Bebe Taian: Natsu Matsuri Approaches!

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.

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