Bebe Taian: July 2011

July 29, 2011

Private Collection: Kanzashi

I'm taking a moment to show off my private collection of kanzashi/kushi.

It isn't particularly large, and I'm hesitant to get more at the moment... but one day... maybe I'll add a few special pieces to the lot. At one point, I had very long hair, but when the Gulf Oil Spill became an issue, I cut it to my shoulders and donated it to Matter of Trust, which made hair mats and booms to help soak up the surface stuff.

Of course, this meant that I didn't have nearly enough hair to wear most of this stuff. My hair is ridiculously thin. Even at waist-length, it only made a small bun when piled up. Long enough for an ornamental comb or some decorative bobby pins, but wearing a bira kanzashi (the dangly silver one) in *my* hair? Dream on! Especially for as long as those prongs are...

Didn't stop me from buying one though, did it?

The white plum blossoms are from Atelier Kanawa. The blue were made for me by Naomi of Kimono Asobi (Puchi Maiko fame!). The yellow one is a plastic reproduction of bekko (tortoiseshell), and the silver birabira kanzashi is a reproduction of a higher-end type worn by geisha. This one, I think, is made for odori. The others are Taisho-era brass, alloy, wood, and shell works. I am considering selling the alloy kougai (just above the kougai made with shell and wood). The last one is a faux-tortoiseshell comb that I picked up in a vintage shop. Probably, I paid far too much for it, but it was such an interesting shape that I didn't want to pass it up!

Ah, I lied. There are a few more kanzashi I want. I want to add some brass bira kanzashi, some more kushi, and especially some Meiji-era bekko pieces. But THOSE will cost a fortune, and I don't have disposable income for hair combs right now! So, they will have to wait. <3

Want your own? I have a lot of some vintage kanzashi here. Some are traditional Japanese, some are fashion accessories that likely originated in the West.

For Sale: Sushi Plates!

Vintage sushi plate set: five plates and a serving tray.

These have actually been listed for awhile, but I decided to take new photos since I didn't like how the last ones came out. The old ones were dark and small, and not incredibly clear. I also thought I had only two plates until I discovered three more packed away. I've now retaken photos of them, and I hope that people can see the true beauty of these pieces!

I think the plates are four-season friendly, which is excellent for those of us who don't have room to have different sets of dishes for each season or month. There is something to be said for acute attention to the changing of times, but it isn't doable unless you have a china pantry the size of my kitchen, now is it? A plate set that covers all seasons is probably the most practical choice, and the more beautiful that one set, the better!

This one is adorned in peacocks, gosho guruma (lucky carts), seigaiha (waves), houou (phoenix), maple leaves, plum blossoms, Chinese bellflower, and peonies. It's especially colourful, adorned in blues, greens, reds, and white- perfect for those who want to get away from the Chinese-style "blue and white" patterns so common to what we think of as Asian dishware!

Personally, I especially love the blue/green tones. I think a traditional indigo-dyed noren hanging would amplify the depths of the blues while accentuating the lightness and vibrance of the other colours. Technically, noren are door curtains, but really, they make great wall hangings in a Western home that would otherwise have no place for them. They tend to be relatively cheap, so they can be changed often- and usually, they're good-quality cotton, so they're easily remade into other things like quilts, aprons, handbags, etc. <3

The makers' mark on the back is Tokunaga, I think (but I'm not a native Japanese, so I can't say for sure!), and the other is Su-en possibly.

They were carried from Japan around 30 years ago by my friends' lovely mother, who had a passion for beautiful dishware and decor. I can see exactly why she loved these so much; and how much she must have loved them, to have carefully carried them by hand in luggage through customs and airports, just to get them home!

Here they are, listed at ArtFire. Take a look, won't you? I ship Priority Mail every time, so they arrive very quickly and safely.

July 27, 2011

Beef Teriyaki OMG.

As previously mentioned, I am an idiot and ended up in the ICU. Yay for undiagnosed critical heart problems! As such, I am in some serious need of certain nutrients. I apparently go through them much faster than most people, and will until I get proper medication. Some of those nutrients include iron and protein!

Which would explain why I am now desperately craving beef teriyaki. Oh, Just Hungry site, how I love you. You make my adventures into learning Japanese cooking much less perilous. You allow me to have an idea of what I'm doing. Wonderful Obento Person, you ensure that I can cook delicious food.

