Shikomi with pail and brush, c. 1910.

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Shikomi [geisha-in-training] with pail and brush, c. 1910.

“In the past, children sold into the geisha districts often had to work as maids for years. They lived in the geisha house, being treated like dogsbodies but getting the chance to have the patina of the geisha world rub off on them. For Harumi her period as a shikomi (literally ‘in training’) or tamago (‘egg’) lasted just six months.

“Like the child-maids in the old days, she did a little cleaning, ran errands, and helped the maiko and geisha dress. As in any traditional Japanese apprenticeship, the real purpose was for her to absorb the atmosphere of the house, get a feel for how things were done, and get used to the notion of discipline.”

Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha, by Lesley Downer, 2002

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