Photo/Illutration Geisha and "maiko" geisha trainees begin attending the annual “Kagai Soken” event at a Kabuki theater in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward on Dec. 7. (Sayuri Ide)

KYOTO--Surgical face masks to protect against COVID-19 replaced the traditional white makeup sported by geisha and their "maiko" apprentices who turned out for the annual “Kagai Soken” event that kicked off here Dec. 7.

The attendees from the city’s five major “kagai” traditional entertainment districts were at the Minamiza theater in the city's Higashiyama Ward to watch annual year-end Kichirei Kaomise Kabuki performance as part of their study of artistic performances.

In another departure from normal years, they also sat one seat apart from one another, as well as from the rest of the audience, to maintain social distancing.

Despite the changes, after taking their places in balcony seats, the presence of the geisha and maiko from Gion Kobu still lit up the theater.

Geisha and maiko from the Ponto-cho entertainment district will visit the theater on Dec. 8, followed by those from Kamishichiken on Dec. 9, Gion-Higashi on Dec. 10, and Miyagawa-cho on Dec. 14.

"Maneki" signboards displaying the names of cast members were set up at the front of the theater, brightening the atmosphere of the city.

Maiko wear floral hairpins featuring different seasonal flowers each month. December’s hairpins have "mochibana" decorations or small "maneki" wooden boards.

There is a custom that maiko visit the backstage rooms of their favorite actors between acts and ask them to write their names on the small boards. Actors who take male roles write them in black, and those who take female roles write them in bright red.

But this year, the women instead sent their hairpins to the actors and asked them to return them after they had been signed.

This year’s Kaomise performance began Dec. 5 and will end Dec. 19.