GIFU--An Air Self-Defense Force member ditched her uniform for kimono after deciding to become a geisha here.

The 32-year-old from Mino, Gifu Prefecture, goes by the stage name Kikumatsu. She made her debut as a traditional entertainer late last year.

Kikumatsu said she found the switch a tad bewildering at first.

It wasn't just the change from fatigues that took getting used to. She also had to adjust how she spoke. For geisha, who must behave elegantly, never brusquely, the standard soldier's short sharp replies, which were her habit, were a no-go.

“I'm trying to convince myself that I'm gradually getting better at behaving like a real geisha,” she said.

Despite becoming a geisha at well beyond the customary age, Kikumatsu is optimistic about her career change.

Working daily as a geisha is a lot of fun, she said.

Kikumatsu performs at parties in Hosengiren, a Gifu group of professional geisha and geisha trainees. She also plays a traditional drum in recitals and promotes events for tourists and others.

Though she enjoyed military life, Kikumatsu said she still doesn't really understand what prompted her to sign up for the ASDF.

One morning, when she was still a college student in Kyoto and trying to find a job for after she graduated, Kikumatsu just suddenly decided to join the ASDF.

Perhaps it was her father's influence. As a child, she loved watching the air show at the ASDF Gifu Air Base in Kakamigahara in the prefecture, because her dad was in the SDF.

Her duties in the ASDF included managing flight times and maintaining aircraft.

She said she found it especially rewarding when kids at the air show asked her, “What should I do to be an SDF official like you?” and her colleagues expressed appreciation for her careful work.

ASDF personnel are often redeployed throughout Japan. Hearing her co-workers speaking proudly about their hometowns, Kikumatsu started feeling nostalgic for Gifu Prefecture, where she was born and raised.

Though she enjoyed working as an official in Miyazaki Prefecture and elsewhere, memories of life in her home prefecture were never far away.

Resolving to return to Gifu, Kikumatsu left the SDF in autumn 2018 after serving more than nine years. As she considered which path to pursue, she said she became set on just doing what she “really wanted.”

The first thing that crossed her mind was Hosengiren.

For years, she had been carefully checking information on the Gifu institution's new apprentice geisha and a blog by Kikuji, a male geisha.

“I became aware I wanted to be a geisha then,” Kikumatsu said.

Looking back, Kikumatsu, whose mother was a kimono maker, realized she felt deeply connected to kimono.

Her interest in geisha grew in college in Kyoto, where she socialized with them as well as maiko apprentices.

Determined to start her new career as a performer, she e-mailed Kikuji and moved to Gifu in October last year for training.

“I'll be happy if my background as an ASDF member inspires people to learn about geisha in Gifu,” Kikumatsu said.