Basic teriyaki sauce:
- 4tbsp soy sauce
- 1tsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Salt and pepper

You'll need some oil in a pan for searing the beef. I prefer a more tender cut, thin-sliced, so that it can be coated in teriyaki sauce and seared to a delicious shiny glaze almost instantly, before or after being threaded onto a skewer with slices of green onions. With a side of white rice, of course. Don't use Botan. It isn't even worth the glue I made from it last time I cooked. UGH. Use something like Kokuho Rose or Nishiki! It's slightly more expensive, but well worth it.

This meal alone I feel qualifies for a hearty obento. Add veggies if you like- my fave. is goma-ae. That'll be spinach, barely cooked (in order to get the most iron out of it, it needs to be cooked a little), tossed in mirin, soy sauce, sesame seeds, etc. I HATE spinach, but when my homestay mother made this for me, I discovered a love for vegetables I never knew I had. It was like experiencing God. But it was food. Pair these three things together, and you will have one of the most wonderful meals that has ever existed in the entirety of human history. Some people have adapted the recipe for broccoli, but to me, that's sacrilege!

Take a moment and thank the nice Just Hungry people for filling our lives with deliciousness. Just comment on your favourite articles. <3 They have an in-site search function for foods, as well as categories. Use them well.

For Sale: Vintage Japanese Tea Set

This tea set was hand-carried from Japan long ago by a friends' mother.

It's a fantastic set, with generous-sized cups nearly big enough to fit an avocado in, with gold detailing. Each one is clearly hand-painted, as marked by subtle differences in pattern and proportions. A shame I have no talent for reading the maker's name! And even better: I thought the set only had three cups, but it actually has five! The teapot seems so small compared to how many glasses it should fill... but then, I suppose they don't tend to fill glasses more than halfway when initially serving anyways, don't you think?

It's for sale on ArtFire right now! For how rare and delicate it is, I think it's well-worth the price. Surely, this is a special tea set. And samurai (or ronin?)- what a romantic image!

Lots of Japanese Dishware!

I'm very excited. I have a box of awesome Japanese dishware, the marks of many of which are not in English (so unfortunately, I'm not sure of the maker). They're fairly old. My friends' mother brought them over from Japan long, long ago. I had hoped to have them all photographed already, but I'm an idiot, and ended up in the ICU for the second time this week! x.x As soon as I'm back on my feet, literally, I'll start photographing again!

Amongst the pieces, I have a set of three porcelain cups with paintings of wandering men (I think ronin, perhaps, but I'll have to look at them again), a lotus-shaped bowl with elaborate painting of peacocks, and a cute mini bowl set with lids!

As well, I'll be getting new and better photographs of the dishes that I already have listed, on white background fabric this time instead of the black. I think that while the black shows some of the angles and details of the white ceramics better, and while I may take a few photos of smaller pieces against a non-white background, I am trying to make my standard colours either tan, pale blue, or white.

I also have a pile of obijime to post! There's three or four different ones that I want to list; blue and silver, green and white, silver and pink, and a flat yellow/white one. And a stack of yukata and obi... Although I think the yukata are too new for listing on their own, some of the hanhaba obi are old enough, and if sold as sets, it may qualify. Some premade cotton koshi himo sets are going to be sewn up soon, as well! I've been waiting to put those up, and now that I have my fabrics out and can see how much yardage I have on my biggest pieces, I can make some premade stuff for sale. I did finish one kinchaku bag! I need to get better at making them more quickly.

On top of that, the 1st of August is coming on quickly. Time for a change of flowers and motifs soon! I was happy this year- I saw LOTS of butterflies, dragonflies, and fireworks on people's clothes and accessories this month! I hope that next month will be just as fashionable, and that I'll be able to wear kimono more often soon. I really need to get some ro or ra pieces; I still don't care for going around in yukata... <3

I recall posting the Utagawa ukiyo-e before, but I didn't mention that I have a kimono similar to the one the woman on the right panel is wearing. It's a Taisho-era piece, and may have been a recreation mused from the famous work.

I haven't worn it yet. I want to get the perfect obi for it. I'm not sure about mustard yellow on me. Would red be too much of a match? Japanese sensibilities seem to like contrast... I should check my kitsuke book for acceptable pairings. I should also look for a good pair of shoes to wear with it.

