Bebe Taian: April 2011

April 27, 2011

Fuji Musume

May is the time of wisteria and irises. Maiko will change their hairpins, branches will sway and bloom, and old stories will be told again. Maybe one should be told a little early?

My first ningyo was brought back by my paternal grandfather from Okinawa during the post-WW2 Occupation years. He knew nothing about it than that it was a pretty doll, and sure to make the family at home happy. My aunt had it for the longest time, and whenever I visited, I was in love. Unlike anything I'd ever seen, that doll seemed so graceful, so pretty... strange clothing, but how it seemed to move with the body- I was entranced. I wanted to be like that when I was older. ::laughs:: Of course, now that I AM older, I realise that it is an impossibility!

But even so, I adored that doll. Strange, how some days it seems troubled, others, bored, and still more days when there is hope. This is the beauty of Japanese craftsmanship. One face, sculpted and painted carefully, so that the expression can be changed radically by simply adjusting the point of view. It is the same with Noh masks. By using this technique, the dollmaker ensured that this one stationary figure could show everything the character felt in her story. I'm not sure what actor this particular doll was modeled after, but surely, he must have been as talented as the man who sculpted his likeness from gofun (oyster porcelain) and silk.

Today, by the costume and wisteria branch, I know this doll as 'Fuji Musume'- the Wisteria Maiden. Her hair is in disarray, as horse hair becomes brittle and breaks after 60 years of moving around, and silk has begun to yellow with age, but even so...

But this isn't really the story I want to tell.

"Fuji Musume" - Tadamasa Ueno
Today, it isn't about me. It's about a kabuki play, 'Fuji Musume'.

Long ago, Otsu, near Lake Biwa, just outside of old Kyoto, was a very popular artists' market. It was a city of beautiful paintings, and people crowded to sell or see new works. In one instance, a young man caught sight of a life-like painting of the gorgeous wisteria maiden. As he looked into the painting, the Wisteria Maiden looked back at him and became infatuated. Who was this person who so boldly took interest in her?

In her sudden joy, she walked out of the painting and tried to meet him. She wrote him letter after letter, each one heartfelt... but every single one went unanswered. Still, she persists, and slowly becomes more and more heartbroken as she is ignored. As the story progresses, she becomes saddened, enraged, and then, finally, her spirit is broken. She then returns to the painting. In some versions of the story, she is not a person, but a spirit of wisteria, and she becomes a a wisteria plant herself instead of going back to her painting.

Although, really, 'Fuji Musume' has no official story. It was a small part of a series of five dances in its' original Edo-era form, and wasn't very popular until around the 1930s. As this is the case, the original choreography has been lost for the dance. It has since been expanded to be its' own story, and that story depends on the actors/directors' take on what they want to express. So, the dance may be very different from one performance to the next, depending on school of odori and the interpretations of the production cast.

Once again, someone has posted an English-narrated version of Tamasaburos' "Fuji Musume". There are others, if you search for the kabuki title only, but not all are narrated so helpfully in English.

April 20, 2011

Shunkyo Kagami Jishi

Tamasaburou Bandou V as Yayoi
A young lady-in-waiting named Yayoi lived in a castle in Edo, long, long ago. One day, she was picked to perform a Lion Dance for the shogun at the New Years' Day Parade. The Lion Dance is supposed to help drive away evil spirits with the strength of a lion. However, Yayoi was a very shy and reluctant girl, far too shy to dance- especially for such an important person, in such a prominent role. Because of this, she was locked up and told to practice carefully.

At first, Yayoi is overwhelmed. Timidly, she begins to practice, her awkward steps moving slowly. But as Yayoi becomes more comfortable and familiar, her pace quickens, her grace becoming more apparent. But as the beautiful young girl dances with the wooden shishi (lion) mask, she becomes possessed by the lion spirit residing inside the mask!

Once the lion spirit had possession of Yayoi, it became distracted by two butterfly spirits and chased after them. Finally, the image of Yayoi completely vanishes to reveal the spirit of a lion! But, losing track of the butterflies, the lion dashes for a place to rest. Playing amongst peonies, the lion gradually tires- only to be awakened by the pesky butterflies again! Angrily, he tries to catch them, shaking his body so wildly that his mane danced in the wind.

