Monday, February 25, 2008

Baikasai: Memories 2007

Naohiro, geiko of Kamishichiken.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine's famous Baikaisai, or Plum Blossom Festival, is held every February 25th in memory of the deified patron saint of scholarship, Sugawara Michizane, a Heian Era court official and avid plum blossom admirer. After graduating from the national academy, he began his ill-fated career at court as a scholar. Although he was elevated in rank under the grace of Emperor Uda, his rivalry with a member of the powerful Fujiwara family resulted in his banishment from court. Demoted to the rank of a minor official in Kyushu, he died a lonely death with a dishonored name.

Plum blossoms in full bloom beneath the brightly covered eves of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

After his death, plague and drought spread throughout the capital. The emperor's sons began to die in rapid succession. The Imperial Palace's Great Audience Hall (shishinden) was repeatedly struck by lightning as the city was drenched by rainstorms and floods. Attributing this to the angry spirit of the exiled Sugawara, the imperial court built and dedicated Kitano Tenmangu shrine to him, posthumously restoring his title and office. All mention of his exile was struck from the record and Sugawara was deified as Tenjin-sama, or kami of scholarship. Today many Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to him.

Umeshizu prepares to perform the tea ceremony.

I never really got around to uploading many of the pictures I took at last year's Baikasai, and since I can't be there this year, I'd like to share these with you now. Enjoy!

"Living flowers" beneath the plum blossoms. From right to left: Umesato, Naokazu, Satoyuki, and Naohiro.

Katsuya leads her younger sister to the grounds of Kitano Tenmangu shrine.

The breath-takingly beautiful Umeha.

Naokazu and Satoyuki.

Katsuya smiles as she serves guests.

Satoyuki took part in the 2007 Baikasai as part of her training to become a geisha. She did not make her debut until afterwards. I was captivated by her stunning M.C. Escher-esque kimono.

Umeshizu gently smiles before offering a cup of matcha, a bitter powdered green tea whipped to frothy perfection, to guests.

The elegant Naozome, a high ranking maiko, never fails to make an impression.

Katsuryu concentrates on correct ettiquette as she serves the guests during her first Baikasai. She had only made her debut as a maiko earlier that month.

Satoyuki smiles.

Umeha and Naohiro in shades of lavender and plum.

Umeha laughs.

Tamayuki is a senior geiko of the Kamishichiken district. As geiko grow in experience and skill, they rely less on their flashy kimonos, hair, and make-up, and more on their skill, which is where there true beauty lies.

Katsuryu: Can you say KAWAII! So cute!

Naozome and Ichiteru.

Katsue in her final appearance as a maiko at the annual Baikasai. Now a geiko, she will soon be performing in the Kitano Odori as a full-fledged geisha.

Ichifumi, the famous blogging maiko Ichimame's little sister, laughing with guests during her first Baikasai.

Yasunari Kawabata, the first Japanese to win the nobel prize (1968) once wrote "If for no other reason than to preserve traditional hairstyles, the geisha's existance is vital. I wonder how and when these hairstyles developed."

"Japanese men, as a rule, feel about a woman's neck and throat about the same way as men in the west feel about a woman's legs. This is why geisha wear the collars of their kimono so low in the back...I suppose that its like a woman in Paris wearing a short skirt."

~Sayuri, in 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Aurthur Golden.

Ichimame laughs as she entertains guests.

Sisters Ichimame and Ichifumi admiring the plum blossoms.


Myloko said...

Very beautiful pictures! :D I'm suprised that you didn't upload these before!

Abbey said...

They're so beautiful... iinaaaaa...

By the way, did you see how beautiful my Aya-sensei was? Kawai-sugi!

And this just in: Do you want to take me to Gion Matsuri this year???? I'm trying to make plans for August...

Luz said...

Exceptional beauty in your photographs!

tell me what you saw said...

Hello Melissa. Wonderful pictures in your post as always!

I was wondering, can anybody attend Baikasai? I would looove to see that! I'm going to be at Kansai Gaidai at that time next year (yay! I've been accepted) and would love to go :D

Melissa said...

Tell Me: Congratulations! Yes, anyone can go to Baikasai. The tea ceremony is open to the public, but I believe there is an entrance fee. Either way, I highly reccommend it! Maybe I'll see you there (^_<)

tell me what you saw said...

Oh I don't mind an entrance fee, I'm willing to skip a day of class to go there XD

It'd be great to see you there too !

Jeanne said...

Exquisite and I love all of your photographs on Flickr too.


Anonymous said...

I am visiting Japan right now march 18-27th and would love to get your recommendations to view geisha and other special events/places/museums etc!

These are such lovely photos and posts - such a great tribute to this beautiful culture that I too am in love with.

Please email me!

Thank you so much!

Melbourne-Gal said...

Hi there - love your stunning photos.

My sister & I are going to be in Kyoto on Feb 25 (two weeks - yay!) and are definitely going to go.

I'm going to surprise my sister with this for her birthday, do you know if you have to/can book tickets?

I'll have to make sure I take my SLR camera with me that day too!

Thanks so much!

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