As anyone looking into Fukagawa geisha will quickly find out, the geisha of Fukagawa were known by two names; one being the obvious title of “Fukagawa Geisha” and the other being the less straightforward misnomer, “Tatsumi Geisha”. Naturally, there’s not much of a story behind their first name, however the term “Tatsumi” has quite an intriguing history that traces back to ancient mythology and China’s cultural influence over Japan.
The origin of Tatsumi stems directly from the Chinese Zodiac. Originally legend tells of how Yu Di, ruler of the Heavens, decided he would hold a race with all the animals and assign the winners to hours and dates in order to create a system to measure time. By combining the resulting zodiac with other systems of measurement in ancient China the system known today as Feng Shui, 風水, or ふうすい was created.
Feng Shui assigns the 12 zodiac animals to separate hours, months, years directions, and even elements (although it’s important to note that the way animals are assigned is complex and depends on various factors). Specifically, the South East direction lies between the 5th and 6th points: the dragon and snake. In Japan, the district of Fukagawa traditionally lay south east of the Shogun’s palace.
Due to China’s strong cultural influence of other early asian kingdoms, Japan had long since adopted the Feng Shui measurement of directions, so by the time Geisha came about it would not have been unnatural at all to use such a system to describe location. The Japanese words for dragon and snake in the zodiac, tatsu (辰) and mi (巳) were combined to make the term “Tatsumi” and subsequently the Fukagawa geisha gained another name.
Campisi Megan and Pen Pen Chen, “The Myth Behind the Chinese Zodiac” https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-myth-behind-the-chinese-zodiac-megan-campisi-and-pen-pen-chen
Fukagawa Edo Museum, Koto City, Tokyo. Accessed November 25, 2017.