Bebe Taian: 2013

December 28, 2013

Maiko in Vintage Postcards

I received another surprise Christmas gift from one of my friends in Japan, one that I've talked about needing for several years but could never quite afford with all the other stuff to take care of... a scanner! Technically, a printer/scanner combo, which is basically everything I wanted. It even has the four separate ink cartridges, so if I run out of blue, I don't have to throw out full pink or yellow ink cartridges just to replace blue. Yaaaay! This means I can sell my old printer, which is actually fairly new.

To celebrate this awesomeness, I went and scanned in a bunch of my postcards and some of the magazine articles I've been wanting to capture. Google Books doesn't have a copy of them, and they're a bit long for me to type up right now. Future project? But for now, maiko photos!

December 25, 2013


I'm not really a big celebrator of Christmas. Mostly because I don't really have any particular religion. My favourite part is probably buying new LED lights the day after. >D I also like the smell in the kitchen when I bake cookies and muffins for everyone. Actually, I really like buying presents and such. I just don't like the crush at various stores, so I try to buy all year-round, and just stock them away whenever I have money to spare. This year was much smaller than the last. I should probably get started on making next year's gifts soon. :P
This year I was gifted some pretty awesome things. I didn't expect it at all! One of my very thoughtful friends handed me some money to get whatever (that isn't sarcasm; there's a lot that needs replacing, and how can he know what everyone else got us already?) My mother-in-law gave me her purse from her HS junior-year prom, a pretty silver clutch that you'll definitely see in kimono photos to come. <3 The cats, naturally, gave me fur and loud meows at all hours of the morning for more turkey.

But the fun stuff!

Zelda: Ocarina of Time Blend 2
A replacement cartridge of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for N64. I'm in love with this game, and have been since it first came out. I have another copy, but I lent it out and it came back dead. These things happen, especially since the game is over 10 years old. So a new copy it is! If you've never played any of the Zelda games, you might start with this one or with Twilight Princess. There are adaptations for newer consoles, so if you don't have a Nintendo 64, don't worry.

I also bought three books that I've been looking at for awhile. They aren't available in their entirety on Google Books, but I'll link their summaries anyways. I was looking particularly for books about facets of Japanese society written by Japanese people. Sadly, the vast majority of results for my search on books under the Japan category are written by white men about economic politics, war, and whether Japan is "functional" or not. (No, that's really the subject of a few books- like Americans can really talk about functionality in world politics.) There were books on feminism and women's rights in Japan, but they too were written by white women (not translated by foreign women but written by Japanese; that would have been acceptable), and therefore probably cannot provide an unbiased view of the subject. And yet, I'm limited to books published in English. I'm going to keep looking for books that I can afford online, and hopefully invest in those written by actual Japanese authors soon. So, although there were many I wanted to read, I settled on these three first:

- Modern Passings: Death Rites, Politics, and Social Change in Imperial Japan (Andrew Bernstein)

In Imperial Japan, as elsewhere in the modernizing world, funerals, burials, and other mortuary rites had developed over the centuries with the aim of building continuity in the face of loss. As Japanese coped with the economic, political, and social changes that radically remade their lives in the decades after the Meiji Restoration (1868), they clung to local customs and Buddhist rituals such as sutra readings and incense offerings that for generations had given meaning to death. Yet death, as this highly original study shows, was not impervious to nationalism, capitalism, and the other isms that constituted and still constitute modernity. As Japan changed, so did its handling of the inevitable.

- Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Motherhood, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (Anne Allison)

This provocative study of gender and sexuality in contemporary Japan investigates elements of Japanese popular culture including erotic comic books, stories of mother-son incest, lunchboxes - or obentos - that mothers ritualistically prepare for schoolchildren, and children's cartoons. Anne Allison brings recent feminist psychoanalytic and Marxist theory to bear on representations of sexuality, motherhood, and gender in these and other aspects of Japanese culture. Based on five years of fieldwork in a middle-class Tokyo neighborhood, this theoretically informed, accessible ethnographic study provides a provocative analysis of how sexuality, dominance, and desire are reproduced and enacted in late-capitalistic Japan.

- Rising Suns, Rising Daughters: Gender, Class, and Power (Sachiko Nakajimo, Joanne Liddle)

Surprisingly little is known in the West about Japanese women. Exploring themes of gender and class, this book traces the changing position of women through history and into the present. Repudiating the clicheacute; of the submissive Japanese woman, the authors show women as active agents in both family and public life. The women's liberation movement of recent years resonates with echoes of struggle and resistance from earlier times. The broader movements of history and culture are brought into focus within the experiences of individual women.

Can't wait to start reading. I might even be able to get a scanner in the next few months! What did you do for the holidays?

December 18, 2013

Considering Getting A Kanji Tattoo?

Asian cultures are cool, right? Japanese culture, especially! And to celebrate your love of Japanese culture, you're thinking of getting an ultra-cool mystical-looking powerful samurai-yakuza-hime tattoo! Don't worry. I'm here to help you decide on how to pick your perfect work of bodyart.

You're probably thinking of getting something solid, like "power" or "discipline" or "dragon" on your shoulder or bicep, someplace big and visible so that everyone can see it when you're out wearing your tank top (I HATE the term "wifebeater" for this style of shirt. I won't use it. It's a freaking tank top, okay?) I know, I know. I had that phase too. When I was 12.

But you're not 12. You're whatever legal age to get a tattoo is in your area. And you're going to get an AWESOME tattoo to show how awesome you are, with your deep, awesome, totally profound and superior love of this foreign culture.You know exactly what tattoo you want, or maybe you're not quite sure yet, but you'll know when you get to the shop and scan through their books to figure it out. Or maybe you'll use Google Translate and hope for the best. But one thing is for sure: the person giving you that tattoo isn't Asian, and if they are, they don't know Japanese. Or Chinese. And they're not the same language, even though much of the kanji is imported from China.

Then you get your super-cool tattoo. It reads "UNBREAKABLE". You're rough, tough, buff, and now everyone knows it. You're freaking Jet Li meets Ken Watanabe mixed with Bruce Willis.

Only one problem: it doesn't actually read "unbreakable" in the way you think it does. You lack cultural context. And on top of that, tattoos in Japan are still largely associated with criminals, and are somewhat of a taboo unless you were brought up or accepted into a certain type of subculture. So if you want to go over there with that in a visible place, expect to get a mixed reaction from people. Japanese generally know that foreigners are more accepting of tattoos, and tattoos are gradually becoming more acceptable because of foreign influence, and you're going back to your country soon anyways, but a long history of connotation is not going to just vanish in the face of one (usually white) guy's visit to Japan. I know, I know, "REVERSE RACISM!!1" But you're going back to your own country soon, right? And the people there understand your love of the culture of the country you just visited, even better than the people you just spent time with do.

On top of that, it's perplexing as to why you got something like that in kanji to begin with. You know that's an actual language, right? It's not like a Dali painting, full of subtext and symbolism. It's literally a word, just like English has characters that make words. Their characters for words just have different lines. Just like we have compound words, they have compound kanji. For example, our words like weekend is week + end to make one word. In Japanese, that's . means 'week', means 'end'.