I bought a pair of geta with red velvet straps (which I need to loosen so that I can actually *wear* them!) to wear it with, but it's an awase (lined) kimono. Technically, I think that may call for zori these days, if I'm not going by Edo-era rules. Maybe if I kept to that style, someone would notice what I was imitating?

And this is likely why I don't call myself a kitsuke expert. I don't know nearly enough about modern rules. I've shown myself what to wear by looking at ukiyo-e from Edo period, from studying photos from Meiji and Taisho eras, from seeing people wear them on the streets of Tokyo and from photos of geisha and maiko. People who wore kimono every day as a habit (well, except for maybe the fashionable Tokyo girls). Rules seemed more flexible because they had to live and work in them. It wasn't a ceremonial garment in of itself. Kimono spanned everything, from our equivalent of sweats or t-shirts and jeans to the ultra-formal black tie event dress. It's the reason why I don't take an incredible amount of stock in kimono rules from today, unless going to an event that would require "good" kitsuke. Not too many people still alive would remember the rules of wearing kimono the way I learned how. It's outdated by about 100 years or more. :P But, if going to a modern event, of course I would have to read up on what is expected beforehand...

So, what should I do?

July 24, 2011

Cleaning House

I'm back from Natsu Matsuri!

I was very fortunate yesterday; I managed to scrape up the gas money to get there and back, found a shady spot beneath a tree to set up (right next to the kitsuke instructor and try-on booth! How perfect!), and even sold an obi and a map of Tokyo! The gorgeous Tenga obi I had up for sale on Etsy, long ago, the gold and chocolate-coloured one, was sold. It was a beautiful piece. I was happy to see someone so overjoyed to have it! Someone also brought me yakitori, and I bought some delicious ginger and scallion noodles! <3

The car is still packed from yesterday, though. There is so, so much to unload. I'm a little happy that I didn't bring everything I had intended to. I have to haul what I've got upstairs and make room for it all- refolding items that I couldn't fold yesterday, repacking so that everything fits into their buckets better, etc. I also have a new stash of vintage Japanese dishware that I want to photograph and list.

The only trouble I have now is that ArtFire is changing it's structure. Where sellers once could have free accounts, paying only when an item sold (great for those of us who don't have startup money!), they are changing to a fee-based structure. It isn't much, but I would have to sell $200/month to make the fees worth it. I'm definitely not making $200/month! So, now I have to consider what to do. Which means that I think October is my deadline for doing something about this. I really, really HATE changing venues!

I have such a long list of things to do, and such a small amount of energy to do them with. But I think I can make this work- I mean, if I could pull off Natsu Matsuri despite all those setbacks, I can do this too, right? I will think of something!

July 22, 2011

Natsu Matsuri is tomorrow!

I'm a little nervous. Natsu Matsuri is tomorrow.

I had so many plans for the event- a very specific view of how the booth would look, feel, flow. How beautifully things would be folded or laid out, hung, protected by clear visquine in case of Florida's famous sudden rains.

And then my health tanked, and a lot of huge financial issues cropped up, and just a lot of generally bad news happened all in the space of a few weeks. Just yesterday we spent the last of the reserve cash that I was going to use to get to the festival was spent after I got out of the ICU. DH is insanely worried that I could have problems doing the festival work tomorrow- you know, hauling huge buckets of silks, setting up the displays that I have (half as many as I wanted to do, and now lacking a tent), working for hours in the heat... it may be too much. But, I am determined. I have to be there! Even if I don't have everything I need (like my cash stash for change). I have to at least show up and meet people, and do what I can for that day. It's better than nothing at all, and missing out entirely.

I have some ideas about alternate displays.

I intended* to have two 5' tables, one square garment rack, and one rectangular garment rack, a mirror, a chair, plus maybe a set of plastic drawers, all under a 10'x10' tent.

What I will ACTUALLY have to work with is one 5' table, the mirror, the three plastic drawers, and the square garment rack.

What can I do? Maybe I can clear off the shoe rack and clean it for various items to be displayed. The mirror can be tied to the table with koshi himo, to keep it standing, or to the garment rack perhaps. The garment rack is self-standing, so it shouldn't be a problem unless we're on uneven ground. My sign can also be adhered to the table if need be. The drawers can be beside the table to provide extra space. I can sit on one of the buckets if I need to. I'll bring a pillow to elevate me a bit. Maybe an umbrella, to help keep the heat off of me.

