Bebe Taian: June 2011

June 22, 2011

A Short Break

I had another article planned and partially written, the last on geisha before getting into the Fiona Graham issue, but it's temporarily on hold.

I'll be going in for some minor surgery tomorrow (sudden development; very sudden), and while I can usually work through stuff like that, the pain meds will probably do worse damage than the surgery itself. I don't trust myself to be very coherent for the next week or so. This means that I may not finish the geisha series on time. My apologies to anyone who was waiting for that subject to wrap up!

Don't worry, everyone. I'll be fine. Just heavily medicated. :P I'll be back in no time!

June 21, 2011

For Sale: Synthetic Pre-War Komon

I've listed a synthetic pre-war komon this week. It is definitely newer than Taisho, not a "remake" or a hemmed item. It is from probably the late 30s or early 40s, back when red linings were still in common use.

I didn't like this kimono so much when I got it. It didn't go as well as I thought with my skin tone, and I don't tend to care much for synthetics. But after awhile, it grew on me.

It does have a few damages, the most noticeable being the hole on the wrist hem of a sleeve. It could be repaired by simply turning the fabric around, but I never did. There is another hole at the hem at the bottom. I am not sure how repairable that one is. A few assorted stains, but none visible on the outside. Even so, I think it's relatively wearable for an ultra-casual event, like errand-running and such. Since it's a komon, it's already very informal, especially since it's synthetic instead of silk. The lining may be silk, but I cannot tell. But why would someone put a silk lining in a synthetic kimono?

At any rate, it's up on ArtFire and also on Ebay. The starting price on Ebay is slightly cheaper, but it is an auction. I highly doubt that the one on ArtFire will sell overnight, so I'm leaving them both up for now. I have the Tokyo komon on Ebay as well, for the same reason.

June 20, 2011

A Brief Announcement

Totally unrelated to normal business at BebeTaian, but I wanted to let everyone know that my longtime other project, NigatsuBebe, which started in 2005, will be coming to a halt soon. I love making jewellery, and I still enjoy it, but I don't feel it is my current passion. I need to dedicate myself to the things I truly love now. Please understand. Of course, I will still be making kimono jewellery!

Because NigatsuBebe is closing, I'd like to offer my followers/viewers here a 20% discount on everything I have left in stock. I will be restocking probably until the end of the year. I made many sales/trades on Etsy and switched to ArtFire at the beginning of the year, if you're wondering about feedback. I was at Etsy under the same name. Of course, I still adhere to my previous policies- let me know if something arrives broken, or if you want an exchange, etc. and I will work with you to achieve a solution. But all in all, once I sell out of my current stock, that will be it for NigatsuBebe jewellery + accessories.

How do you get your 20% discount? Just mention my blog name in the checkout, or message me and let me know what you bought or what e-mail you used for Paypal, and I'll refund 20% of the price of the item. I check my e-mail daily, often a few times a day, so I will get back to you quickly.


June 18, 2011

芸子/芸者: Geisha, Performing Artists

Geiko Fukunao, by Onihide
Geiko and Geisha, Performing Artists.

Geisha, or 'geiko' as they are called in Kyoto, are performing artists. The word literally translates to "art-person". These women will spend years of their lives dedicated to studying various performing arts- how to dance, how to sing, how to play various instruments... but they will also spend hours studying other things that we Westerners may not feel are "arts", such as how to properly handle conversations, how to pour tea, how to move in their long kimono (and if you've never tried it, it really IS an art!), and how to perform set movements for all kinds of miscellaneous things: moving a curtain aside, opening and shutting doors, etc. Every little detail to a performance is practiced until it is second nature- and then is practiced again until it IS one's nature.

Notice how at no point have the "arts of male pleasure" entered into the equation. This is because geisha are not, and never really were, prostitutes. In fact, it is the fact that they weren't prostitutes that set them apart from the yuujo, oiran, and tayuu, who were in some ways their predecessors. In fact, in the beginning of the geisha days, it became illegal to sell sexual favours because many of them worked in some of the same establishments as the yuujo. The idea of having the 'ungettable' woman was stimulating, I'm sure.