Which brings me to a series of tips for the super-cool totally-relevant people who want (Southeast) Asian tattoos:

- If you would not write this super-cool thing on your body in your native language, don't do it in someone else's language.
- If the person giving you this tattoo doesn't read that language, don't have them do that tattoo.
- If you are not connected to the culture (and I mean actually connected, not "I really love Ozu movies and kawaii anime girls"), do not get that tattoo.
- If the culture you respect so much generally frowns on tattoos, you may want to reconsider getting that tattoo.
- If you think that translation works on a letter-by-letter transliteration basis with the English language, do not get that tattoo.

Hopefully this resolves the complex issue of what to get for your awesome Asian Tattoo.

December 15, 2013

For Sale Sunday: Taisho Kakeshita, Yukata, Sake Cups

Horrible things seem to happen to me a lot. Like, seriously, a lot. I have no idea how this happens. But I do know this: I don't give up, and if that means selling off the private collection to put a roof over our heads, so be it! I bought a months' worth of food for the cats, and plenty of litter every chance I get, so they won't go neglected. But the car accident, injuries, loss of transportation, and losing all four of our collective jobs (plus getting laid off of a replacement job this weekend) is just... it's seemingly insurmountable right now. A lot of people have helped us in the past few months by purchasing the haori, kimono accessories, and pagan supplies. For all of you, I thank you! <3

This week, plenty is up for sale. Stay tuned next week for all new stuff!

Antique Bridal Kimono + Possible Maiko Hikizuri

Some of you will remember this wonderful piece of art and history. It was sold as a maiko's hiki from Taisho era, but it may have also been used as a wedding kakeshita. It seems some kimono of this type were simply sold or traded because of the expense involved with making them, and what was remembered in one city might be new to the next. It does have the appropriate pinholes in the sleeve, but the Kyoto seller was unwilling to name the geisha who (supposedly) sold it to him. I bought another hikizuri from the same seller, so this might be a legitimate claim. But how unsightly to think of a geisha needing money for a kimono!

Be aware that this kimono is fragile. I haven't worn it, even to display. Instead, I've kept it wrapped in paper and brought it out only for show. Because it uses real kinran (metal-leaf paper-wrapped thread), and not the synthetic kind used later, it's easy to see what a process it was to make this kind of valuable thread. Today, of course, plastics are generally used as they don't ruin the fabric through staining or rust.

This vintage indigo yukata in my favourite pattern, stylized asa no ha, comes with a bright red wool obi.

It's sewn fairly narrowly, but there's plenty of fabric tucked into the seams if someone wants to restitch it to make it a few inches larger. The original stitching is hand-sewing, as is traditional and even expected of most kimono.

I need to pull it out and get measurements of it this weekend. Now that I have a working camera, I can take more photos, too!

I also have two sets of 24k gold plated sake cups. One is a matched Kotobuki set (longevity), in three different sizes, likely for a ceremony. The other is a mismatched set of 5, three with designs and two plain. All show signs of wear, being as old as they are. However, replating is available locally for a fee to cover the jewellers' costs.

I have a few more individual cups for certain events, like golf tournaments, years of the monkey and boar, etc.

December 12, 2013

Book Review: Kickboxing Geishas, by Veronica Chambers

I bought Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation maybe mid-2007ish, read it once or twice, and didn't give it too much thought. I've since lent it to my sister to read, and given it another shot myself. As I've aged, I find myself more and more critical of works regarding Japanese culture and people, especially when not written by Japanese themselves. I hope I am as critical of myself as I am of others. Today, there are sections of this book that rub me the wrong way, but I can't quite put my finger on why.

At first, it was an interesting book; the cover put me off (being a typical geishafaced white woman in badly-fitting kimono), but the Table of Contents encouraged me to buy. It started out as a blog-like read about a POC woman working for The New York Times who got sent to Japan, hardly the country of her dreams. Veronica was aiming for France, but instead got a place with a lot of French restaurants (and the melon bread- really, who could turn down ultra-light, fluffy bread with a thin, sweet honey-melon glaze?) The premise was that within there were essays and interviews with Japanese women who were "modern" in the Euro/America-centric sense, although the ToC alluded to men's positions as well. I bought it on discount at Waldenbooks; at the original cover price of $25, there was no way I could afford to have it otherwise.

The sections where she is actually interviewing people and letting them speak for themselves is wonderful. I would have liked to see more of it. And while I appreciate the conversational, blog-like commentary on her own thoughts and feelings, I think Veronica might have written a separate book about them or even kept an online journal in companionship to this work, especially since there was all that ripe material about women who became geisha because of henshin booths and Japanese-American people living and working in Japan. But then, this book filled with only interviews of Japanese women might have only been one hundred pages long! I can't imagine how good this work could have been had she followed up on more women and their experiences instead of writing six pages about a breakfast she had at a hotel one day.

I think little things about the text get to me- the way she referred to a group of little girls as "traveling in packs like wolves", or the constant references to Japanese women being "tiny" and "pixieish"- even though she interviews a woman named Kazumi, who spoke of her shame at having to wear men's clothing due to her size (Bananas, pgs. 90-115). Part of it is, I think, a very America-centric approach to Feminism and applying that viewpoint to a non-American culture. I came to realize that much of this book does not approach Japanese feminism as defined by Japanese women; rather, it is an outsider's definition and her quest to fill it in by asking Japanese to lend their voices. I wonder if any of them have benefited from the proceeds made from this book. In one section, she tries to pin Kazumi for a xenophobe for rejecting an imperialist culture, while defining Japanese culture as "confining" (pg. 92). 

I am very happy, however, for the many references to Japanese writers, bloggers, and other influential people she has interspersed throughout the text. I was able to look some of them up on my own, and I hope to be able to obtain some copies of certain magazines and essays translated into English. Veronica did try to learn some of the local customs, and apparently makes visits back to Japan since; perhaps she's learned more about how things work in Japan and has gained a new perspective. Veronica Chambers is apparently quite popular and has written several other books, worked for TV shows, and been all over the place- perhaps she could write a new edition of Kickboxing, or a book in a more straightforward style on Japanese subculture. Considering her own life as a Black woman, I'd be interested in more on her perspective on the import of African-American culture to Japan, which was briefly covered in this book.

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pay full price for the book. I'm willing to overlook some of the more problematic parts of it to get at the perspectives of Japanese women and men woven between the anecdotes and observations. Authors frequently do not get control over what the cover of their book looks like (it appears to be the fault of one Eric Fuentecilla), so I give the racist cover a semi-pass *specifically* because I don't believe she can be blamed for it. However, if you're looking for an in-depth look at how societal rules affect women in Japan, centred on their lives and their opinions, without the fluff in between, don't bother.

December 1, 2013

Bebe Taian: What It's About

Bebe Taian has been open for a couple of years now. The time goes by so quickly, and there's a million things I do that don't get blogged about, and a million things I want to write and don't have time or energy as frequently as I like.

In the past month and a half, I've been in a bad car accident which wrecked my car and herniated discs in my neck, lost all three of my jobs, DH lost his job, I found a new job that taxes me physically and pays not much, and DH at last found a new job. There was a battle over Azrael's medical care, and the attendance at/performance of a show on geisha culture (one of those things I haven't blogged about yet). Lots and lots of doctors' appointments. The medication I'm on knocks me out at only 2.5mg, but doesn't work for it's intended purpose until I'm at 5-10mg. Aaaugh! But it's at least given me time to refocus on what I want to do with this blog.

