From Geisha to Diva: The Kimono of Ichimaru opened at the Fernie Museum on Friday night. Curator Barry Till (left) was among the sellout crowd, who enjoyed sake and sushi in the museum foyer.  Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

From Geisha to Diva: The Kimono of Ichimaru opened at the Fernie Museum on Friday night. Curator Barry Till (left) was among the sellout crowd, who enjoyed sake and sushi in the museum foyer. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Sushi, sake and silk kimono

“The Kimono of Ichimaru” opening night at Fernie Museum attracts sellout crowd

Geisha were once shrouded in secrecy, abiding by a code of silence that kept their intriguing lives under wraps.

Now, visitors to the Fernie Museum can gain an insight into the fascinating world of Japanese entertainers thanks to a travelling exhibition.

Geisha to Diva: The Kimono of Ichimaru opened on Friday to a sellout crowd, with sake and platters of sushi setting the scene for a night of Japanese culture.

The collection belongs to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and celebrates the life of Mitsue Goto, who found fame as the Japanese recording artist and geisha, Ichimaru.

Curator Barry Till described her as the “Madonna of her time”.

“She had a nightingale voice… she became very famous and she actually was able to buy her way out of the geisha-hood, and become simply a singer, a diva,” he said.

“But she continued to live in that lifestyle, she continued to buy geisha kimonos and we ended up with them in Victoria, including a painting of her as well as some prints, which depict her.

“She was sort of the Madonna of her time. From about 1926 to 1933, she was the number one star in Japan and she earned so much money she could buy herself out of the geisha house then continued to be a major entertainer right until she died.”

Till said Ichimaru entertained the Japanese troops during the war then went on to perform in the U.S. She had her own radio and TV shows, living until the age of 91.

Till is a renowned Asian arts curator who spent 36 years at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria before retiring. He was approached by a friend of Ichimaru’s about the collection.

“I immediately saw the potential for it,” he said.

The Kimono of Ichimaru has been enjoyed by art and culture lovers across North America, including at the National Geographic Museum in Washington and the National Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto.

It was also sought by Steven Spielberg for the film adaption of Memoirs of a Geisha.

About a dozen kimono have been lent to the Fernie Museum from the collection, which only continues to grow as Till receives more donations.

He believes it’s the only collection of geisha costume of this size outside of Japan.

“They’re highly esteemed in Japan, they were considered the ideal of femininity,” he said.

“They weren’t really prostitutes, they did provide sex in some cases but you were hiring them more for their talents because they were the most talented singers, dancers, very knowledge, knew the right etiquette, so when a man hired a geisha, they were hiring them more for their skills, their talent.

“If you were being rude and being a lout, you wouldn’t get any sex and you’d still get a huge bill. They did have a lot of power from that aspect.”

The Kimono of Ichimaru is showing in Fernie until September 22. Residents can learn the arts of geisha, such as calligraphy, through a series of workshops and events over the coming months.

For more information, visit


Sushi, sake and silk kimono

Sushi, sake and silk kimono

Sushi, sake and silk kimono

Sushi, sake and silk kimono

Just Posted

The ‘official’ opening of 2nd Edition Coworking in downtown Fernie, a project five years in the making by the Fernie Chamber of Commerce. Left to right: Executive Director of the Fernie Chamber Brad Parsell, incoming President of the Fernie Chamber Norm Fraser, outgoing President of the Fernie Chamber Anita Palmer, and Mayor of Fernie Ange Qualizza. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Fernie Chamber cuts the ribbon on 2nd Edition

The new coworking space in Fernie is now ‘officially’ open, but has been operating since early 2021

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Sparwood Mayor David Wilks with the new AED SaveStation installed at the Sparwood Leisure Centre. (Contributed by District of Sparwood)
Sparwood installs public AED

The SaveStation was installed thanks to a grant from CP Rail

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

“Gift card scam,” and “grandparent scam” are on the rise, Cranbrook RCMP say

Folks are falling for these scams: “No Government agency or reputable company will ever ask anyone to pay with gift cards in lieu of their fines”

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system also takes Indigenous children from their families, communities and nations

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Condolences pour in for Kathy Richardson, Naramata’s 3rd homicide victim in recent weeks

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More than 75% of B.C. adults have 1st dose of COVID vaccine

The federal government has confirmed a boost in the Moderna vaccine will be coming later this month

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

The rainbow flag flies beside the Canadian flag outside the University of the Fraser Valley’s Chilliwack campus on June 26, 2020. Monday, June 14, 2021 is Flag Day, and also June is Pride Month. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

Most Read