::sigh:: My main worry now is simply affording the gas money to get there, and having enough stock to really make the sales, since my past weeks' worth of working time was annulled by personal drama. Someone needs to make a 'House' episode about me! :P THEN maybe I could get back to work!

Speaking of. Short time, lots of work. No time to waste!

July 19, 2011

Coveted Kimono: Vintage Summer Style

Taisho Ro Kimono,
I wish this set were mine. <3 I haven't been wearing kimono nearly* as often as I normally do this year. It has been so unusually hot, everywhere in America (and probably elsewhere, too), I just can't go outside! I get overheated in 70F weather, and when it's 85F at night... I'd rather not leave, if I can help it. But that means I have piles of kimono languishing in drawers, waiting to be aired out and worn! Augh!

So what do I do? Fantasize about adding more to the collection. ::facepalm::

This one is a Taisho ro silk piece, in fantastic condition, given it's age. The price shows it, too! But for a piece like this, I think $400 would be WELL worth it! Purple is a delicate colour, and the bold hagi motif is just irresistible!

I especially love the pairing of mustard yellow with such pale blues and soft greens. They play off the purple beautifully. And there's just enough red to make the proposed obi pop with colour!

Vintage ro obi,
The fuji (wisteria) and hagi (Japanese bush clover) motif is a perfect match for that kimono, and the bright reds and blues were so in style during the Taisho era! Even though Nagoya obi were not invented until the 40s, and Taisho ladies would have worn fukuro obi, the style of wearing such an obi would have likely been some variation of musubi that can be replicated with a Nagoya obi.

This one is also made of ro fabric, so it is the same weave as the kimono. How perfect can that get? It's a beautiful late summer set!

Think jade and tortoiseshell hairpins on glossy brown-black hair, coral lipstick, and a cute uchiwa or maybe a folding fan tucked into the obi. Cute natural, unlacquered wooden geta with red velvet hanao. An adorable mustard-yellow collar with red and pale blue embroidery! Maybe a pale silver and sherbet orange obijime with a sweet matching obiage? Or stick with the blues...

Coveted kimono, which will probably be sold long before I can ever hope to afford them. I hope someone buys them both together! What an outfit!

July 17, 2011

For Sale: Teal Striped Taisho Kimono (1912-1926)

Taisho Kimono with Teal, Purple, Black, and Yellow Stripes + Red and Tan Lining

Wrist to wrist, approx. 51in/127.5cm
Shoulder to bottom hem, approx. 58.5in/146.25cm
Length of sleeves, approx. 28.5in/71.25cm
All Seasons
Silk/synthetic blend

There are many stains, some noticeable, some that you have to look for. Some are water stains, which discolour the splotches of  fabric darker than the rest of it. Some are odd white powdery stains, which might be removable. The rest are from either soy sauce, or something that would cause the browning of fabric such as age or perhaps another type of water damage or stain. The worst stains are inside the lining. I have not tried to clean or repair the item, and so do not know how cleaning would affect the fabric. Generally, I would be very careful with something this old. Synthetics then are not like synthetics of now! They were more fragile then.

On the whole, it looks to be in fairly good condition- most of the stains are not so obvious when wearing. However, because it damaged, I have lowered the previous price and grade of kimono from 'Very Good' to 'Average'. Most Taisho kimono are fraught with some damages because of various events- fires, earthquakes, poor storage, normal wear and tear, etc.

July 14, 2011

Natsu Matsuri Approaches!

Here in FL, we have a yearly festival called Natsu Matsuri (literally, Summer Festival). It is one of the few Japanese festivals outside of the usual Morikami Museum fare, and it is near my city. This year, I get to go!

As far as I know, I will be doing some educational things like teaching other festival vendors how to tie yukata easily, and also, vending kimono and kimono items. I have some fabrics here that I will turn into koshi himo, which I love! It seems like such a small thing, but I always like having interesting or unique, easy-to-care-for koshi himo. I made mine out of cotton years ago, and have machine-washed them many times since. They are still in top condition today. I am confident that those who buy these will have the same experience!

