertainers, tayū were distinguished historically from other geisha by the quality of their intensive training from a young age in numerous traditional artforms, and that they lived and worked in Kyoto, the capital of Japan, which remained the center of culture when the capital moved to Tokyo.

Tayū were known for their training in Japanese tea ceremony, kōdō, ikebana, Japanese calligraphy, poetry, dance, singing, and the playing of traditional instruments, such as the koto. Tayū differed from lower ranks of geisha by the social class of their customers. Traditionally, tayū catered for the uppermost echelons of society, including the nobility and the imperial court. Tayū were recognised as a group in the beginning of the Edo period. Due to the limited size of their clientele, they were never numerous; during their peak there were approximately 40 Tayū working in Kyoto in the Shimabara district.

Tayū have survived into the modern day in Shimabara, Kyoto, having been allowed to continue practising the cultural and performing arts traditions of their profession; they were declared a highest level of geisha.

Tayū continue to entertain in a similar manner to geisha, with fewer than five tayū left in modern-day Kyoto. The last remaining tayū house is located in Shimabara, which lost its official status as a hanamachi for geisha in the late 20th century. However, some still recognize Shimabara as a hanamachi, with the number and activities of tayū slowly growing. The few remaining women still currently practising the arts of the tayū, without the sexual aspect, do so as a preservation of cultural heritage rather than as a profession or lifestyle.


In today's world, the Kamuro live at home with their families and attend schools just as other children do. They only come over to the Tayū to attend lessons for cultural activities and when they have work to do. They come to Tayū through referrals from friends and relatives, neighbours and customers.

 

Traditionally, the original path to becoming a Tayū in the Shimabara pre-WW2 looked something like this:

      禿, Kamuro –> 少女, Shoume –> 天神, Tenjin –> 太夫, Tayū

Generally, it takes about 10 years to train to become a Tayū.


Kamuros pose for a photo at the Philosopher's Path during a meetup and photo session with Aoi Tayū.




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