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.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Go Speedracer, Go!

Here he comes, here comes SPEEDRACER!

One of the great things about being back in the good ol' US of A is the relative ease and inexpence of going to the movies. Sure, in a big city like Tokyo, Osaka, or Nagoya, a movie theater may not be far away, but it's always expensive. A ticket usually costs about ¥1800, but if you're lucky enough to live in a beautiful place like Ena (inaka: countryside), you also have to factor in the roughly hour-long train ride into town at ¥1100 each way. Altogether that's about $35, not to mention the total investment of a day since the entire affair will take no less than four and a half hours. All this for the rare privledge of watching a movie that's probably already available on mininova on an unusually small screen(compared to their counterparts in the States, that is.)

In my hometown, movie theaters are many and the prices are right. Before 6'o clock a mere $6.25 will get you a comfy reclining seat in a spacious stadium-style theater complete with a perfect, puffy hair-free view of an enormous screen. WhatI saw on that screen the last time I went to the movies was a teaser-trailer for none other than the classic Japanese anime SPEEDRACER!

Perhaps I'm exposing my overwhelming nerdiness by admiting it (if I haven't already), but I think it looks most cool... Like anime- ALIVE!

Check out the original Japanese opening:

Here's the Americanized version:

And may I just say, Anime has come a LONG way (^_<)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Supernova : English Translation : Bump of Chicken

Supernova: Bump of Chicken
Translation by Melissa Chasse ©

When I get a fever I realize
That I have a body
When my nose gets stuffy I realize
That I’ve been breathing all this time

You’re existence
I make sure of it so many times but
You know how truly precious someone is
Once they’re gone

When I refused your outstretched hand
There might have been a big earthquake
When I protected your outstretched hand
The one I wanted to protect may have been myself

You’re existence
I always held on to it so tightly but
I’m really afraid so
I just can’t let go

La la la…

Talking to people I realize
There’s nothing I want to say
When I try to put the words together
I understand I’m full of feelings I want to express

Your existence
I can keep talking about it like this but
true gratitude
Can’t be expressed by a mere “thank you”

La la la…

In our clock (In the time we have)
We want
to grasp just one truth
and pass it on…

When I try to count the years, I realize
However slight, I had a history
At almost the same time I understand
An end will come to that, too

I can remember you whenever I want but
What I really want is
Not memories, it’s the present

It's after I forget you that I remember
I had a history with you
It's after I loose you that I discover
I met you by chance

A person’s existence
In this world is worthless, but
Somebody’s world
Can be built on it

Your existence
I confirm it so many times, but
Your true existence is that
Even when you’re gone, you’re here

Our clock doesn’t stop
It’s moving

La la la…

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Setsubun: Maiko Hairstyles

Beautiful and charming Tsunemomo of Gion Higashi sporting a special hairstyle for the Setsubun mamemaki, or bean throwing, ceremony at Yasaka Shrine.

The classic wareshinobu hairstyle of a young maiko on the left is worn during a her first three years of service, until her coming of age ceremony.

Left: Ofuku, worn by maiko from the time of their coming of age ceremony until they are ready to turn their collars and become geiko. Far right: Wareshinobu.

Konomi, close up, is accompanied by Maori, who's wears her own hair styled just as Meiji period schoolgirls once did as part of her Setsubun obake, or costume.

Left: Umemodoki / Osomemage hairstyle. Right: It's a mystery!

Maiko of the Gion Kobu district make their way to the main stage of Yasaka Shrine to participate in the mamemaki, or bean throwing ceremony.

Setsubun festivities at Yasaka Shrine, including dances by Miyagawa-cho, Gion Kobu, and Gion Higashi. Thanks to ericity for uploading it to YouTube!

Unfortunately I was not able to attend the Setsubun festivities this year, but I look forward to shooing away devils and ushering in good fortune next year in Kyoto! Oni wa soto! Fuku ha uchi! If you'd like to Learn more about Setsubun, check out my posts from last year.