I had intended to make piles of kinchaku with hand-woven cords and hand-sewn sashiko quilting as well, but personal events and such have prevented me from having this kind of time. On the other hand, I am making a hand-quilted, hand-beaded growth chart for my cousin, who is having her second child soon. I hope that I can finish it in time!

I also have a new book: "Autobiography of a Geisha", by Sayo Masuda. Although it was written a long time ago, it is a very stark book on the hard rural life of a woman born at the death of the Taisho era. She was indentured to what is today considered the lowest form of geisha house, an onsen geisha (hot springs geisha) house where prostitution was expected. Masuda takes a hard look at the Prostitution Prevention Act passed by Japanese legislature in 1958. This kind of idea seems very favourable to American eyes, perhaps, but the reality of its' effects was much different than most would expect. I suggest you get a copy to read; look for it at your local library first- you'd be surprised what they carry! Then, check a local bookstore or Ebay or Amazon. Any of those places should have it cheaply.

I can't say I lived a life anything like hers, but if there is one sentiment we share, it is this:

"If you ask me what I did know then," (as a small child) "It was that hunger was painful and human beings were terrifying, that was all." (pg. 12 of the Vintage 2004 edition of "Autobiography")

I think it would have been interesting to be able to speak with her personally. To know how things worked in her day, to talk about dresses and people gone by. To get as much information as possible on how things worked in the geisha world she grew up in. Today, we know geisha as pristine artists- and they are, at the top ranks of geisha houses. But of course, there is always the 'geisha underworld', the lower ranks not talked about by higher ranks. The world where a girl did play shamisen and sing, where training was rigorous and expensive, but really, a persons' body was never their own, and only through this life would they ever have a chance at freedom of their own. Eventually, Masuda was able to leave this life, but it was just as hard living without it than with it. Probably, one of the reasons that her story endures today is that she had unusual strength of character and an iron will despite the terrible conditions she battled daily.

Masuda Sayo died only recently, in 2008. She was 82 years old. If you are curious a little, I suggest reading this short page about her.

July 8, 2011

Taisho Stripes!

I love Taisho kimono! I'm normally a sucker for lavish patterns, but I'm finding myself attracted to the simple beauty of stripes lately.

If you are just getting into kimono, I suggest striped ones. The reason for this is that even though many kimono are beautiful (and it's possible to find three- or four-season kimono), stripes are the most versatile, chic patterns you can find, and they go with any pattern of obi! They are seasonless, timeless. And what is both more simple and more bold than a striped Taisho kimono?

I have two of these beauties going up for sale this week, as soon as it stops raining. The teal and purple one is already up for sale, but I need to get better, lighter photos of the stains described in the advertisement.

The other is bright red and pink! I love it, but it's the wrong colour for my skintone. I especially loved wearing my bright red plum blossom fukuro obi with it, since the gold embroidery really set off the buttery yellow tones, but I think it's time that it finds a home with someone who can really make it work! <3

Dragons in the Water

Today I was all set to get photos of a new outfit! Well, maybe not new. I've worn it before, but not on camera. Black haneri, blue hitoe iromuji somewhere between ocean blue and sky blue, and my dragon obi! The dragon obi is a favourite piece since I was born when rabbits become dragons, and it's so versatile in colour that it can be worn with grey kimono, blues, or even paprika red! I prefer the stormy blues unless I'm in a particularly dragon-like mood. I also wanted to photograph some of my kimono better. Someone who has been taking inventory of their kimono collection reminded me that I should do the same so that I can decide how much renters' insurance I need.
Sadly, it has been heavily downpouring all day. I won't complain too much- we really needed the water! But this means that the apartment is completely dark. Even with the indoor lighting, it's very dim and yellowy. Not at all appropriate for photographs! Kaaa. So, what can we talk about today?

Maybe about weather in Japan.

In most places, the rainy season starts in May, and lasts through mid-July. Some places start a little later, and in Hokkaido, which always seems to have gorgeous weather, it doesn't really start at all. The rainy season is called "Tsuyu", and it basically means that you should always carry a small umbrella, even if the day looks nice when you set out! Like Florida, it can go from beautiful blue skies to complete washouts in all of an hour. And if you don't like the weather now, just wait an hour and it'll be different!

