Monday, October 30, 2006

Women of the Ages: Jidai Matsuri

Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto`s Festival of Ages, started as a way to revitalize Kyoto after Japan's capitol moved to Tokyo. It has now grown to include over two thousand participants (Kyoto residents, including Maiko and Geiko) dressed in authentic period costumes from throughout Japan`s history valued at over $25 million.

Izumo-no-Okuni (1600), the mother of Kabuki, was once a maiden in the service of the Izumo Shrine, one of Japan’s holiest Shinto shrines. She later became famous for her dancing, and legend holds that her troup`s first performance took place in the dry bed of the Kamo River. These dances were very popular (I have been told the originall characters used to write kabuki meant song, dance and prostitution), so popular that the Tokugawa shogunate banned women from the stage. From then on, all roles have been placed by men. Today Kabuki is written with characters meaning song, dance and skill.

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Lady Shizuka (played by Masayo, a high ranking maiko from Gion Higashi), a famed Kyoto dancer of the late 12th century,was the lover of the hero Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune, a brilliant Genji general in the Gempei War (1180-1185). His success, however, earned him the distrust of his half-brother, Yoritomo, the leader of the Genji (vs. the Heike). In 1185, Yoritomo forced his half-brother to flee and live like an outlaw.

Four years later, facing capture and certain execution, Yoshitsune committed suicide. Shizuka, pregnant with his child, was captured by Yoritomo. Reportedly, she danced for him and so charmed him that Yoritomo spared her life and that of her unborn child only if it was a girl. Unfortunately, a son was born and soon killed to prevent him from seeking vengeance for his father's death later in life.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Edo Style: Red White and Stripes

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A beautiful smile and some stylin' threads at Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto's Festival of Ages.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Jidai Matsuri 2006: Heian Style

A Heian period princess, dressed in the 12 layered kimono popular with the imperial court in that era, patiently waits as the final touches are applied to her make up and kimono before participating in Kyoto's Jidai Matsuri: The Festival of Ages.

During the Heian period (794-1192), the subtle matching of different colored robes was considered a great skill, an expression of artistic sensibility that revealed the character of the wearer. In a woman, this skill was more highly valued than her ethical or moral character, and even held more sway than the physical features she was born with. The Heian society was “on the whole governed by style rather than by moral principles”.

Colors and patterns of the "juni-hitoe" (12 layers- a rather arbitrary number, as some women wore as many as 20) reflected many things, including: rank, seasons, directions, virtues, and elements of the earth as they related to spirits of nature. The multiple layers also helped in staying warm in winter. Eventually, sumptuary laws of the Edo Period standardized the number of layers to five.
Fans carried by ladies of the Heain Imperial court.

Over 2,000 Kyoto residents take part in the great procession of the Festival. Many maiko and geisha also make an appearance, dressed as some of the most famous women of Japanese history.

The costumes used in the festival are authentic, created according to the techniques used during the period, and are valued at over $25 million.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Joys of Teaching

I love you, too, Beautiful Mountain School!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Kyoto Nights

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Mamehide rushing through Shirakawa (Gion) on her way to an engagement. Both her Kimono ensemble and her kanzashi, particular to October, celebrate the beauty of fall in Japan. Her kimono and collar are decorated with momiji, Japanese maple leaves, and kiku, chrysanthemums, the symbol of the Imperial family and a much beloved flower in Japan. The small green ornament is the famous tsunagi dango, the linked dumpling crest of Gion, which symbolizes the solidarity between the different geiko districts. Her upper lip is not painted, alluding to her rank as a first year maiko. Her collar is heavily embroidered in red, which also points to her low rank. As maiko advance in the ranks, their collars become predominantly whiter until they are ready to become a full fledged Geiko.

A quite night in Gion. Katsue, a young, high ranking maiko from Kamishichiken, standing near the small shrine enjoying lantern lit Shirakawa.

Katsue greeting a friend with a smile. Note her white collar, crimson lips, and kanzashi (hair ornament). As a higher ranking maiko, she no longer wears the long, dangling bira bira kanzashi that Mameteru is wearing above. Instead she wears a simple chrysanthemum blossom.

Two young maiko laugh with their big sister on the corner of the Hanamikouji and Shijo, Gion.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Kyoto: Where My Heart Belongs

Almost Famous: Kotoha, A young, high rank maiko named Kotoha makes her to the big party at the Ichiriki teahouse after the main procession of Yamahoko Junko last July.

I'm headed to Kyoto for Jidai Matsuri: The Festival of Ages. I haven't been to Kyoto since July(way too long) but here are some of the photos I took during the summer and never got around to sharing. Enjoy!

A young, first year maiko on her way to an appointment during Gion Matsuri. Geiko still use traditional, oiled paper umbrella in the rain and snow. This was my first time actually seeing a maiko or geiko use one. Breath-taking. This is also the first image taken with my new camera (^-^)/ I'm still learning how to use it. Non-stop pouring rain + fast moving maiko = a great learning experience! The blur helps conveys the hustle and bustle of the crowded street, the young maiko rushing through the crowd to her appointment, and the dreary, dripping rain. It looks ethereal, like a scene from a dream, which is exactly the way I felt when I shot it.

