Bebe Taian: More Old Photos

September 21, 2011

More Old Photos

 A series of old photos from postcards. Some are very well-preserved; others are in terrible condition. I hope that one day I can archive and perhaps digitally restore some of them.

On the right, a tayuu (highest rank of courtesan) is flanked by six kamuro, who are servants and apprentices to tayuu. You can only see a few in this photo. I bought the postcard over the weekend and haven't yet received it for better photographing. The tayuu/oiran ranks were nearly extinct by the early 1900's, so this is a somewhat rare find!

Another woman in the yuujo ranks, but I am not sure of the exact rank.

Whatever Westerners may think of these women, the facts are that for some, especially lowest-class women, there may not have been a better chance at life. Whether or not death is better than the lives they had is somewhat of a debate; I imagine that it is the sort of thing that only the person themselves can decide. In the end, a higher-end yuujo could become educated and cared for, whereas most women had not a prayer for such things.
This girl is a Kyoto maiko in late Winter/early Spring. Her long, trailing darari-obi shows patterns of bamboo, as do the swining sleeves of her furisode-hikizuri. Back then, bira kanzashi were made of brass instead of aluminium or silver. It appears that she has bamboo-motif kanzashi in her hair as well. This is likely January, then, not quite yet time for plum blossoms.

This postcard supposedly comes from the 1960s, but it may be from earlier than that. Personally, I have no expertise in dating such things, and there is little to no information on the backs of most of these postcards.

Maiko have always been popular subjects for Japanese postcards, so fortunately, they are plentiful! They are the pretty faces of Japan, and have pretty much always been great for tourism. They are sometimes also looked at as celebrities, so having postcards of your favourite geiko or maiko is very special, indeed!
Another mystery maiko from the same set as the others. This one is from later in the year, perhaps.

The obi seems to be an arabesque pattern. Is the kimono motif fans and pine needles? I cannot tell. The one indicator might be her hana kanzashi: a peony, perhaps? In that case, it may be from March of that year.

She has such a pretty smile! I love that lipstick. <3 Benihana might have looked strange with the outfit- or perhaps, it would have been perfect? Benihana hasn't been used in the longest time due to its' sheer expense, but oh, the marvelous effect it has!

Does anyone know where this was taken, or what the captions along the bottom of the cards say? Or, does anyone know who this was/is?

This maiko is a senior maiko. Notice the smaller hana kanzashi and the fully-painted lips. Brass bira kanzashi adorn the other side.

The kimono shows tachibana, the obi shows red kumihimo, and the collar shows a host of motifs including wheels. Probably, this is from late autumn. Tachibana have always been a favourite motif; to see a kimono so bold and covered in them is lovely. I love the mustard yellow obi! <3 It's a colour I've never been able to carry off well, but this girl does it beautifully.

I wonder if she ever made it to full geiko status? How long did she work for? Did the photo really come from the 1960s, and if so, did Iwasaki Mineko (of "Memoirs of a Geisha"/"Geisha, A Life" fame) know her or know of her? We can barely see the obi in the photo- does it give anyone a clue as to what house she belonged to? No matter what, it is a beautiful photo of such a happy-looking person!
The last photo is from the 1960s as well. In it, we see a bride followed by who is presumably her mother, and possibly her father and shrine priests.

She walks through an aisle of what looks like a traditional Shinto shrine adorned in full bridal clothing. It is unlikely that her real hair was set into this style, given the era the photo was taken in. Likely, it was a wig styled specifically for that occasion.

A special garment called 'tsuno kakushi' is worn over the elaborate hairstyle and kanzashi. A furisode juban in red or white would be worn underneath the kimono, in this case, it appears to be a kakeshita in black, pink, and green. Maru obi are usually worn for the occasion, along with a kakae-obi (the yellow one), obi-age (red one), maruguke (special obi-jime, in white), and a hakoseko set- a hairpin or small knife tucked into the front with a tissue holder, and a gold or silver fan.

The dress of a Shinto bride is elaborate and involves some changing throughout the ceremonies. Another outfit will be pure white today, or white and red, usually with an uchikake (a very elaborate, heavily embroidered kimono usually covered in auspicious motifs such as cranes, tortoiseshell, and pine needles) which may be very brightly coloured over top of it. Today, many women are abandoning these formalities, opting instead for huge weddings and spending less on the dress, usually a Christian/Western-style white gown instead of any sort of kimono. Thus, the incredibly low prices of secondhand wedding kimono today.

As you can see, I have a thing for photos of people, especially women. Perhaps they are more popular subjects today. I think it's an interesting juxtaposition, since at the time, the lives of women were trivialized and shuttered. Exposing the ghosts of the past is part of the fun and mystery behind these postcards. Since some were taken in the 60s, I wonder how many of these people are alive today? Were they happy? Successful? Did the maiko become geisha, or go off to get married? What happened to them?

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