Like Florida, Japan's rainy season brings a terribly oppressive humidity. Humidity that rots clothing, fogs up glasses when you walk outside, and makes it feel like it's 20F hotter than it is. Bread on the counter even gets moldy overnight sometimes! (Ask how I know. Ugh.) What on Earth do you do then? It's a time when one can get easily irritated, but there are some beautiful things during Tsuyu to explore.

Ajisai, close-up
- Ajisai-viewing. All over Japan, ajisai (hydrangea) grows in abundance. I saw many, many of these beautiful plants lushly blooming all over Tokyo. The petals can change colour depending on season, breed, and even iron content in the soil. So, if a piece of iron is being broken down in the soil on one side of a large pot, the flowers will turn blue, whereas the other side might be pink- and in between, they'll go purple or have "freckles" of both colours! Ajisai are a rainy-weather flower with petals like raindrops. And if you're going to see flowers...

- Ayame. Irises. Remember what I said back in May about them? There are three different kinds of Japanese iris, depending on where they are cultivated and when they begin to bloom. There is a breed of iris now called "Maiko no hama"- beach of maiko - that is beautiful, and a little striking. It is very white with tinges of purple on only the edges of each petal, while the very centre is yellow. Ayame are popular for ikebana this time of year. There are so many varieties to choose from!

- Hot tea on a slow day. This is the day when I pull out my favourite cups and make good tea. Usually something summery and fragrant, but also sometimes a higher-quality "plain" green tea. Take your time making it and drinking it. Look around at your surroundings while you do, and count your blessings. It's easy to get carried away in the maelstrom of things like kids, unemployment, a harried work schedule, stress from medical issues or family problems, and overwhelmed with chores. Take just a moment to realise that even though all of those things are going on, you are surrounded by four walls and a roof over your head- and that's more than many right now. Inhale. Let it out slowly. How many books have you afforded? Think of the retail value on all of those shelves alone- how fortunate! Are you and your family fed? Well done. Don't think of all the bills and other worries- that will wait until tomorrow. Just take this moment for what it is right now.

- Do you craft? Today is a good day to pull out papercrafts, sewing blocks, or anything you have around. Even blank printer paper can be turned into a few sheets of gorgeous stationary with some time. It doesn't have to be a complicated design, either! If you have stamps, or want to free hand some cute flowers on the edges with different coloured pens or markers, then by all means! Write someone a letter. It doesn't have to be long or particularly interesting. Leave it for a lover, or a friend, or a relative that you haven't spoken to in awhile. They'll be glad for the reminder, and very appreciative of the handmade quality of your note. Nothing is like a handwritten letter, and nothing is like a handwritten letter on stationary you crafted! It's the ultimate freedom to make every letter different. You can even print templates for stationary off of the internet.

One of my favourite projects was buying a gorgeous blank journal for a friend, and then stringing a few beads onto the ribbon in it before filling every few pages with a quote they'd like, or copied from this collection of Japanese poetry. There is still plenty of space to write in the book.This is the one I used.

- Maiko/geisha image journal
- "Asian Landscape" journal (okay, it's Chinese, but early Japanese history involved a lot of trade with China- that's where their writing, clothing, and most holidays and stories come from!)

- Finish up any "loose ends" chores that you have today. If it's raining too hard, there's little point in being outside. So get the little stuff out of the way now! Load the dishwasher, wipe the counters, sweep the floors. Then go back to reading or watching a good movie over tea. Tea solves everything.

What will you do today?

July 7, 2011

Star Stories: Tanabata

Photo from Bite-JAPAN
Is it Tanabata today? Every year, on the 7th day on the 7th month, the Star Festival is held. Some places go according to the "new" Western calendar, and some go according to the "old" Lunar calendar. If by the new calendar, then it is today!

On this night, it is said that two deities meet in the Heavens. Altair and Vega, as they are known by Western names, which are called 'Orihime-boshi' and 'Kengyuu-boshi'.

Tanabata was brought over from China during the Heian era, but wasn't incredibly popular until almost 1,000 years later, in the Edo era (1603). Once, Obon and Tanabata were only a week apart, and still are in some regions, so celebrations would get mixed the entire week. There were once two other festivals that mixed and became a part of today's Tanabata. It's celebrated differently depending on where you live because (as with most Japanese festivals) local religions or beliefs mixed in with the adapted holiday. For the most part, it is a day for airing out wishes! Traditionally, women wished to sew and weave better, since most fabric was made by the families who wore it. Men wished for better academic skills, or for other useful skills. Wishes today are written on slips of paper and hung on special bamboo poles; before, they were attached to trees.

