So, I’ve been cast as a taikomochi for the spring’s kabuki performance. But what is a taikomochi? No, it has nothing to do with Bubbie’s icecream-filled balls of pounded rice (mochi, 餅).
I figured it must be written as 太鼓持、taiko (太鼓) being a drum, and mochi (持ち) meaning “to carry.”
Right: A tsutsumi, or taiko, drum like that which a taikomochi would have played, though he would have also played shamisen and presumably other instruments as well.
c. 1925, by lacquer artists Kamisaka Sekka and Kamisaka Yûkichi; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2005.194.
Right: The wrong kind of mochi. We’re not talking pounded rice, here.
So, a drum-carrier. But what does that mean? Am I part of the hayashi, the orchestra? Judging from the context within the play, I could be a member of the retinue of the merchants and/or samurai who have rented out the back room of the teahouse for their party. But what would a samurai or merchant need of a drum-carrier? This isn’t the Union Army, that we should be talking about drummer boys.
Wikipedia identifies taikomochi as male geisha, before going into deeper detail. Okay, that makes more sense. A geisha (芸者) is a person (者) of the performing arts (芸); a “drum carrier,” too, would be a musician, an entertainer. That makes sense; I like that. So, I guess my character works for the teahouse, as a geisha would, providing entertainment, but not (necessarily) sleeping with the clients.
Let’s see what Cecelia Segawa Seigle, reigning expert on the Yoshiwara has to say on the subject.
One explanation for the origin of the term is said to derive from the time of Oda Nobunaga. The drummer Yozaemon, in service to Nobunaga, it is said, was “jealous of talented pupils, so he favored the untalented sycophant Idayû who was good [merely/primarily] at holding the drum;” Idayû thus came to be called taikomochi.1
I like the other story she provides better. In Buddhist processions, the drum would traditionally follow the bell. Since kanemochi (鐘持), or “bell-carrier,” is a homonym for kanemochi (金持) meaning “someone with a lot of money,” it’s a sort of ironic or sarcastic jab at the entertainer (the taikomochi) who follows around the wealthy client.1
Things, of course, do not remain constant over the course of the entire Edo period (1603-1868); after all, this is the period that saw the introduction of the shamisen, the rise of the geisha, the shift from male geisha to female geisha, and sooo many other shifts and developments over the course of the period. So, we cannot really generalize that the Yoshiwara (and the taikomochi) within would have operated the same in 1650 as in 1750, as in 1850. But, as our information is limited…
Segawa Seigle writes that in the Genroku period (1688-1704), this is more or less how it would have worked: A client would hire a taikomochi or two to entertain him and his party until the courtesans (who apparently took some time…) were ready.2 Have I mentioned that I have yet to read her book through? I do apologize that my understanding of other matters surrounding this is a bit weak – I’m really just skimming through the book for references to taikomochi and working from that, for now. I do very much hope to read the book eventually – maybe over summer break? – but for now, I apologize if I make any poor assumptions about aspects of how this all worked.
Apparently, though we rarely think of them being there, taikomochi were present throughout the history of the Yoshiwara, and in fact increased in number over the years, even as they lost their position as the chief entertainers to female geishas (and courtesans). They accompanied and entertained clients’ parties with song, dance, shamisen, and comic stories – pretty much the same things female geisha would specialize in. Apparently, at some point, the taikomochi split between musicians and those more skilled at comedy, and the term came to be applied more heavily to the jesters, to those who played the buffoon.3 Not that it necessarily makes a huge difference given my extremely small part, but I think I intend to play a proficient and upright musician rather than a buffoon, if given any choice.
Above: “Party Scene in the Yoshiwara” by Gessai Gabimaru, 1800. Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 11.7592.
Could one of these men be a taikomochi? I wonder.