Much of my issue with posts is that I HATE just re-posting something half-mashed from other websites and Wikipedia. Such is the nature of modern research, I suppose, but I want more.

A lot of information I've looked into getting is basically behind a paywall; I know this is a HUGE deterrent to people who actually want to learn about Japanese culture, and I'm working on getting the money to pay for this info so that I can repost it for others to read for free. I am especially interested in works written by Japanese people, preferably translated by other Japanese. I'm getting a little better at being about to spot racist tropes included in Western publications specifically because they entertain our narrative about what Japan/Asians are/do (see, for example, "The Talisman"), but will others? I'm not so sure.

I've started writing a style guide that I should follow, and a guide to tags and what falls under each category to avoid confusion. For example, "Meiji" will now be about historical events happening during the Meiji era, not kimono from those years. Some tags will be going away, others will be expanded.

I also need to decide exactly what I want to cover here. A lot of blogs cover pop culture, I'm sure: music, dorama (drama TV), etc. I do like talking about these things sometimes, but I think my main focus is "old" Japan, traditional Japan in the earlier days of Western influence. But I also do like doing book reviews and occasionally mentioning which anime/manga I like, although I don't watch/read much of either. Then again, I haven't had a lot of time for reading at all lately! I need to make more time for interesting things like this, and take notes while I'm at it.

A lot of what I hope to accomplish requires expendable income, and that's been the most difficult part since the library near me is closed, possibly for another year. I need a scanner that is large enough to handle some of the books I've acquired in order to get photos, too! Because of the space limitations in this apartment, this may mean simply upgrading the printer to a print/scan combo, money permitting. I think the expense will be worth it, though. If putting out the money on this stuff means that someone gets a better education without the struggles and problems I've gone through, it means something to me.

If you have suggestions on what you want to see here, please let me know!

November 27, 2013

Racists and Misogynists for Katy Perry: A Study in 25 Screencaps

Katy Perry + Backup Dancers at the AMAs 2013
I'm sure nearly every American knows by now that last week was the American Music Awards, where Katy Perry made a huge spectacle of a show. Huge spectacles are the point of the awards shows- no one debates this! But if you read this conversation you'll find that there are hundreds of costumes and sets she could have chosen besides a racist caricature of geisha and Japanese women on the whole.

If you find yourself spouting racist-apologist excuses, simply stop. All Katy Perry had to do was use Google and read all of one wiki page for ten minutes or less to know better. To assume that she does not have any control over what is done with her image is disingenuous and insulting to her. She has intelligence. She has agency. She is not stupid, weak-minded, or powerless. She chose to use her power, prestige, and agency to perform an Orientalist and sexist show. And now, all she has to do is apologize and educate herself on why this show concept was a bad idea, and then not promote those same attitudes and images in the future. It's really, really easy to do and takes maybe two hours of research on the internet.

So pay close attention. This is a sample of real people's attitudes; the very same people who say they just "appreciate Japanese culture!" and "they love women" and that they're "not sexist or racist". These are people you might call your friends. These are people who might be like you. You can change. You can change yourself, and you sometimes change others. You don't get a cookie or a parade or anything for it, and frankly, don't expect one. The end result is worth more than one's own ego.

As I said in the convo, you can also still like problematic things. I still like Scott Adams, Lexx, and lots of other shows, bands, authors, and people in general. Just admit that sometimes the show/art/person is problematic, and don't give them a pass for that behaviour. And do the same for yourself. And remember: this is how hard it is for women with white privilege to call anyone out on their behaviour. You think it isn’t harder for those who don’t? Jezus Christ...

Convo under cut, since it's image-heavy and triggering. TW: misogyny, racism, sexism, festishisation

November 14, 2013

Coveted Kimono: Greys and Blues

I've been in love with greys, browns, and blues for quite awhile now this year. I'm in love with late-Edo/Meiji mid-low class palettes, with modern cuts and fabrics. Or not-so-modern in material, but in manufacturing. I like small-patterned fabrics but natural cloth, such as hemp, cotton, or linen. Wool is fine, but it's itchy. x.x

I really don't like most synthetic fabrics. They're hot and don't breathe, or stiff, or itchy, or rough, and they're really environmentally bad to manufacture. It's much better at all stages to manufacture natural fabrics! While the plants grow, they filter our air. When we take what we need from the plants and leave the rest, it recycles back into the earth, enriching the soil and preparing for a new crop. There is no chemical waste due to making the synthetic materials before weaving, although there may be some from synthetic dyes; if you can avoid those too, you may find a rainbow of gorgeous, colour-safe hues that are just as beautiful. Plus, natural fabrics will eventually break down. Synthetics take forever.

Silk komon kimono from Ichiroya
I won't lie: I do have synthetic clothing, and surely most things are dyed synthetically, but if I'm buying a new item I'd rather get something more natural. Most of my clothes come from thrift store outlets for a few dollars a pound. I think it's a worse thing to throw those things away than to avoid them for fabric content. I'd rather not buy anything clothing-related if I can avoid it... but kimono are my weakness.

I think recreating the subtlety and maturity of this doll's outfit lies in picking a patterned kimono which is a muted colour from far away and up-close. Small amounts of deep burgundy, grey, purple, or other dark colours would work, but not bright blotches of colour.

Closeup of the komon pattern
Then, in order to match it to an obi and accessories, follow the usual rules: keep warm tones to warm tones, such as a warm grey kimono with a dull kiniro or mustard-coloured obi, and pair cool tones with like cool colours, such as the sky-blue obi or a deep cool burgundy. Even a darker grey or grey-green might work in some cases, depending on the up-close pattern of the kimono.

I think this particular kimono might go either way. True neutrals do exist! If a kimono in natural light looks great with both warm and cool colours, you have probably found a true neutral. These are the easiest shades to deal with for that reason. If you only have enough money for one kimono, attempt to get something as versatile as possible.

Asa obi from Ichiroya
In this case, even though it's a hemp summer obi, I'd probably wear this one often. It isn't transparent, and we have dragonflies here all year around, so maybe in Florida it wouldn't be considered season-specific. If I were in Japan coordinating such a thing, my choice might be different. The flowing line created by the dragonflies contrasts with the geometric pattern of the kimono up close, which adds an air of relaxation. The shades of blue-grey in the dragonflies' wings echo back to the kimono colour as well, without being too obvious of a match. White or very pale accessories should be worn with this kimono.

I adore hemp because it's like soft denim. It breathes, it's durable, it isn't uncomfortable on the skin... hemp is pretty much the perfect fabric, similar to thickly-woven cotton when it's processed the right way. The soft, 'fluttering' motif of dragonflies evokes an image of a cool breeze near water, and the tranquil blue colour can make a hot day feel nice again. This ability to transcend the world around you with only these images is the essence of kimono, isn't it?