The story is a romantic one, and also one of heartbreak.

July 4, 2011

Fiona Graham, AKA "Sayuki"

Since finishing the series of geisha-related articles, I'd like to talk about a topic I brought up about a month ago. I was so angry at this woman's actions that I needed this long just to keep myself under control. I will try to be as organized and informative as possible, regarding my objections to her behaviour. 

Fiona Graham is a woman who introduces herself as the first white/foreign geisha, formerly working in the Asakusa district. She is actually an anthropologist who works/ed at Keio University since 2009, and part-time TV producer. She claims to have produced various things for National Geographic, BBC, and NHK, but never says what or when... just before promoting her forthcoming documentary about herself. The only works that anyone has found are books about Japanese companies, not geisha culture, with the exception of a book about herself that is supposed to be published.

Geisha: A Brief History

Japanese society, up until the point when Commodore Matthew Perry "opened" the country to trade via iron warship brigade, had little to no problem with either homosexuality or prostitution. Lives were short and tough, and as much pleasure should be garnered as possible. Society had it's problems, no doubt, but as a rule, the Japanese worked hard and played twice as hard. In many ways, this attitude is the same, even today.

In the old days, marriages were arranged by Confucian tradition carried over from China. A woman was to be quiet, helpful, and hard-working, and a man was to be the tireless breadwinner. Matches were arranged according to hierarchical rank in society, benefiting the families involved as groups, not as a union for two individuals in love. For this reason, a person was not expected to be necessarily faithful on a societal level (of course, because individual thoughts may differ from social norms), and infidelity was something to be expected. Of course, this meant the proliferation of "working women", the 'yuujo', or prostitutes.

The role of today's female geisha (as they were all once men) begins with the roles of the yuujo of the past.

Oiran, from Andrew O., WikiCommons
Prostitution in the licensed quarters was seen either as a prison or as glamorous, depending on ones' position in the ranks and personal attitude. Becoming an oiran or tayuu (the highest ranks in Yoshiwara and Shimabara, although I'm not sure of the Shinmachi term for that rank) meant that a woman, normally lowest in society, could get an education, food every day, and wear the finest clothes in the country. They had the choice of turning away customers while keeping their money. Women entered these places either because they were born there, because they were 'currency' for their husbands' misdeeds and debts, or because they were sold as children to the brothel houses because the families were destitute, and had to make a choice between their daughter starving to death, or hoping that she would grow up to be beautiful and have everything she needed taken care of for her for the rest of her life. Of course, children did not start working as prostitutes immediately. They would become servants to older women, learning to clean and fold clothing, sweeping mats and arranging rooms for them until they were old enough to begin training.

These top-ranking girls were more than just prostitutes. They were well-educated entertainers as well. Simply having sex was not enough for an elite patron- they would need to be witty and well-mannered, beautiful and engaging. Even as "outsiders" in society, oiran or tayuu were the inspiration for elite fashion. Their pedigreed speech and mannerisms were of utmost beauty and formality. Only the richest of rich men could ever patronise them, but this became their downfall. Slowly, the antiquated language, over-the-top costuming, and unreasonably high pricing meant that fewer and fewer people had access to their services, and general interest dwindled as well. Customers could no longer relate to the ideals of this lifestyle.

Around the 1700s, odoriko (dancing girls) became welcomed entertainers in these houses while guests waited for their favourite courtesan. Odoriko knew folk dances, something that customers of any rank would know and relate to. They were inexpensive entertainment that put folks at ease until they could see the person they were waiting for. Where oiran where overtly sexual, odoriko were more chaste. As these women got older, they would find other jobs, or adapt other names, amongst them the term 'geisha'- "arts person". Geisha, up until this point, were all men. Adapting a man's title showed considerable tenacity, a display of seriousness in themselves as artists and as human beings.