A novel from 1711 provides some tips for success as a taikomochi: To start with, a taikomochi must never upstage the clients, nor the women, but must always be humble; he is one of the lowest in station in the room, and must act like it. He must be sly and witty, but never show himself to be smarter or more knowledgeable than the patron, and must do whatever possible to protect the patron’s dignity and reputation. The taikomochi similarly must also watch out for himself, taking care not to drink more than the patron – or, if the situation allows, not at all. He must be witty in his foolishness, in just such a way as to make the whole situation playful and to make the patron say “what a fool you are!”3
The novel goes on to explain how patrons might sometimes buy a courtesan for the taikomochi, not as a genuine gift to the taikomochi (who, in the story, might prefer to have the money himself rather than having it spent on buying a woman for him), but rather, as an additional entertainer who would therefore be present at the patron’s parties.3
Here’s where it gets interesting. Who are the taikomochi? Where did they come from, and how did they get to become taikomochi? Well, the story for the women geisha and courtesans is a whole story unto itself, but Segawa Seigle writes that many taikomochi were themselves patrons, clients of the Yoshiwara who could not afford to maintain such an expensive lifestyle, and so turned to becoming entertainers. This was a way for men ruined financially by their expensive adventures in the pleasure districts, and now penniless, to still enjoy being a part of the world of the pleasure quarters – and possibly, I suppose, though Segawa Seigle doesn’t say it explicitly, to pay back debts owed. Known as nodaiko (野太鼓), these relatively talentless amateur entertainers would follow a daijin (wealthy patron/client) around, being the butt of his jokes, joking around with shinzô and kamuro (the child servant-apprentices to courtesans), eating, drinking, maybe even getting to bed a shinzô if the patron was willing to pay for it, and otherwise participating in pleasure quarters life as an actual member of that community, albeit a rather low-ranking one with little or no funds to his name. Nodaiko, like geisha or courtesans, also sometimes received garments or other gifts from patrons… Segawa Seigle describes them explicitly as “professional spongers.” Talentless though many of them might have been, they were valued by patrons who desired a larger entourage, and someone to make fun of, slap upside the head, and the like, all in good fun, of course.3
Taiko also sometimes acted as intermediaries, telling a patron when a courtesan was going to be late or couldn’t meet with him at all, and, leaving the patron there in the greeting room (or even in the genkan, I suppose, or even out on the street, perhaps), going deeper into the house to speak with the courtesan to arrange a new appointment on behalf of the patron. In her description of the patron striving to become tsû (that is, to become a real regular in the sense of really knowing his way around the pleasure quarters, being known, knowing all the ins and outs of the social protocol, knowing the girls and the teahouses), Segawa Seigle describes how a man might seek to manufacture an image of even being “too cool.” After finally earning the cred to be granted an appointment with a high-ranking courtesan, he sends two taiko to tell the tayû (the courtesan) that he needs to reschedule; furthermore, they were to then schedule him, intentionally, for a time when the tayû had another patron, thus essentially enforcing his image or position as being more important than that other patron…4 So, anyway, we can see that the taiko often played these kinds of roles as intermediaries. I still remain a little unclear as to whether the taiko belonged to a teahouse as geisha and courtesans did, or if they were more closely associated with a given patron, following him from one teahouse to another.
And, that is just about all that Segawa Seigle has to say about the taikomochi. Seems an intriguing sort of character. Not that I’d necessarily want to be one in real life, of course, penniless, constantly serving as someone else’s lapdog, always on a lower rung than nearly everyone else around – the women, the clients, even the children (read: apprentice geisha/courtesans) – but, as a character, and as a thread in the colorful tapestry of our imagined, romanticized Yoshiwara, I find the taikomochi quite interesting. … Maybe I could play one in an RPG sometime ^_^
A quick cursory Google search would seem to indicate that the tradition of the taikomochi as an entertainer – possibly moreso in the vein of the jester, the comic storyteller – continued until quite recently, or still continues today, judging from the posters and photos that pop up on a Google Image Search.
EDIT: An Update
I don’t imagine I’ll have time to read it any time soon, but I have finally obtained myself a copy of Cecilia Segawa Seigle’s book “Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan,” which contains wonderful anecdotes, bringing the pleasure districts to life, and providing greater details on the district than any other source I’ve come across. All footnotes/quotes in this post are from this book.
(1) Segawa Seigle. p256n30.