November 12, 2013

The Talisman, by Masao Yamakawa

After typing up a transcript of The Girls, I wanted to follow up by posting a short story by a Japanese author featured in the same magazine. It was printed in English, so no word on how accurate the translation is. I intend to work on posting the rest of the articles from this magazine to preserve them. It seems like ancient history, but many people who lived through this time are still alive- and some work in politics! So the viewpoints of this 'dated' material are still very important today.

The Talisman
A Short Story by Masao Yamakawa
TIME/LIFE Magazine - September 11, 1964 (Showa)
Special Issue: Japan

Another kind of revolt against explosive modernization - paralleling the revolt of youth (preceding pages) - is described in fiction by one of Japan's finest young writers.

I don't suppose you need any dynamite?"

This was the question my friend Sekiguchi asked me. I had not seen him in four or five years. We had run into each other on the Ginza, and were drinking in an upstairs room of a small restaurant.

I had been with Sekiguchi through high school. He was now working for a construction company. It was not strange that he should have access to dynamite; but the question, however peculiar an old friend he might be, was a little sudden.

"I don't know what I'd use it for."

"I have it right here if you want it."

It would be a joke, of course. I smiled and poured a new drink for him. "It would blow up right in my hands. And what is the point of carrying dynamite around with you?"

This was the story Sekuguchi told me.

November 10, 2013

Maiko in Time/Life Magazine, Sept. 11 1964

National Treasures, Demure and Chic - The Girls
by Tom Prideaux
TIME/LIFE Magazine - September 11, 1964 (Showa)
Special Issue: Japan

LIFE's Entertainment Editor has for background in this report 20 years of girl watching as a respected Broadway critic.

Whether, as the old song says, she is poor butterfly 'neath the blossoms waiting for her lover, or happy butterfly waiting to welcome you onto your hotel elevator, the Japanese woman is a national treasure. At her best, she is a living art form and a living doll, and much too good to be true. But she is true, at least wherever I saw her.

I am talking here about the kind of Japanese women you see readily in any city, the ones who are sprinkled through business and pleasure to make life easier and livelier and prettier. Japan put armies of young women to work in factories and offices, but it also employs thousands more like lilies of the field, neither to toil nor spin, but mainly to gladden the heart and beautify the scene.

November 9, 2013

Finer Points of Taisho Style

I admit, my method of kitsuke tends to look odd when dressing 'normally', but I contend that this cylindrical look for kimono is very modern. 100 years ago, women wore kimono everywhere, every day. A 'flat' look was still desirable, and much easier to achieve!

Finer points of 1900s-1930s-era kitsuke acquired from old photos:

- Wider collars

Collars in younger women showed more in the front, wider and with more variety in colour and patterns of collars, instead of the standard white that women seem to favour for 'proper' kitsuke these days. Darker collars didn't have to be washed immediately because they didn't look dingy and dirty after a single wear the way white collars do.

- Diagonal obijime

This seems especially popular for younger women in informal clothing. Similar postcards from the same era show the straight-across obijime in formal situations such as weddings or when kurotomesode are worn. This shows that the notion of obijime being worn only specific ways to be 'proper', even in casual situations, is relatively modern.

Uploaded by Monkeymud on Flickr
- Style of tying obi is different

Today's style is to tie obi 'straight across' again, one smooth perfect cylinder of fabric wrapped across the abdomen and tied tightly in back. However, chuya obi and fukuro obi of the day were often tied in a criss-cross pattern, similar to how Kyoto maiko tie theirs, with different musubi in the back. Otaiko knots ranged from perfectly shaped to relatively floppy and loose.

- Style of obi itself is different

Today's fukuro are middle- or high-formality, and as such, usually involve a lot of heavy embroidery and metallic threads to denote them as such. Compare this to today's relatively dull and simple-patterned Nagoya obi, which is standard for most casual outfits and even for some formal outfits, provided that the Nagoya is gold and more high-class in fabric. In fact, Nagoya obi didn't exist until the 1940s, so this lower class of formality did not exist in Taisho and late Meiji era!

Instead, there were high-class fukuro involving heavy embroidery (the next step up being maru obi common at the time) and 'low'-class fukuro, with all manners of dyeing and light or no embroidery. The more casual and versatile of these is the chuya obi (day/night obi) which had two sides in two different patterns.

From Old Photos of Japan
- Lots of stripes!

Stripes were ever-popular, seasonless, and easy to produce. It's a fashionable and basic carryover from feudal times, when most classes were only allowed to wear stripes in certain patterns and colours. The Meiji era carried this on presumably because many women knew these patterns and could pass them down, in an era before machine-weaving had reached Japan. By Taisho period, there was an explosion of stripes in all sorts of new colours and patterns, thanks to the advent of machine-weaving, synthetic dyes, and the newly-introduced silk/synthetic blends of fabric! Striped kimono from that era are quite easy to get. If you want to experiment with kitsuke from the past, and get the style right, I recommend bold stripes with a soft floral obi and low obijime!

November 6, 2013

Coveted Kimono: Vintage Ofurisode

I think it's the glamour of what Halloween is supposed to be still clinging to me, but I've found myself looking at ofurisode. I liked ofurisode when I was 14, 15 years old (an appropriate age to be wearing them!) but I'm far too old for that now! And being married, ofurisode are wholly inappropriate for me to wear. The sleeves are cumbersome, to say the least. These were not kimono women worked in. These were clearly meant for ceremonial or special occasions!  And... I don't do a lot of those.

This gorgeous vintage bride's ofurisode features snowflake and butterfly patterns, with cascades of flowers in decadent late-Autumn, mid-Winter clothing. This specific colour palette is one of my favourites!

The bright metallic threads sparkling like snow, light embroidery at the bottom of the skirt, warm mustard yellows and bright red flowers livening up the icy blues and frozen earth brown... it's a perfect thing to wear or display in the home. Truly a work of art!

Sadly, it's already sold, but I have no use for a furisode at this point anyways. I'm glad it's found a good home. Hopefully that person adores it as much as I do!

This shibori furisode kimono is just stunning. The sheer amount of technical work that went into making this luxurious piece is... unthinkable. All of this is genuine shibori, not printed faux shibori, meaning that every tiny dot used to make that pattern was hand-tied with thin threads to produce this unique nubbly silk fabric.

The subdued black/grey is sophisticated enough for a reserved but still young woman, with hints of the salmon orange and mustard yellow cascading down streams for just a touch of colour. This is probably the sort of ofurisode I'd wear today, unlike the brighter, more bold patterns of my teenage years! A simple metallic gold obi to wear it with, perhaps, or maybe a deep mustard with hints of black and orange.

What do you think? Do you have a favourite ofurisode style?

November 2, 2013

Sold! Hakoseko, Nishijin Thread, Haori

I'm so happy! After a few sales this week, I was able to restock on cat food for the furkids. Most of them have special needs (one diabetic, two with severe allergies to common stuff), so it can get pretty expensive. So for this, I'm grateful! And I'm sure they are, too.

What's gone?

I actually sold piles of threads in quite a few colours, almost my entire stash! Deep indigo blues, a few different whites, some bright orange that I loved... I'd actually planned to sew the katsugi and embroider them with these very threads, but caring for the cats is much more important to me. I have enough projects on my plate that I won't get around to the katsugi for many months. This person actually has something in mind, so I hope it goes very well! AND she told me she's making kumihimo with them! <3

So thank you to everyone who took the time to check out the shops. The past few weeks have been rough, but I'm looking forward to getting back on track, getting things done, and hopefully destashing the apartment in the process. Tomorrow's For Sale Sunday is on hold until I find a card reader compatible with the backup camera's XD card.