Those who still worked in the "flower towns", hanamachi, of the brothels were strictly forbidden from selling sexual services- those jobs belonged rightfully to the yuujo. It was the very lack of expectation of sex that set geisha apart from the yuujo. These were women who were empowered by selling their arts, and not their bodies. They were female companions: chatty, interesting, relaxing, providing intelligent conversation to men whose wives were never afforded such education, or who were too busy taking care of the roles of the home and the families tied to it to have time to get an education. These were "substitute wives", in terms of engaging a man's thoughts without the troubles and worries of discussing child-rearing, finances, and other daily troubles. It was an escape from the world, and geisha could handle it all.

Geisha, from Andrew O., WikiCommons
By 1800, most geisha were female. They were wildly popular entertainers, and the culture of the oiran had fallen to them. Gone were the overly-lavish multiple layers of silk uchikake, with it's heavy gold, silver, and brass embroidery, stilted, formal language, and many, many rules of engagement and character. Now was the time for subdued aristocracy, subtle languages and familiar exchanges. A geisha's character was as her kimono; high-class without being flashy, like the black, barely-patterned dress made with the most expensive silks and highest craftsmanship available. On the surface, nothing too out of the ordinary, while being on a completely different level from anything a person can imagine. Where oiran were pretty ornaments, geisha could bend and change with the wind- thus, where the term "Flower and Willow world" comes from. Oiran were flowers; geisha were willows.

Geisha popularity only grew, up to the point of WW2. Then, the collapse of the entire industry leveled the community. Their clothing was stolen, burned in bombings or in raids, or chopped to pieces for the increasingly scarce fabrics. Customers couldn't afford food, much less entertainment, so women went to work as farmers or in factories. Common women (and possibly, a few ex-geisha) looking to make quick, easy money from the invading Americans called themselves "geisha girls" and offered sexual favours, giving rise to the Western idea that actual geisha were a very different breed of women. By the 1940s, the teahouses and karyukai (Flower and Willow world) had shut down completely. It looked as if the profession of geisha was at an end.

True to willow ideals, however, soon after the reconstruction of Japan, the remaining geisha organized as a national industry, setting down protections and laws on how to govern their profession and their workers. Prostitution was outlawed in 1959, in accordance with Western ideals, and selling the destitute into work was illegal as well. Wages became more standardized, and ensured the continuance of the karyukai. Where geisha were once a class of women who changed to keep up with the times and tastes of their clientele, they became curators of traditions gone by, one of the last bastions of Japanese traditional culture. Geisha were resilient, bending yet never breaking, no matter what happened: Kansai or Tohoku earthquakes, nuclear bombings, economic collapse- geisha have survived it all, in pursuit of art and happiness.

July 3, 2011

It's July Already!

I'm back! I've recovered- a few days ago, actually, but I got so absorbed in catching up on what I missed... well, at least I'm here to write again. Don't worry. I haven't forgotten the posts I'd wanted to make a week ago. <3

It's July already, isn't it? Ah, the time goes by too quickly. Fumizuki, "Month of Books", is the traditional name for the seventh month. I think this year, I will try to go by Western dates for all things, and then next year, switch to Lunar Calendar dates for some things, like month changes.

This month, fans are all the rage! You'll see a lot of uchiwa hairpins, the broad, flat paddle-like fans native to China and carried over to Japan long ago. There are also special Gion Matsuri hairpins that some maiko will wear, but fans are the main theme here.

Be sure to look for peonies and running water motifs as well on kimono. Running water is a vastly popular and very beautiful motif. I am fortunate to have a metallic silver fukuro obi with ichimatsu (woven checkers) and running water patterns. <3 You might even see kimono for special events with fireworks themes (perfect for us Americans celebrating the 4th of July!), or dragonflies and summer grasses. I myself have a deep purple ro kimono from Taisho era featuring a riverside bed of grasses. I am looking for a white ro obi to pair with it- I have the most gorgeous dragonfly-patterened green and brown obiage to go with it!

The colour moegi becomes very popular in the coming weeks- it's a bright yellowy-green. Also, look for silvers! Cool colours are the most popular during Summer months. The idea is that it's so hot out, one should think 'cool' by wearing cool colours! When it starts to cool off in August, then begin wearing warm colours.

For me, all year is basically ro silk or yukata weather- as thin as possible, because it's so hot outside. However, the fact is that once upon a time, the kimono was a living garment, and many folks couldn't afford silks, much less expensive, delicate gauzy silks. Cottons and hemp fabrics in a single layer were worn, so don't feel restricted if it's too hot or too cool for what is appropriate according to modern rules!