Once, women who worked as geisha started very young much of the time. The poorest of families would sell their daughters to geisha houses in the hopes that the child would be educated, well-mannered, talented, and beautiful enough to make the ranks. It would mean a lifetime of work for her, but it was a much better position in society than she would have otherwise had, provided that she had survived the poverty of her childhood. It was certainly a better life than death. These children would become servants to the house first, learning how to clean their quarters, wash laundry, and other menial tasks until she could begin training in the arts- the younger the better, since children have more flexible minds and less time to create bad habits.

Geiko Kimiha, by Onihide
Once she had passed servant ranks and trainee ranks (maiko, hangyoku), having learned all of the basic skills in her job, she could finally become a geisha. Being a geisha in the old days meant staggering amounts of debt- debt for her "buying price", debt from all of the expensive, lavish kimono, obi, and accessories she would have had to have made for her yearly, debt for her teachers' tuition prices, debt for the food she ate, all of which came out of the okiya's pocket. For each girl, they would front the equivalent of millions of dollars in todays' money throughout her childhood, in the hopes of making her a very successful and wealthy geisha. The grown woman would need to work to repay her debts.

One of the old practices, which hasn't been done in many decades, was a ritual called 'mizuage', the transitioning of a maiko to a geiko and a mark of adulthood. It is probably part of what gives some Westerners the idea that geiko are prostitutes. In order to recompense much of the money needed for her life starting out as a geiko, and to repay a little of what she spent as a maiko, the girl would be quietly offered to a man for the night. Her price would depend on how much the highest bidder could pay, but it was often vast sums of money. Of course, elder geisha would watch over her in another room, unseen, but even so- for some women, traumatic. For others, par for the course. Becoming a geiko meant working towards freedom in one of the best jobs there were for a woman not of royal blood. After that, sexual services were not mandatory, although many women developed relationships with their danna, who was a wealthy man that would pay for not only their time, but also any clothes or things they needed. Some women still have danna today, although it is up to that person whether or not to have any kind of physical relationship with him. One woman notably married her danna, which was completely taboo. Iwasaki Mineko's story became the fodder for Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha", a fanfiction-like version of Iwasaki's life.

A full-fledged geiko trains daily in various arts, even after seventy years, and can be called away for hours a night to entertain at parties or even to just go on "dates" as nice restaurants or teahouses. They can dress as formally as requested, but when in doubt, more formally than not. During the day, they will practice dancing and singing and read up on customer information before leaving for an appointment, and during the night, they will dance and sing and play drinking games until everyone is very drunk and happy and it's time to end the night. They will then come home, take off their makeup, and head to bed- only to get up in just a few hours.

A geisha's life is only over when she says it is; to leave for another career, to get married, due to severe illness, or to simply retire. Many retired geisha who do not marry go on to operate teahouses, or stay in the artist circles in some way.

To see what geisha do in action, there is no one better to go to than the ever-fabulous Arumukos! This person provides what is possibly the best idea of ozashiki and a geisha's life than any documentary. Why? Because there are thousands of photos, videos, lyrics to traditional songs, etc. on his Flickr pages.

More Geisha info:

Geisha, by Liza Dalby
Geisha, A Life, by Iwasaki Mineko
Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance, and Art, by John Gallagher
Geisha on Wikipedia
A Geisha's Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice, by Komomo

June 13, 2011

Fashion Update! Kimono Are Trendy!

A short break from geisha for this announcement:

Kimono are apparently becoming a trend in America, and this is spectacular!

I recall seeing a gauzy kimono-inspired piece in a fashion magazine years ago, with bright, bold geometric prints that I thought spoke of a modernized take on the Taisho Modern pop-art movement. Now, it seems the upcoming fashion market leans towards "Oriental" florals!

VOGUE UK 5/2011 - Photographer: Javier Vallhonrat
You can read the original article here.

Meisen Thistle kimono,
If I were to follow up on this trend, I would be looking at some 1920s Taisho Roman kimono... or, better yet, MEISEN! Meisen seems like a blurry style, so it doesn't appeal to everyone, but from a distance it is gorgeous.