October 30, 2013

Culture is Not a Costume Pt. 2

See? See what I mean? Don't do this.

Those are actual kurotomesode, a very formal married woman's kimono. The sort of thing that would be worn at weddings or black tie-type events. This was for the opening of a sushi restaurant, apparently. And... just...

They obviously don't know how to wear kimono, but I can't give them a pass. They posted this photo on the internet. Which means they had access to the internet. An internet which literally has thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of videos and step-by-step tutorials on how to wear a kimono! (Each word will take you to a different tutorial, by the way.) You don't even have to know English or Japanese to learn from them. There is literally no excuse to not even get this close to right! It's one thing to need practice, like when a collar slips while wearing it, or not having a certain musubi tied perfectly. But this!

Why on earth are there towels tied to their waists? The collars inside out? The geishaface! Why? This is not cute. It is not funny. It is not nearly accurate. This is orientalism, plain and simple.

October 28, 2013

Culture is Not a Costume

A quick note once again about Halloween costumes: 

Please, please don't go as a geesha girl, or the "samurai geisha princess" or whatever is the new "Japanese" trend this year. Cosplaying an anime character is usually fine, so long as you don't do yellowface or anything like that. Cosplaying a geisha, depending on how well it's done and how you carry it off, maybe. But remember that most geisha don't wear whiteface except for dance performances and on special requests, there's none of this "heart-shaped lip thing", or the two big doll-like dots on the cheeks, or any of that. And no eating utensils in the hair! 

October 27, 2013

For Sale Sunday: WW2-era Kimono, Kaku Obi

I reopened my Etsy page to permanently host listings for my vintage and handmade things. Recent items will still be posted on Ebay, of course. And if you e-mail me, I can definitely combine shipping between sites!

All in all, it's been rough. I was in a car accident which totaled the car, which caused me to lose one well-paying job, and then both DH and I lost our jobs (I had three). And then without a car, I can't get to the third job when they called me for work! Aaugh! So I'm selling off some kimono I absolutely adore, and I'm sure you'll love them, too. :P They're all absolutely perfect, even if some are in less than pristine condition.

WW2-era Burnt Orange Kiku Kimono, approx. 1940s

This komon is from the 1940s, judging by the shorter sleeves and characteristic red lining of the era. Woven into the fabric is a pattern of waves and chrysanthemums in diagonal stripes, a chic and tasteful Autumn design. It seems to be a thick silk/synthetic blend, which was fairly common at the time, but I can't be certain without taking a piece of it apart and doing a burn test. The lining is intact, but there are some stains on the front left panel and inside.

Shoulder to hem: 142.5CM/57IN
Wrist to wrist: 125CM/50IN
Sleeve length: 51.87CM/20.75IN
Body width: 60CM/24IN

 WW2-era Black + Green Synthetic Kimono

This kimono is from the late 1930s or the 1940s, judging by the red lining and short sleeves. The outer fabric is a thin early synthetic, and the lining is silk. Green, white, and black, with mustard and red lining. This kimono has many damages, mostly to the lining. There are one or two on the outside of the kimono, like the moth holes in the sleeve shown. There are more photos, but Etsy only allows five. It is a difficult thing to wear unless you intend to wear a haori over the top to hide the sleeve damage. It is a unique piece of history, however, for the collector.

Shoulder to hem: 59IN/150CM
Wrist to wrist: 49.5IN/126CM
Sleeve length: 20IN/51CM
Body width: 12.25IN/31CM

Unused Vintage Blue Men's Kaku Obi

This is a vintage synthetic formal or semi-formal kaku obi, a type of narrow obi for men's kimono.

Vintage "new" is an item which was manufactured and then didn't sell; it has never been worn. This one is from approximately the early 1990s. The original white wrappers are still on the obi. The blue one is the last one available, so get it while you can!

October 20, 2013

Hasekura Tsunenaga, Edo-Period Explorer

Hasekura - Claude Duret, 1615
Hasekura was a Samurai and retainer of Date Masamune, the daimyo of Sendai.

In the years 1613 through 1620, Hasekura headed a diplomatic mission to the Vatican in Rome, traveling to Mexico (arriving in Acapulco and departing from Veracruz) and visiting various ports-of-call in Europe. This historic mission is called the Keichō Embassy (慶長使節), and follows the Tenshō embassy (天正使節) of 1582. On the return trip, Hasekura and his companions re-traced their route across Mexico in 1619, sailing from Acapulco for Manila, and then sailing north to Japan in 1620.

Hasekura’s journey is astounding in its scope.

He was accompanied by 180 people, one of whom was the European Fransician monk Luis Sotelo. Hasekura and Sotelo are pictured here in a rather sensual fresco in the Sala Regia, Palazzo Quirinale, Rome.


Conversing with Luis Sotelo, 1615.
Hasekura received new names: in France, he was dubbed Dom Philippe Francois Faxicura, In Spain he was baptized Felipe Francisco Hasekura.

Unfortunately, his travels did not lead to establishment of new trading partners but did establish Spain as a threat, and their conversion to Christianity had apparently become an issue due to an interdiction in Sendai. His son and several of his servants were actually put to death due to their refusal to recant their faith.

Hasekura’s trip was expunged after his return, and it was not noted in the official histories of the Edo period. It was not made public until 250 years later in 1909.

Sources: Japan Encyclopaedia - Wikipedia - Civitavecchia

Reposted from Medieval POC, a blog that focuses on people of colour in European art history. (Follow this blog if you want to learn a lot of really cool things and you don't have years to devote to textbooks. Seriously. Here's everything tagged 'Japan', just on MPOC's blog!)

October 19, 2013

Book Review: The Japanese Art of Sex, by Jina Bacarr

Courtesan Writing a Letter - Kitagawa Utamaro
"The Japanese Art of Sex", by Jina Bacarr, is a book I bought long, long ago. (You can search for a cheap copy using the Amazon box on my sidebar, if you like.) As implied, it is of an 'adult' nature, but I was curious.

Really, it wasn't exactly what I expected. I was hoping for historical accounts of protocol, techniques, recipes for various items, and attitudes regarding sex 100-500 years ago, with a focus on courtesans and their upbringing. After all, licensed courtesans often had training to become the best at their jobs, and men paid dearly for them. So what made them so fantastic?

Instead, it really is a sex tip/seduction manual, with some bits and pieces of historical facts thrown in. It isn't a bad book; a little cheesy ("how to seduce the samurai in your bedroom"? really?), but overall, not a bad book if you're just looking to become more sensual overall.

Many of the listed sources are Japanese, by Japanese authors, so I'll try to reserve commentaries about Orientalism and how Asian women are seen in the media for another time. I would have liked to see mostly or only Japanese sources, however. Western media sources can easily get cultural topics wrong.

