Geiko (lit., "arts child": 芸子) were originally dancing girls who were too young to be considered geisha (lit., "accomplished person: 芸者) but too old to be called odoriko (dancing girl: 踊り子). Some geiko operated as illegal prostitutes, but mainly they were young entertainers, specializing in dancing, playing musical instruments, singing, and presumably when old enough, sophisticated conversation. By the nineteenth century the term became synonymous with geisha (in Edo dialect; in Kamigata, geiko was the preferred word). At first, in the seventeenth century, only males were geisha. Mostly, they were taikomochi ("drum carriers"), male comics and musicians of the pleasure quarters who danced, sang, told jokes, and recounted stories, often hired to entertain at parties with courtesans, maids, and female bathhouse attendants. Their name derives from the use of taiko (small hand-drums: 鼓 also 皷) often used as they entertained. The first female geisha was reputedly the yujô (pleasure woman or prostitute: 遊女) Kasen of the Ôgiya ("House of the fan": 扇屋) brothel in Yoshiwara, Edo, who had paid off her debts and began an entertainment business around 1761. Geiko/geisha could not marry without sacrificing their careers, although some did have children through liasons generally of their own choosing. All were adept, of course, at pampering the male ego. Many Japanese viewed geiko/geisha as "more Japanese" than nearly any other group (and still do today). Geiko were often trend setters in deportment and dress. As entertainers, they were admired for a refined eroticism and sophisticated accomplishment in music, dance, tea service, poetry, and calligraphy, gained through years of disciplined education and practice.
This surimono celebrates the taking of new names by geiko. The shûmei (lit., "succeed to a name": 襲名), a ritualized name-taking or accession ceremony, is not actually protrayed here, but is identified in the poems on the left. Instead, what we see are two geiko who have arranged pine branches for the New Year, also an auspicious activity. The practice dates back centuries, at least to the late Nara (710-794) or Heian period (794-1185). The activity is called nenohi-asobi (Day of the Rat celebration: 子の日遊), or komatsu-hiki (pulling up small pines: 小松引). It was one of the traditional events just before or at the New Year held at shrines to celebrate hatsune (first Day of the Rat: 初子), although Sadahiro's surimono might suggest a more homespun variation for the geisha houses. Participants would go into surrounding fields and uproot pine seedlings (as well as other young greens or herbs), later using the pine fronds as traditional New Year's decorations. Wishes were also expressed for long-life (kotobuki, 寿) at these ceremonies. In Sadahiro's surimono, the geiko on the right seems to be pointing to a painting of a kame (turtle: 亀), a good-luck symbol of longevity, on her ôgi (folding fan: 扇). The geiko on the left holds an origami (folded-paper: 折紙) of a tsuru (crane: 鶴), also a symbol of long life.
Surimono by Sadahiro are rare. Our example is of particular interest, as the print has been mounted as a kakemono (hanging scroll: 掛物), also called kakejiku (掛軸).