Meisen kimono tend to be fairly old. The trend was at it's height back in the 1920s-1950s, although they are not too incredibly difficult to find. Basically, meisen fabric was made by dying the threads first and then weaving the fabric to see the design. You can imagine how incredibly difficult this was! Patterns were not often simply stripes anymore, as they so often were when women were expected to weave much of their own fabric. These new fabrics, often synthetic, were now complicated and highly detailed, and yet had to be produced in larger quantities than ever before.

I adore meisen, although at first I hated it. I didn't like the blurriness of the patterns. I grew to appreciate it later, when I got into Impressionism. It seems now like this is the thing to look out for- especially since many meisen-style kimono were flowery. Years ago, I saw the kimono shown here for sale- many years ago. Thistles are a favourite flower, and they seem to be popular in meisen for obvious reasons. Anyone who has seen a thistle knows that they're all thorns and fuzz! Today, I have only two meisen pieces- one is a bright purple haori, the other, a black kimono with no particular motif. The kimono is for sale, and is in excellent condition.

If you would like much more detailed information on meisen kimono, along with photos of examples, I recommend this exhibition at Marcuson and Hall.They have a thorough explanation on how meisen fabrics were woven, and quite a nice collection of kimono to go with it! <3

June 10, 2011

舞子/半玉: Geisha-in-Training

Maiko Fukusato, by Onihide
Maiko and Hangyoku: Geisha-in-training.

I thought with this post, if I was going to write about geisha, I might as well start with the beginning of their training. There are quite a few books dedicated to the subject, so I present you with a heavily annotated version of the events leading to becoming a geisha.

Training to be a geisha is different everywhere you go in Japan. It is said that this is partly due to 'aji' of the area where geisha are in demand. Some areas prefer a pretty but silent girl to pour tea, play some music, and otherwise be a symbol of expense and grace while, say, dealing in politics behind closed doors. Others prefer vibrant colours and lively dances and games, leaving all the worries of work behind and simply enjoying a game with a witty, chatty woman with conversations that do not revolve around housework and bills. Some are just looking for higher-educated female company, someone with a taste for finer arts to simply be near for a little while, relaxing and drinking into a floating haze. Different customer tastes mean training for different skills. ^_^

"Training time" can depend on where you are.

Maiko Ichimame, by Onihide
In Kyoto, it is not uncommon for a girl to start working as a maiko-trainee (training to be a maiko) at 14 or 15 years old. If she is good enough and is well-suited to the life, she will become a maiko, or geisha-in-training. This period has a few different stages as the maiko works up ranks, slowly filling out more of her makeup and wearing fewer hairpins. She will first do 'minarai'- learning by watching, picking up how to treat customers, how to move, what to joke about, etc. As she graduates, she will perform a ceremony similar to a wedding ritual, which will "marry" her to the profession. After that point, she will be a full-fledged geisha. If the girl later marries or otherwise decides to retire, she will no longer be able to be a geisha. The role of a wife is incompatible with that of an entertainer of this sort. Maiko training perhaps will depend on things like age when one starts and how quickly they become skilled. Some girls only stay to be maiko and do not go on to become geiko (Kyoto dialect for 'geisha'). A Kyoto geisha who was a maiko has more prestige than someone who entered 'late' and debuted as a geiko.

In Tokyo, training is said to last around six months to a year. A trainee, usually a younger woman, is called a hangyoku- literally, "half-jewel". Because they are unskilled, they earn half the price of a full-fledged geisha. Of course, if the person joining is too old to be a hangyoku, they will debut as a geisha just as they would have in Kyoto. Again, someone who was a hangyoku will have more prestige because they had longer training and more experience.

There is another category of women outside of Kyoto, usually Tokyo-area, called 'furisode-san': girls under 25 who dress up in ofurisode, learn a few dances and songs, and get paid to cheaply entertain. Only very young girls or women wear furisode, so this lifestyle will never last long. But, if you train to become a geisha and are accepted into an okiya, you can have a lifetime of work and study ahead of you. Considering that the Japanese workforce seems to mostly expect women to stop working by their 30s at regular, full-time jobs, this can be a very good prospect. Being a geisha or trainee can mean a lot of money (which they would need to pay for lessons and clothing and everything that goes with the lifestyle), and a lifetime of stability.