October 16, 2013

Anime I Love: Witch Hunter Robin

Witch Hunter Robin is an anime I've loved since I first saw it on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup years ago (must have been 2004-ish; I hadn't graduated HS yet). If you liked Darkside Blues, you'd have loved WHR. And honestly, my feelings about the characters and the show have evolved a lot over these past (nearly) ten years.

The story begins with the introduction of the STN-J team, a group of witch hunters in Japan who work in a corporate-office type of environment and who go out to do fieldwork to track down dangerous witches. Each of the members has a unique talent: Robin uses pyrokinesis, Miho uses psychometry, Michael is a master hacker, etc. Robin is the newest member and was transferred from Italy. Because of this her Japanese is a bit strange, although unless you watch the dubbed version you miss some of the jokes regarding that fact. She is, however, an extremely powerful person once she has some training.

These 'witches' are people born with various powers, who are said to become power-obsessed and deranged from using them. In many cases, those who this STN-J team have hunted are murderers, thieves, etc. They do not kill them outright (although a few characters do die), but use special Orbo bullets before the witches are taken by another STN-J unit. They do not know what happens to them; only that the witch is imprisoned where they cannot hurt others.

At first, the series seems to be the Creature of the Week type of story, a new witch hunted in every episode. The pace is slow through the first fifteen episodes or so. But as you pay more attention to how the characters respond to one another and work together, you realise that this slow pace is the natural progression of how real people work together and learn to trust each other. And that trust is paramount; the last episodes reveal why Robin was sent to the STN-J, and why she is the replacement for the last person to leave... and also, the fate of future witches. The ethical debate of people working for the STN with powers vs. people not working for the STN with powers is brought up; there is no difference between "humans" and "witches" who have powers, only how the STN perceives them. The pace of the series at the end is much faster as the heart of the story picks up.

The ending I found unsatisfactory, but it seems fairly standard of Japanese movies. There is no 'wrap-up'; it just... ends, leaving you forever wondering what happened. There are only 26 episodes, so it isn't a long anime (about standard: xxxHolic and Cowboy Bebop were about the same) and it's perfectly watchable within a week or so.

If you don't own a copy, you can always check online, or use my Amazon toolbar on the right to check online for the cheapest copies.

October 15, 2013

The Double

The Double
From Kanjaku, translated by Royall Tyler (Japanese Tales, 1987). Masamichi was a real person who died in 1017, during the Heian era.

Lord Minamoto no Masamichi lived south of Fourth Avenue and west of Muromachi Street in Kyoto. His son, not yet two years old, was playing by himself outside when suddenly Masamichi heard him howl, and there were loud shouts from the nurse looking after him.

Masamichi picked up his sword and ran from the other side of the house to investigate. He found not one but two identical nurses struggling for possession of the boy. Each had hold of an arm and a leg. Clearly one of them must be a fox, though he had no idea which. As he charged, brandishing his sword, one of the nurses vanished.

The other nurse and the boy collapsed on the ground. Masamichi had his servants call in a healer of proven power, and after the healer had worked his rites awhile the nurse came to. At last Masamichi was able to question her.

"I was letting the young master play a little by himself, sir, when a woman I'd never seen before came out of the house and claimed the young master was hers. In fact she tried to take the young master away, and I held on to him to stop her. When you ran up with your sword, she let go and rushed back into the house."

Masamichi was seriously frightened. He never found out whether the double had actually been a fox or some sort of angry spirit. People commented, though, that you just shouldn't let little children play by themselves.

October 14, 2013

Taiiku no Hi 2013: I Joined a Gym

Taiiku no Hi is "Health and Sports Day" in Japan. For a short summary on the holiday's history, please see last years' post. Basically, it is a day for athletic pursuits and exercises.

Last year, I talked about how physical anything basically is horrible to me, *especially* running/jogging, or anything high-intensity. And 'dieting' is just die with a T. And... I really like food. Like pizza, and falafel, and cheese ravioli covered in butter. But this year, I joined a gym.

Actually, I joined a gym almost two months ago. I started going 2-3 times a week, about an hour per visit. I have to learn more about the proper way to use some of the machinery, and better ways to stretch and exercise without the machines, but it's a work in progress. I only recently stopped going so often because one week, I tore my rotator cuff slightly, and it took about four days to heal. After that, I was busy hunting for jobs, and now, I'm carless. But that won't stop me for long! I can still exercise at home, and head up and down the apartment stairs several times a day for cardio. So why did I even join a gym?

I chose my gym after figuring out a few things about my situation:

1) I am not motivated very well when I'm at home. Oh sure, I've got an hour scheduled here to work out... but ooh, look at that baking show! Oh, the cat wants pets. Hey, I should read that article! ... and then the whole day goes by, and no exercise occured. I need to actually join a gym... BUT...

2) It needs to be cheap, and without a serious contract. I have watched my friends get sucked into great-sounding deals over and over again. $10 a month to join! $15 a month to come in! $300 to cancel? What? And some gyms didn't even have her sign papers regarding a cancellation fee. In fact, Gold's Gym was put on the TV News for fraud investigations over that very issue. I looked up the gyms in a reasonable distance, near other places I visit (so I have no excuse not to go), and looked over their offers and contracts. I found one that is only $11/mo, and the cancellation fee is only about $40. There is a once-a-year membership fee of $40. I got a pretty good deal by signing up within the last few days of the month, which knocked some of the fees off my membership.

3) The gym needs to be clean, and it needs to have up-to-date machinery with plenty of padding. I have some pretty extensive stuff going on, and I get exhausted too easily for free weights to be safe to use. The one I go to only opened a few years ago, so I know that all the equipment is relatively new, and it's kept in great shape. All of the machinery is adjustable as well, so there's no such thing as straining to reach a bar or struggling to fit into a seat correctly for assisted situps.

Within just a few weeks of eating right and getting a workout 2-3 times a week, nothing incredibly strenuous, I started to have results. DH and some friends have commented on how my shoulders are shaping up, and my legs look more toned. I started with very low weights and limited myself to 15-20 reps, broken down into 3-4 sets of 5. In fact, I'm still doing those very low weight/high reps combos. I can work up to higher weights or reps when these start becoming too easy for me. I don't do more than 10 minutes on a treadmill. In fact, more than 15 can be detrimental to your workout.

So what can you take away from this? 

When you go to a gym, you have to remind yourself: your only competition is yourself, and no one else. Not the skinny chick on the stair-stepper, not the super-buff guy lifting 10 plates like he's going into a real-life Dragon Ball Z battle, not anyone but YOU. And it takes a long, long time to see results. I don't mean a few weeks. I mean a few months! It can take six months to see an appreciable amount of change in your physique, especially if you're like me, building up muscle... under a layer of fat. So at first, you get bigger in inches (because you have muscle AND fat now), and then eventually you trim down some. Hint: buy stretchy pants.

Don't worry about the weight on the scale. Seriously. I'm in a healthy weight range FINALLY, but I'm still skinnier now and weighing MORE than I did when I weighed less and was fatter. Why? Fat is less dense than muscle, so a pound of fat takes up more room on the body than a pound of muscle does. Don't let health be about a narrow waistline. Even doctors are fatphobic; don't hate yourself if you don't "measure up" in their eyes. Focus on how your heart functions, how high your blood pressure is, how good your circulation and breathing are. Focus on your HEALTH, not the size you wear. Focus on what YOU want to accomplish. Then make a plan that fits you!

