Jump ahead to 3:17 to watch a geisha (on the right) and apprentice geisha (on the left), perform Spring Night, a traditional song.
I translated this for someone and thought I’d put it up here, too. :) What’s interesting about buyou, classical Japanese dance, is that it’s more storytelling than the “dance” we tend to think of in Western culture.
If you read the lyrics before you watch, you can catch some of the images the dancers directly portray with their fans and gestures, like the moon in the willows and the styling of the hair.
Haru no Yo
Haru no yo no oboro oboro no hana no ka ni
On a spring night, in the scent of dream-like flowers
Yume ka to magou higashi yama
Higashi Mountain is mistaken for a dream,
Kamo no nagare ni kage utsusu
its shadow reflected in the flowing of Kamo River.
Yanagi gakure no tsuki akari
Through the willows comes the moonlight.
Tsuyu ni nure sona bin tsuki mo
Hair styled with the wetness of the dew,
Odori gaeri no ushiro-kage
behind the willows, the shadow dances again.
(As a note, the hair styling line was particularly poetic and tough to translate smoothly, because they’re creating the image that the “dancing shadow” (could be Higashi Mountain or a separate person entirely, because there are no clear subject markers) is only using dew for their hair pomade.
The word for hair pomade they’re using is a very specific one, the oil that is used to create traditional, stiff Japanese hairstyles, so it’s a very dreamy and poetic image to imagine dew as the only thing styling the dancer’s hair.)
When winter set in I quit taking long walks around the neighborhood, so today I was pleasantly surprised to find they’ve finished repair work on the tiny local shrine, and its cherry trees are in bloom!
For my fellow artists out there!
A lot of people have seen the picture on the left at some point before. What you may not know is the sad story and inspiring man behind it.
Shown on the right, Katsushika Hokusai was a famous illustrator forced out of retirement by his grandson gambling away every last penny of the family fortune. He drew the wave illustration around the age of 70.
At the time, he couldn’t even use the name Hokusai because he’d given it away to a student of his following a cultural tradition 10 years before. So he had to call himself “The Former Hokusai Now Drawing as Ietsu”.
But he made a comeback and went on to create this and a host of other popular works. Often translated as “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” this picture went on to become one of the most famous Japanese illustrations of all time, both in and out of the country.
In his memoirs, he wrote about how long it had taken him to be satisfied with his own work:
“From the age of six, I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about 50 my pictures were frequently published. But until the age of 70, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice.
At 73 years I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish. Thus, when I reach 80 years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at 90 to see further into the underlying principle of things, so that at 100 years I will have achieved a divine state in my art.
And at 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine prove not false.
- The 76-Year-Old Former Hokusai, now Ietsu “Old Man Crazy with Painting” Long-Life.”
He lived up to the enthusiasm of his new name, healthy and never needing spectacles his entire life, and once walked 149 miles (240 km) to a distant town for an illustration job at the age of 80.
In the end, Hokusai lived to be 90, a very respectable age at the time.
On his deathbed, he said, “If Heaven will grant me but 10 more years of life or, well, even 5 more years, I could become a real artist.”
It’s a T-shirt designed according to kimono seasonal motifs for spring: cherry blossom, willow, and mist set on a gray background (gray is a spring kimono color). Everything is drawn in classical motif style, as you would actually see on kimono and obi.
If you’re interested, the shirt is $14 for the next two days and then the site will bump it up to $20 permanently.
If people like this one I’ll do more seasons!
Just like American parents put their little tykes in suits and dresses for photos, Japanese parents can buy “easy kimono” outfits (with velcro up the entire back seam!) for their kids’ photo sessions.
The two girls are wearing ancient Heian-style garb, and the unusual vest in the top boy’s photo is a miniature version of a “jin-baori”, the vests samurai wore over their armor. The last little guy is in the most formal color combination for men.
The end of March is the end of the school year and graduation time here in Japan! A lot of high school and college girls will wear a special look for their graduation: hakama pants worn over kimono. Today, outside of certain traditional sports, women don’t ever wear hakama. This combination is like the robe and square cap for American graduates.
How did this come to be the “uniform” for graduation? Back when the public school system was first getting started, over 100 years ago, girls wore much simpler combinations of this outfit as their daily school uniforms, paired with boots. (That’s why boots, as seen in 5, are also a traditional part of the outfit.)
Oiran, high-class Japanese courtesan-prostitutes of old, had the most striking hair of anyone in Japan. While normal women or geisha (who were not prostitutes) wore a hairpin or two, oiran would wear a ton, including a few types specific to them.
Here’s a general breakdown of their style, thanks to shop Nagomiya on Rakuten. They sell both a full set and individual pins for costumers and reenactors.
Top left on the graphic: 2 Tama-kanzashi 玉かんざし (also called aka-dama-kan 赤玉かん) - “ball pins” “red ball pins”
Middle left: 2 Toku-dai-yoshi-chou 特大芳丁 - “extra-large perfume stick”
Bottom left: 2 Yoshi-chou 芳丁- “perfume stick”
Top right: 2 Matsu-ba-kanzashi 松葉かんざし - “pine needle hairpin”
Middle right: 3 Muji-kushi 無地櫛 – “plain/unpatterned comb”
Bottom right: 1 Kougai 笄 – “hair stick” (also called nobe-bou のべ棒 / 延べ棒 – “bar”)
Edit: Since the source appears to be getting lost in reblogs, here’s the site you can buy them from.
(I kind of wonder why some of the hairpins were called perfume sticks - that wouldn’t have been literal, would it? That they were made of fragrant wood or something?)
(Oh, and those tama kanzashi might be related to the ones geisha wear?)
All of these hairpins were traditionally made of tortoise shell: like the “pine needle” name, I believe the “perfume stick” one is just poetic.
"Tama kanzashi" is a general name for that type of hair pin, so yes, it’s the same type geisha and normal women wear. :)
This is a beautiful example of classical Japanese dance, called “buyou” (boo-yoh), which I was lucky enough to study for awhile before I moved and lost my teacher.
The classic “Fuji Musume” (Wisteria Maiden) is actually danced here by a man, the famous Kabuki onnagata Bando Tamasaburo V.
Way back in the day, Kabuki actresses’ fanboys kept getting into brawls and knifing each other over who was the biggest fan of different actresses. The government finally had enough and banned women from the stage.
From that point on all parts were played by handsome teenagers, but the brawls continued. Finally female roles were restricted to adult men, and brawls stopped.
These men who specialize in playing women are called “onnagata” and are highly regarded: Tamasaburo is one of the most popular Kabuki actors in Japan.