In any case, a geisha-in-training must be willing to work hard. In Kyoto, it is not unusual for a girl to work 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week between various arts lessons, ozashiki (geisha parties), dressing and makeup, errand-running and holiday-work such as delivering gifts to all of the places who hosted or otherwise helped them, etc. In Tokyo and other areas, I am not convinced that things are any easier!

In English:
Tokyo Karyukai (not updated in English; intro and photos only)
Translation of Maiko Ichimame's Blog (original blog has expired)
English Article on Ichimame
Maiko: Wikipedia

In Japanese:
Tokyo Karyukai
Geisha Eitarou of Matsunoya

June 6, 2011

This Month, Geisha.

I think this month needs to have some discussion of geisha. I haven't really covered the subject here before, since there are already a plethora of photobloggers inside and out of Japan who post new content daily, and who have insider information that I don't have access to- it seems shameful to repost from someone else's blogs constantly. But with so many misconceptions still being propagated, no thanks to certain individuals, it's time.

I'm going to schedule some time to sit down this week and really get a good primer written out on geisha. Immortal Geisha was once really the best English information website to go to, but it's been under construction for ages. They ARE working on a Geisha Wiki though, and I'm really anxious to see it completed!

In the meantime, I made some promises these past few days, and it's high time I started to do what I SHOULD have been doing months ago: scanning in old articles that I've saved about Japan, printed in American magazines. Starting with Marie Claire's "Gucci Geisha" article, dated April 2001.

This was the article that really kickstarted my kimono collection. I got this copy by chance, since I had little interest in magazines of this type. I found it in a YMCA and, being the least reprehensible choice, started leafing through it while working out. I wanted to keep the article (already out of print, an old copy), so they let me have the entire magazine. I'm glad it was one that I kept with me; my entire archive of magazines (several boxes; I'm a bibliophile) such as DISCOVER and WIRED were lost some years later. x.x That year, I recall making beaded hairpins in effort to mimic the jade hairpiece Makoto-san wears in these photos. Of course, I wasn't going for a 'real' maiko look. I couldn't, not on the money and limited information I had in English, but I wanted that style. I had adored my ningyo since I was very small, and this was the jump I needed to really begin taking charge of my interests in art!

I apologize now for not having proper scans. This article is very worn, and I have no access to a scanner just yet (working on it!) You can sometimes find copies of this magazine at Amazon or Ebay, if you look up the month and year with the title 'Marie Claire'. It is not posted on the internet elsewhere, and the website does not have it archived, so that is your only chance to find a copy yourself. Please click on the photos for larger versions.

I present to you "Gucci Geisha", from Marie Claire: April 2001.

More Cats.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Okay, after this, I promise I'm done talking about cats for a little while!

Yep, more talk about cats. This time, cats in ukiyo-e! I knew there HAD to be some. As long as there are piles of comfy things, there have been cats. As long as there have been expensive hand-woven silk cords, there have been cats. Usually in abundance. The nicer something is, and the less you want it to get ruined, the more cats there will likely be. Maybe it's their way of reminding us that 'stuff' isn't important?

So I went digging.

Lots of cats in ukiyo-e.  Enough for there to be postcard sets issued (check Amazon)! >D It's great. I'm extremely pleased to find a page dedicated to compiling images of this subject. Go there. Spend hours looking at photos. Know that no matter how safe you try to keep your things, there will always be a cat there to safeguard you from becoming too connected to material objects. It is said that cats rejected Buddha and his teachings, but the way they act sometimes, I wonder if that's really true? They've done an *excellent* job of keeping me from having nice things for long...

Utagawa Kunisada
I'll warn ahead of time that this isn't going to be an educational post. Today is about appreciating art, as it is. <3

The pattern on the woman's kimono to the left is flax flowers, I think. I have a Taisho-era one very similar to it, along with a red juban for underneath. Seeing portraits like this make me want to reenact the scene somehow, and take "real life" photos. It's an awesome ambition... although I had originally intended to list that kimono for sale, maybe now I'll hang on to it. I can always see about a museum maybe hosting the private collection for awhile...

It seems that ukiyo-e of many smaller figures composing larger figures or images was very popular for a time. You can see in in ukiyo-e of yokai, where many men will compose a portrait of a larger men, and such themes as this. This time, it's cats forming the characters for "catfish". Kuniyoshi seemed particularly fond of cats, although they appear in so, so many different artists' works...