Oh look! A field of stuff I'm not going to eat!
And if you do start to work out, don't cut down on calories. You NEED calories to be able to work
out without causing damage to your body. When muscles do not have the nutrients they need to build and heal, you damage yourself more than you help yourself. Make sure you eat a balanced diet, which can come in small changes. It's a bad trainer who tells you to cut down to 1200 calories or something ridiculously low to lose weight. Don't do it! It looks good in the short-term, but it can really mess up your long-term metabolism, causing you to gain fat because your body thinks there's a famine going on. It took me years to reset my body. Trust me: I've done the starvation route, months and months on 800 calories or less with a full workload, sometimes walking/biking up to 10 miles a day while keeping on my feet at work. It is NOT healthy, no matter WHAT your current weight is.

I don't like bunny food. I just don't, okay? And no vegan cooking show will ever make me like eating a salad that isn't covered in way too much Catalina or Caesar dressing. But what I WILL do is eat thin-crust pizza with more veggies in it. I'll drink more miso soup, and eat plenty more hijiki. I will make falafel more often (beans, onions, spices, mixed into a paste and fried before being dipped in yoghurt/dill/cucumber sauce. ADDICTIVE!). I can have a ham + turkey sandwich, hold the mayo, upgrade to better mustard. I still eat chocolate, just less of it. Ain't no point in denying yourself the foods you love. You might get hit by a bus tomorrow! You don't know! That piece of cheesecake might be the last piece of cheesecake you ever savor. So ENJOY food, ALL foods, healthy or not! Just watch the balance of foods that give you nourishment vs. foods that don't help you.

Changing your attitudes about self-worth, nutrition, dieting, and increasing physical activity can do wonders for a person. You get to meet new people, try new recipes, and push your own limits! Just find out what your needs and goals are, make a plan, and prioritize sticking to it. You can do it!

October 13, 2013

For Sale Sunday: Wedding Accessories, Yukata

For Sale Sunday is here again! This time, it's wedding accessories, yukata sets, and some assorted other things. On Ebay, I can easily combine shipping on all items if you pay for everything at once or send an invoice request. I do ship overseas, even though from America it can be expensive.

A dusty pink silk haori with fans, waves, and flower patterns. 

It was probably worn for tea ceremony, considering the soft tones and traditional patterns. It's a late Showa piece, probably mid-late 80s or maybe the early 90s (Heisei) at the newest. Back lining is white.

There are some spots and one tiny hole on the inside, which you can see in the photos I posted. The himo need to be replaced, but I do sell beaded haori himo which are one of a kind!

Hakoseko wallets! These are modern deadstock and have never been used.

They are synthetic chirimen, and are double-sided. So, the blue/pink one is mostly pink on the back and blue at the bottom, reverse of what is shown in the photo. Only the pale pink/green one has a white accessory. Normally these are worn for weddings, but they can be used at many occasions. They are worn tucked into the front of the kimono at the chest, and usually hold tissues or cards or somesuch. A hakoseko is essentially three folded flip-panels, which sometimes have a mirror in them, but these do not.

Purple rose yukata/easy hanhabi obi set, perfect for conventions, festivals, and around-the-house wearing.

Yukata are washable cotton kimono, and the synthetic easy-obi makes them a cinch to put on. The yukata is a bit wrinkled in the photo from having just been washed, but I'll be sure to iron it before it leaves here.

There are a few small damages, like a spot where the dye is a little off-coloured at the bottom hem (bluish instead of purple, but the blue matches the roses. Maybe the dye didn't take all the way?) There is an upper body lining that has an unfinished edge as well, but it looks like that's how it originally came. The rich, dark purple is more of a royal purple colour than in the photos, but for some reason, synthetic purple dyes photograph as blue.

The hanhaba obi just wraps around the waist twice and ties in back. Be sure to hide the string inside the obi! Then you put the bow on behind you with the wire insert. All done! No need for tying it yourself.

Only the waist-panel can be washed. Since it's synthetic, I recommend hand-washing in cold water. The bow cannot be washed because I think there is a cardboard stiffener in it, keeping the bow's shape. It should not get wet, although it may be possible to spot-clean it. 

October 12, 2013

Coveted Kimono: October Kitsuke

I love October. It's probably my favourite month! The smell in the air changes, pumpkins become plentiful and cheap, there's pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks... oh yeah, and everything turns to red, brown, and gold. At least, it does when you're not in Florida.

In October, it is decidedly awase weather in Japan. Ocher yellows, golds, deep brown-red (like azuki beans), maroons, wisteria purples, and black are in fashion. It's the month of chrysanthemums, and maple leaves, gingko, fall motifs, sutras, and court-scene patterns are all in style. And of course, because of all the fall festivals, anything associated with those can also be worn (like rice patterns, grapes, etc.). Monochrome outfits with a few accents seem to be the popular thing.

Ichiroya, as always, has some beautiful clothes to wear. This month, I think a brilliant outfit would be similar to this:

Mustard-yellow iromuji with sayagata woven patterns in chirimen silk; hallmarks of the season, and wearable well into November, which is the perfect month. Still, it's fashionable to look forward a few weeks to a new season, especially with a versatile kimono such as this.

It would be especially splendid to wear to a small, intimate gathering, like a tea ceremony or a relaxed, somewhat mid-range/upscale Japanese restaurant with friends. With only one crest, it is a semi-formal kimono, and can be dressed slightly down with a Nagoya obi, or slightly up with a fukuro obi.

This kimono in particular is being sold as handicraft material, but if you intend to practice kitsuke and you are a crafter, you may as well try this. The stains seem to not show up well in photos, so it may work for a modelling basis, if not for regular wear.

To keep with an almost monochrome feeling, try this shioze silk obi, which is more deadleaf tan with a country pattern.

If you look closely, it has hints of mustards and golds in it, while keeping with the autumn feel. There are also small blue kikyo in the pattern, which are for late Summer/early Fall, making this one more versatile through the July-October period. Strawberries and hagi allude to the dying of the sweet Summer days, while waiting for the coming coolness through the warm afternoons.

Because this obi has many other hints of colour in it, you could reasonably pair it with any of them and it would still work. Anything from cool, shadowy greens to warm, deep rose pinks, or royal blue could carry just as well.

In this case, if I paired these two together, I would probably use either a deep blue chirimen obiage which only shows a hint (such as my maple obiage) and a white/blue variagated obijime, or plain white obiage with some gold and shibori patterns, with a yellow/white variagated obijime.

These auctions only last a few days on Ebay, but since they are posted by Ichiroya, if it does not sell, they may relist on Ebay or on their website. Take a look! They're very inexpensive right now.

October 10, 2013

Getting a Custom Yukata

Buying yukata (a washable cotton kimono) can be difficult if you are outside of Japan and can't read Japanese well enough to use a service like Noppin or Rakuten. It can be even harder if you are taller than 5'3" or have a chest or hip measurement larger than, say, 34". So, most of us. The solution, of course, is to get a custom-made yukata.