Long ago, I saw the most beautifully-made Kagami Jishi ningyo on Ebay. If only I'd had the money for it at the time! Such a soft but fierce face, it was truly made with an onnagata in mind. As a recently-made doll, I can't help but to wonder if maybe Tamasaburou himself wasn't the inspiration? Or perhaps the man who trained him? Ah, but how beautiful. I think it was the eyes that spoke to me most. Isn't that strange? A doll, with such lifelike expression. I wouldn't have been surprised if maybe that ningyo had just a little piece of a lion spirit inside of it. Even today, I think of that particular doll. No others have been like it in expression.

With the fading of April, the month of sakura and silver butterflies, I come back to this dance again and again.

"Kagami Jishi" was first made into a film, I think, in 1936. It was Yasujirou Ozu who directed it, with onnagata Kikugoro Onoe IV as Yayoi/Shishi (Lion). Traditionally, whoever plays the character of Yayoi will also play the lion. It takes very special talent and skill to do the lions' sweeping mane dance at the end, which this play is probably best-known for. It is not done by swinging the head, but rather, by swinging at the hips to properly move the mane. This dance is reportedly known as 'shishimono'- (Lion Things? not sure here). But really, the point of the 1936 film was to act as a documentary and to introduce kabuki to a wider audience.

This awesome person on Youtube posted videos of Tamasaburou dancing as Yayoi/Shishi. Don't worry if you don't speak Japanese; it is explained in English. Pay close attention to the subtle movements and expressions, and take a moment to appreciate the difficulty of wearing the heavy embroidered clothing while maintaining perfect posture and balance at all times. This is only the first video in the series; you can see them all by finding the next one in order by the numbers at the end of the titles. Please discover a love of kabuki today!

April 18, 2011

For Sale: Beaded Bone Mala Bracelet

I've been super-busy in "real life" and online! With BebeTaian opening on ArtFire, and the reopening of NigatsuBebe on ArtFire, plus all the stuff going on in my personal life, it's any wonder I've had time to make something new.

I started making bone jewellery a long time ago, back in my wanna-be Gothic Lolita days- you know, when I was actually young enough to wear those pretty dresses. But, I could never afford things like that, so that vision existed only in sketchbooks and jewellery that I made. The skull rosary chaplets sell relatively well, and even my guy friends love the stretchy version of these bracelets. I have about three in stock at the moment, and I'm holding off on making more until these sell. I also have skull earrings, rosary chaplets, and other such items waiting to be posted, but all of my jewellery is in the car right now. I have yet to unpack from yesterday's show!

In the meantime, I'm organising my current craft stash into a better system. I hope to overhaul the entire apartment. I'm so excited that I now have another set of drawers to hold my kimono items! I needed three drawers alone for tightly-packed juban, haori, michiyuki, and komono like obijime and such. Already, I'm going to need one extra set- for all the obi and random things like the wedding sake sets, handmade kimono cards, etc. I'm so excited!

If someone had told me five years ago that I would one day have a closet of wearable kimono, I would have told them that they are crazy. I had one bucket of kimono then, mostly taken up with a shiromuku, a kakeshita, a furisode I couldn't wear properly, and a pair of miko hakama from Nara. Even those, I had sold because I needed grocery money too badly to hang on to any of them. Now, I have enough to wear, figure out what looks good on me in person, and sell what doesn't. I am very happy.

April 15, 2011

Ume Kanzashi!

w00t! I got my ume kanzashi from Atelier Kanawa already. Actually, two days ago- I just hadn't had time to take them out of the box yet!

I ordered the night of the 9th (Saturday- no shipping on Sunday in America), Kanawa-san sent me notice of shipment the day of the 11th (Monday), and they were here on the 13th! Not bad, for us being in polar opposites of the country. Officially, USPS states that the mail takes between 5-10 business days, but this arrived in only two. The kanzashi arrived in a clear plastic bag, neatly folded to fit, and taped shut with a label bearing her artists' mark. This was inside a small piece of bubblewrap, in a box with a business card. If there was an invoice, I likely ignored it... :P Yep, I'm terrible with those things. I usually just refer to the online receipts.