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
And, of course, what kind of post would this be without at LEAST depicting the reality of owning both kimono AND raising cats? The love, the admiration, the destruction, the heartbreak... Severus, my dear smart-aleck cat, destroyed a Japanese post-war jewellery box which was a family heirloom... Seraph, who shredded a Taisho-era juban I'd been airing out (she decided it made an excellent ladder to the top of the closet, naturally!)... Bebe, my very own bunnycat, who thought that a silk summer outfit was a GREAT place to stretch her claws, gave me hours of patching to do before I could even THINK about wearing that kimono again... as a juban... Oh, my collection has paid dearly over the years. I can only imagine the anger and frustration that women in Japan must have felt as their ridiculously expensive, hand-woven kimono were torn apart by their beloved felines. And yet, how often we pick up and play with our cuddly companions despite this.

Toyohara Kunichika

Fiona Graham, or Sayuki.

This is a temporary reminder to write about a subject I wanted to forget about for a very long time. Ah, but it seems unavoidable. I need to distance my emotions tonight and write this tomorrow.

Also, I have made a promise to dig out an old Marie Claire article on maiko, related to the Fiona story. I will try to find a place to scan it for me so that I can post it by the end of the week. Don't let me forget!

June 3, 2011

Mochi. Or Rather, Daifuku.

It's Daifuku, isn't it? This kind of mochi cake. But it just says "mochi" on the box. Mostly, I think we call it mochi here in Florida. Most people don't use the proper 'daifuku' term.

It's my comfort food right now. Normally, I'm a big fan of taro daifuku, or of anko daifuku- that is, it's like... hn. Taro is like a potato-like root vegetable. Satoimo. Normally, it's poisonous, but it's not really once it's soaked and cooked properly. Anko, of course, is a type of red bean paste, pounded with sugar and made with azuki beans. It's very sweet and delicious! There was a kind that I LOVED, but I can't find it anywhere anymore: mango mochi! It's orange mochi filled with mango sorbet. Oh, so, so SO good. And cold.

Since I'm under the weather right now, this is what I'm eating. Not too flavourful, no strong smells, not too sweet or too salty. I'm avoiding the taro and anko kinds, since they're too sweet for me at the moment, but the peanut butter kind is soooo good. The mochi is lightly sweet, the peanut butter lightly salty, all of it chewy and smooth. It's carbs, it's protein, it'll keep me going for the day... provided I don't have to do anything. I've been seeing glutinous rice powder in the asian food stores, and I've been wondering how to make it myself, since six pieces of daifuku are $2- and when you're eating two or three a day, it gets expensive. At least, for a little while. My craving for mochi comes and goes.

Apparently, making mochi the "new" way is very easy! The "old" way involved cooking a certain kind of glutinous rice, like the kind used for onigiri, and pounding it in a mortar one way while a partner moistens it and turns the mortar the other way. It is especially a tradition reserved for the new year. Sometimes, especially in anime, you'll see a rabbit making mochi in the moon! <3 The new way, so, so simple.

I found this exact recipe in three or four different places online, and I'm not sure who published it first. I haven't tried it myself yet, but I plan on doing so very soon!

Daifuku Mochi:

- 3 c. water
- 1 c. sugar
- 16oz. mochiko (glutinous sweet rice flour)
- Katakuriko (potato starch), for dusting
- Food colouring optional.
- Some kind of filling, if you like. Peanut butter, chocolate, premade anko (youkan, bean paste bricks are excellent when halved), ice cream... use your imagination!
- Little paper cups are a good idea. The kind chocolates come in. Otherwise, use wax paper.

Bring water to a boil. If you want coloured mochi, add the food colouring now, with the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add mochiko a little at a time, stirring constantly. Continue stirring over medium heat until the lumps dissolve. The dough will be thick and sticky.

Place dough on a smooth surface dusted with katakuriko. Allow to cool slightly. Sprinkle and distribute with more katakuriko and knead a few times until smooth. Form into a log. Pinch off a 1 1/2-in. piece of dough and flatten into a circle. Place a small spoonful of filling in the center, usually around a tablespoon. Fold edges around filling and pinch shut to seal. Line up these delicious treats on wax paper or drop in those little paper cups. If using ice cream, of course, wrap mochi and freeze.