Eyes Wide Closed: Gion. A geiko making her daily communte through the streets of Gion. Geiko wear wigs called katsura, with almost no ornamentation (compared to maiko, who style their own hair, which is adorned with many kanzashi, or flowered ornaments). Of course she blinked the exact moment I pressed the shutter, but what a perfect face.

A young geiko waiting outside the Ichiriki Teahouse in Gion with her client. Customers pay about $200 dollars an hour for the privledge of spending time with geiko (kyoto dialect for geisha), but having money is not the only requirement. Customers must have a relationship with an ochaya, a place where geiko entertain, in order to make an appointment, and being introduced to an ochaya is no simple task. The refined manners of Kyoto dictate that charging a customer at the end of the night is a no-no. With bills often running past 5,000$ a night, Ochaya must have a relationship based on trust, so that they can rest assured that the bills that they send to their customers once a month will be paid.

Two maiko make their way through the busy streets of Gion, sheltered from the sweltering summer sun by their umbrellas. Daytime casual: No white makeup, no heavy silk kimono. Just cotton yukata and lip gloss (^-^). I've never seen a maiko with a western umbrella before (right). Interesting. Also love the way the two older women watched them pass with awe, reverence and pride.

It is a Japanese custom for women to cover their mouths when smiling,laughing, and even sometimes, speaking. This young maiko was laughing as she talked with her friend, which is as she talked with her friend, which is why her hand is raised just so.

An older "sister", an accomplished and high ranking geiko, accompanying a few younger maiko, or apprentice geisha, to a tea ceremony held at the famous Ichiriki Teahouse. The way the older women on the right hold themselves, and the sensual way they touch themselves, even in such a casual way....

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

UTATA Spotlight!

One of my images from Cambodia has been put "In the Spotlight" by Utata. For anyone interested in photography, Utata offers inspiration, information, and positive community of like-minded artisits. Check it out!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Undoukai: FIGHT!

Scenes from the Beautiful Mountain School's Sports Festival \(^o^)/
Fight! The Red Team`s Trendy Takayo makes team spirit fashionable with an English twist on the classic sports festival hachimaki (headband). Running in the rain is no reason to be be kawaikunai yo!

Good form!

Student president Shin cheers on his teammates during the crucial Senshu Relay, in which the runners are elected by their team members based on their speed. Not only is he fast (he comjpletely lapped the rest of the runners in one race), he is also thought to be the cutest guy in school, because he "looks like a foreigner." He got the highest test score in the school, and he`s good at English, too! Go Shin!

The White Rabbit: an event in which the lightest teammate is forced to risk his life running on the backs of his friends as they race around the track. Once the 'rabbit' successfully passes over them, the other kids race to the front of the line and assume the position until they have covered half the distance of the track. Sound dangerous? It is! The poor red rabbit fell down 6 times before finally breaking his ankle and being replaced.

The 3rd year students special event, the "Chain Gang Escape." Ichi ni! Ichi ni! Us teacher^types got cool *staff* shirts with Kitunchu, written on the back, supposedly the Okinawan dialect for people from Honshu. The top character 北、means north. The lower character, 人、means person.

Note that both of their legs are tied together, as well as to the people behind them. Events like this emphasize acting as "one heart" and "one mind."

Whtie team may have one, but Terrible Takayo, Yo Yo Yuya, Shin-chan and Kaz got nothing but love for each other. Peesu!

My girls! Natsuki, Ami, Mio, Takayo, and Ami.

Another %$#&'$ speech! For God`s sake please stop talking! Its pouring, and my bento awaits!

Hip hip Horray! Yuya is flung into the air by his loosing teammates. No tears! For the first time in 3 years of undokai, no tears! Its all good at the beautiful mountain school!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

These two cutenesses lived at the small temple, and came along to join the fun with the monks and I. The young boy will probably enter the monkhood when he is old enough (usually about 13 years of age).

This little boy was pimpin' his blue pinstripe pajama set...

His little sister seemed quite comfortable in her matching blue striped PJ pants, but opted for a more feminie,yellow top (with ruffles mind you).

Not to be out done, big bro felt the need to bust out the shades.

Aren't they both beautiful? So full of joy, even without the latest fall pieces from the Abercrombie & Fithch Kids fall collection, a new Play Station or a TV.

Kids (Even Monks) Just Wanna Have Fun

Hey! Who's taking the pictures here? My new friends lead me through the lush jungle to their secluded forest temple.

Tucan Sam-uth!

Smiling as he showed me around the temple grounds. Little buddhas everywhere!

Ah the joy of digital cameras!

Looks like there's a budding photographer in their midst...

In the process of wrapping himself up in his brilliant orange robes.