In any event, I haven't opened the bag yet. I'm still deciding on whether or not to wear them myself (very likely) or to give one or both away (25% probability).

April 12, 2011

Atelier Kanawa, Professional Kanzashi Maker

Most people who are really interested in hana kanzashi (maikos' flower kanzashi) are also crafty people and scour places like Amazon or Ebay for books on how to make cute little flowers for stuff. However, the quality with these can drastically vary from people using glue guns to hold cheap fabric together, and some very well-adept person actually using the silk and rice paste techniques to make something inventive and fun.

Atelier Kanawa, run by Kanawa Kuniko, however, is in a class of her own. Kanawa is not a hobbyist, but a professional. She was trained as an artist by one of only five (then seven, I believe) remaining traditional kanzashi makers in Japan. Today, none of the five remaining artists are accepting apprentices- she is truly lucky to have found someone willing to take her. Although, I heard her master has since passed...

I have been watching her for about as long as I had been on Etsy, since around late 2006. Until now, I've never put aside the money for something beautiful. My hair tends to be an unruly, easily-torn mess, so I didn't think kanzashi would be for me, outside of something simple like tama kanzashi, which are harder to get tangled up in. Now, however, I think it's time to try to wear something small and cute. ^_^ Apparently, I'm just in time!

Image (C) Atelier Kanawa
Normally, the ume or maple designs I love run about $30- a bit much for me to spend on hairpins, regardless of quality. Because of financial circumstances, I really budget every dollar these days. But due to the recent disasters in Japan, Atelier Kanawa has released several $5 Hinomaru-design plum blossom pins and keychains! I suggest everyone get one. The proceeds go to JRC (Japan Red Cross) to help rebuild the lives of millions affected by the series of earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear disasters of the Kanto-Tohoku regions. This is one of two that I've purchased. They are already on their way! I can't wait to see them!

You can get yours here. ^_^ Anyone who knows about Atelier Kanawa knows that she ships quickly and makes excellent work. You won't have to worry about something falling apart, so long as they are treated well, and that you can expect high quality. Even the most expensive things really are fairly priced. It can take forever just to cut precise tiny squares for each piece, and she even dyes her own silk sometimes! Buying from her is well worth the cost, so spend freely knowing that you'll get what you paid for.

April 10, 2011

Postcard Dates Are Official!

At the end of this month, on April 30, I am sending my photos off to be printed professionally for postcards. w00t!

Some of them will be shibori designs. Some will be Taisho-era kimono. Some will be interesting designs from various kimono and obi (such as my dragon obi). Preorders are being taken already, at only $4 per postcard. These are made of a wonderful heavy stock of beautifully-printed paper! <3

I am hoping that there will also be a series of a few photos I took while in Japan back in 2005, which will become available at the end of May. However, this series depends entirely on the quality of the surviving photos, as I've moved many, many times and did not have the best equipment at the time the photos were taken.

This week, some komono (kimono accessories) have been listed for sale- obiage and obijime, as well as kanzashi, a kimono, and some fabric. I have also been listing piles of stuff for sale at my other shop, NigatsuBebe, which is for jewellery, non-Japanese vintage items, and craft supplies. My goal is to clear out half of my craft cabinet in the next three months, and use the proceeds to build up Bebe Taian. I am not working with beads as often as I used to!

Now, if you'll excuse me, my new kitten is sleeping in the box I was just organising... =^.^=

April 6, 2011


Bebe Taian opened on ArtFire yesterday. <3 This has been an unusually hectic week, but I'll be listing new items all week.

The biggest challenge I'm facing is getting items photographed in good lighting. The interior lighting here is... sub-par, at best. I do have a good kimono hanger, however! <3 There are so, so many things to list, I can't wait to dive in!

I will hopefully also be getting with someone soon to acquire some new vintage items. Please wish me luck!