Bebe Taian: Fuji Musume

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.

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