Makes about 2 dozen mochi.

Oy. The Untimeliness!

That's a word, right? "Untimeliness?" Living in this country is affecting my brain.

I had a cute post on cats halfway tonight, continuing the theme from the previous weeks, but my images are on the other computer and there's still a lot of content regarding those images that I need to write up. But as it is, I've done nothing but eat and sleep today. It's... it's been a rough day. But don't worry. I'll bounce back in a few days or so!

I got a great package this weekend. Well, two, actually. One was samples from the new Shiro Cosmetics collection, so now I have a truer red and some golds and pinks. The reds and pinks especially are useful for doing any Japanese-inspired makeup, and they stay for hours even without primer. The other is a couple of brass kanzashi for my private collection. Also, an old black and white photo of an actress. I'm not sure who she is, but I'm in <3 with old photographs. I have a scrapbook specifically devoted to archiving old postcards and photos from Japan. Of course, I have some newer things in there as well, from when I visited back in 2005, but they are very easily distinguished from the others.

Since I can't really do much tonight, I'll probably think up how to do the Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival) coming up with minimum work involved. It is going to be a HOT day in July, and I will be carrying my weight or more in silks alone, not including tables, tents, etc. I will also need to redesign and print some business cards. It shouldn't be too hard, since I have a banner already. ^_^ And since it's an in-person show, I can bring things that are newer, and not just vintage items!

This week, my husband somehow found the money to buy me some new fabrics to make things for the festival. Items like reusable incense pouches and drawer sachets are indispensable when storing kimono! But most of the time, cheaper ones could have things in them that can stain your fabrics, or you can't refill them when they run out of scent, or you can't change the scent. I intend to design one that avoids all of those problems, PLUS it'll be washable! I'm also going to be making a small assortment of cotton kinchaku (handbags), featuring hand-woven kumihimo cording and sashiko embroidery. There will, if I can afford the start-up capital, datejime and koshi himo pre-made. I found some great small-print cottons in a few colours that I love, so cutting, sewing, and ironing are going to fill my final days before the Festival.

::sigh:: I adore my husband. I really don't know how he does it. And all without complaints. I'm a lucky girl, aren't I?

June 1, 2011

The Lunar Calendar, with Regards to China

Today, Japan uses the Western-enforced Gregorian calendar. Of course, most places do these days, in order to keep step with the Euro-American way of doing things. Many holidays today fall according to Gregorian calendar dates, like today, which would be "Minazuki"- the month of rain. This is the month when maiko wear hydrangea (ajisai) and willow (yanagi) hairpins or kimono.

However, many holidays are still done by the Lunar calendar.

When you try to look up the Lunar calendar, you will probably get hit after hit for Gregorian calendars with the moon phases listed. This is fine, if you are into say, astronomy, astrology, or some form of Paganism involving rites based on the moon phases. However, it is completely useless when it comes to determining Asian holidays and seasons!

Chinese government to the rescue. It was the first easy-to-read English document on the actual Lunar calendar, with monthly changes gridded according to Gregorian dates in conjunction with Lunar dates in a small format that made sense. ::le sigh:: Oh, China. Today, you made my research on Japan so much easier. I thank you. A very happy Year of the Rabbit to you all!

It is today that I found out that tomorrow is the 5th month starting, according to the Lunar calendar. This, of course, makes sense when one remembers that the "real" New Year begins in February. It will also help me time the dates of the Meeting of Heavenly Lovers, Ghost Month, etc. Isn't that AWESOME?

I really would love to get my hands on a Japanese Farmers' Almanac, the kind superstitious folks once used. As many books as I see published on neo-paganism and Euro-based superstitions and magic, I never see any on Asian forms, aside from something popularized like Feng Shui. I know it must exist- these rites ALWAYS exist, especially in countries where every creature has been said to have a soul or a life of it's own. Any story on obake/yokai showa that even a well-used lamp wanders off on it's own once in awhile! But yet, I rarely see these books here. I would love to do the research and publish sometime... I think it would be well worth the cost. I think many students of Japanese culture would be interested, wouldn't you?