But do you want to sew one yourself? You could. There are quite a few books on the subject (mostly only in Japanese, but a few tutorials in English online). They have lots of photos to follow, and most of the pieces are rectangular... but that can be time-consuming and difficult if you're a beginner. I'm still working on my chuya obi in my spare time, and it's only halfway done... 30 labour hours later.

Or you could just order a custom-made work from a professional kimono seamstress. KimonoPoncho is such a store, run by Tanaka Yukiko. She also sells lots and lots of kimono-making supplies, so if you are making your own and want proper things, check her out!

These yukata are reasonably priced, especially for a custom-tailoured item. I frequently see yukata in the $300-400 range on Japanese websites, more if they are designer works which are tailoured for the person. Think about it: the price of fabric (in America, cotton fabric often goes for $6-15 a yard), plus thread and other materials that get used or worn out ($5 or so), plus a minimum wage to make it... and all of these are again, keeping in mind American price standards in a country (Japan) where things cost much more than they do here,  $150 on average for her kimono is a very good deal.

On a personal note, I can't wait to buy obishin from her! I have so, so much fabric in desperate need of being something other than a dust-gathering heap. I've been having a difficult time finding something with *quite* the right stiffness/flexibility ratio. At $1.50/metre, I can make a new obi for under $30! And before anyone asks, no, I wasn't paid to write this. Actually Tanaka-san doesn't know who I am at all. But her shop's been in my bookmarks for weeks now, and I'm so happy that I can get what I need to finish my projects without having to guess about shipping and whatnot like on Rakuten... so maybe you'll enjoy her shop, too!

October 7, 2013

Astride the Corpse

Astride the Corpse
From Konjaku Monogatarishuu, translated by Royall Tyler (Japanese Tales, 1987)

A man once abandoned his wife of many years and left her so grief-stricken that she fell ill and died. Alas, since the poor woman had no parents and no close friends there was no one to take her body. She just lay where she was. The neighbours who peeped in through a crack were frightened to see that her hair did not fall out and her bones stayed firmly knit together; and when they noticed that there was always a light in the house, and a sound of groaning, they got so afraid that they ran away.

The husband felt half dead with fear when he heard about all this. "How am I to avoid the ghost's curse?" he wondered. "She died hating me and she's bound to get me." In his difficulty he sought help from a ying-yang diviner.

The diviner agreed that this was a bad situation, but he promised to do his best. "Please be aware, though," he cautioned, "that the procedure is really terrifying. I want you to understand that clearly at the outset."

At sundown the diviner led the husband to the corpse's house. Just listening from the outside was enough to make the husband's hair stand on end, and the thought of going in was really more than he could bear, but under the diviner's guidance he went in after all. It was true: his wife's hair was still in place and her skeleton was still intact. The diviner sat him down on the skeleton's back, gave him the hair to hold, and warned him at all costs not to let go of it. Then he read some spells, announced he would have to leave, and reminded the husband again to expect a terrifying experience. The husband, more dead than alive, was left alone astride the corpse clutching its hair.

Darkness fell. In the middle of the night the corpse suddenly said, "Oof! What a weight!" Then it stood up and began to run around. "Now to go look for that brute!" it went on, and charged off. The husband never let go of the hair, and the corpse eventually returned to the house and lay down again. There are no words to describe the husband's terror, but he kept hold of the hair and stayed on the corpse till the cocks began to crow and the corpse fell silent.

At dawn the diviner came back. Having made sure the husband really had kept hold of the hair, he read some more spells over the corpse, then took the husband outside and told him he had nothing more to fear. The husband thanked him with tears of gratitude. Nothing ever did happen to him.

This happened not all that long ago, because the husband's grandchildren are supposed to be alive still, and so are the diviner's.

October 6, 2013

狐狗狸さん (Kokkuri-san)

It's a bit late tonight, but I spent the day watching Japanese horror films. One of them is Kokkuri.

Kokkuri-san is a game that crops up in quite a few anime and J-horror movies. You probably have seen Kokkuri-san in the semi-popular movie Kokkuri or in xxxHolic as "Angel-san". It's known by a lot of different names, and seems to get a new one every few years.

The current incarnation stems from the import of the Ouija board: a large piece of paper with the hirigana alphabet, numbers, yes/no, and a torii gate drawn on it, which is manipulated with a coin or some small object (or three fingers close together). The old version has many variations, but one may be three ohashi propped up against one another in a rice bowl (an offering to the dead; why you should never stand your chopsticks in your rice). Then, a chopstick will move to indicate an answer.

狐(ko fox) 狗 (ku dog) 狸 (ri raccoon or tanuki) さん (san in this case, a gender-neutral honorary suffix, like Mr. or Mrs.). The magic and trickery of a fox, the loyalty of a dog, and the tanuki, a bringer of fortune, all in one spirit-game. Like Ouija (literally, yes-yes), it is said that if you fail to play the game properly, you can become possessed or have ghosts wandering about, following you and bringing you harm. Because you summoned them, and they cannot leave; one also presumes that no one fed this ghost or gave it something for showing up, and it's bad manners to not at least offer a guest some tea.

I think the paper version of this game is the most popular now, probably because it gives better 'answers'.

To play:

Make a brand-new Kokkuri sheet each time. It has a torii gate, letters of the alphabet, yes/no, numbers, and sometimes entrance/exit. The layout is different each time. Sometimes it's the letters in a big circle around the torii; others, it's a hirigana chart. I made one for reference (it's in Japanese, though). I made this one large enough to print, I think, but make sure to set it to fit your paper layout.

Then, gather at least one other friend. Traditionally, it should be three people. Open a window or door to the outside so that the spirits attracted by Kokkuri-san can join you. The torii represented on the paper is the gateway from the spiritual world, too. Everyone must place their finger on a 10-yen coin, or put an index finger from each person in a very tight circle, careful not to break their connection (this is why a coin is much easier!) over the torii to begin.

Call the spirit by asking "Kokkuri-san, Kokkuri-san, if you are here, please move this coin!" This may take a few tries. Once Kokkuri-san has made it's (their?) presence known, you can ask them questions. The answers will be spelled out, so maybe another person has paper and pencil handy? But keep in mind that tanuki and foxes are tricksters, either to teach or to tease, so don't always take it so seriously... but also be open to an answer you don't like. 

At last, ask Kokkuri-san to leave by saying, "Kokkuri-san, Kokkuri-san, please return home!" You might want to thank them, to encourage them not to stick around out of spite. After all, they did take their time to come. The coin should move to yes or 'exit'. If it does not, be more firm. Or, you know, call an exorcist. 

It is customary to destroy the paper once Kokkuri-san has left, destroying the connection back into this world. After all, you shut the gate after the guest has left! Then, you must spend the coin used the next day, or preferably, the same day. Perhaps on a protective amulet against ghosts?

Of course, it is a superstitious game. The famous Dr. Yokai explained it himself, although he attributed the game's "working" to 'human electricity', supposedly. Maybe human subconscious spirit or intentions? Inoue Enryou was a famous Buddhist during the mid-late 1800s, and lived through the beginning of the 20th century, when Kokkuri-san first started becoming adapted to Ouija-style. Of course, this style of writing-game has been around for thousands of years, with first written records mentioning them in China near 1100CE, but at the time, Western things were popularised in Japan, giving us the Kokkuri-san we know today.