Tag Archives: kimono

The Kimono Tattoo Wins Indie Book Award

Happy news for fans of mystery writer Rebecca Copeland.  Her book The Kimono Tattoo has won the 2022 Independent Press Award in the category of Multi-Cultural Fiction.

Silk unravels. A tattoo is forever.
Layer by layer the truth is revealed.
                         —  The Kimono Tattoo

A fast-paced mystery set in Kyoto, The Kimono Tattoo  follows American translator Ruth Bennett on her risky quest for the truth about a bizarre murder. Ruth’s expertise in kimono history and fluency in Japanese give her the tools.  Her host of friends come to her aid. Readers enjoy traversing Kyoto, too. From ancient temple grounds to convenience stores and hidden tattoo parlors, we’re soon on the beat with Ruth.

Let’s catch up with Rebecca Copeland to get her thoughts on this well-deserved Indie Award.

What is the Independent Press Award?

JB: Congratulations, Rebecca.   What’s the story of this award?

RC:  Thanks, Jan.  The Independent Press Award aims to bring attention to independent publishers across the country and the great variety of books they publish. I’m grateful to my publisher Brother Mockingbird for nominating The Kimono Tattoo.

The Independent Press Award recognizes excellence by category. As you can imagine, they need lots of categories to cover the myriad kinds of books published every year.  There’s action and adventure, horror, historical fiction, advice guides, and many more. The Kimono Tattoo won in “Multicultural-Fiction.”

Experiencing Multicultural Kyoto — Past and Present

Kyoto Trademark: Maiko. Posted to Wikimedia Commons by Bermi Ferrer. Oct. 15, 2010.

A window on how people experience cultural identity…
a sense of home and belonging

JB:  Thinking about The Kimono Tattoo as multicultural gives me a new way to look at your mystery.  One that draws on my own experiences of Kyoto.

I recognized the mystery’s setting and the kinds of characters right away…..well, except for the criminal ones…from my times in Kyoto and the people I met. There’s the lead, Ruth, a bilingual American expat, and her sidekick Maho, who feels more American than Japanese, and the elegant Japanese entrepreneur, Mrs. Shibasaki.  This kind of “expat in Japan” circle felt so familiar to me.

But, in fact, The Kimono Tattoo does more than that. You give us a window on how people experience cultural identity and work to achieve a sense of home and belonging.

Creating complex characters

The Kimono Tattoo, 2021.

RC:  Thanks for that point.  Yes, as I imagined Ruth and the other characters, I inevitably mapped them onto my understandings of Japan society, especially its literary traditions and kimono design world.  And I built some — especially Ruth and Maho — around lives shaped by bilingual and bicultural experiences.  But I also saw each character as unique, as more than the sum of their language, education, and social class.

The Brilliant, Elusive Satoko —  Mastermind of the “Kimono Tattoo”

JB:  Satoko, the elusive mastermind behind the “kimono tattoo,” certainly strikes me as motivated by more than her background and even her family’s commercial involvement with kimono. She’s a brilliant artist. And her creativity ties her to the material and cultural history of kimono, and even ghosts!

Unlined Kimono for a Woman (Hitoe) Motif: Swallows flying over and streams (1910-1920). Khalili Collections. Wikimedia Commons.

RC:  I find Satoko’s trajectory fascinating, too.  Part of the fun of writing The Kimono Tattoo came from doing the research needed to depict that history well and to invent new legends that furthered my own plot and helped build Satoko’s character.

JB:  In that way, The Kimono Tattoo  not only opens our eyes to the multicultural interactions of people in contemporary Kyoto but invites us to consider a multicultural past.  Japanese characters and customs do not emerge as monolithic or uncomplicated.  That is, we learn about customs, dance, fashion, family structures, and even Japanese literature, too.

RC:  Thank you for noticing that.  So many in the States still think of Japan as such a remote and strange place.  I’ve spent my career—as have you—trying to make Japan more approachable, teaching students about Japanese culture while at the same time challenging them to think more deeply about their own cultural practices and biases.  Travel is one way we learn more about ourselves!

A novel slips readers into a new space

I hope that The Kimono Tattoo will carry readers to Kyoto, enticing them to learn more about Japanese culture. At the same time perhaps it will push readers to question their own assumptions and misunderstandings.  I don’t know. It’s a lot to ask!  And I want the novel to also be “entertaining.”  I think that’s what distinguishes the novel from my earlier academic books.  A novel slips readers into a new space without making too many demands, and before they know it, they’re walking around in a different world.

The Kimono Tattoo – An Official Book Club Pick for June

Official Selection. The Intl Pulpwood Queen & Timber Guy Book Club, June 2022.

JB:  I see, too, Rebecca, that The Kimono Tattoo has earned yet another honor!  It’s been chosen as the “International Book of the Month” for the month of June by the International Pulpwood Queens and Timberguys Book Club.

RC:   Yes!  I was so excited about that.  The International Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club is the largest book club in the world with regular meetings and discussions.  There are over 800 chapters with 20 chapters in foreign countries.

The Club holds an annual convention. This year the convention was virtual with zoom meetings all day long for a week!  My publisher and I were invited to have a conversation about The Kimono Tattoo on one of the afternoons.  The amount of participation and enthusiasm for BOOKS and for reading that this Book Club generates is truly invigorating.  It’s an honor to have The Kimono Tattoo represent the month of June.

JB:  Congratulations again on these honors, Rebecca.  And I can’t wait to read the next of Ruth’s adventures.

Rebecca Copeland

For more on how Rebecca Copeland created The Kimono Tattoo, visit her blog: https://www.rebecca-copeland.com/blog/

For my other interviews with Rebecca, see these past posts:

Dance, Mystery, and Murder in The Kimono Tattoo

Yamamba: In Search of Japan’s Mountain Witch

Jan Bardsley. “The Kimono Tattoo Wins Indie Award.” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. March 24, 2022.

 

 

 

The Maiko Gets Back to Work in the New Year

How do you focus your energies to get back to work in the new year?  For Kyoto’s maiko and geiko,  the “Opening Ceremony” inspires resolve.  An annual event, it’s replete with formal clothing, auspicious hair ornaments, awards, and later, rounds of greetings to teahouse managers.

Above, manga artist Aiko Koyama imagines lots of maiko and geiko gathered for the Opening Ceremony in their kuromontsuki kimono.  A photo of the event (below) shows how colorful and happy they are.

Gion Opening Ceremony. Sankei News, 2019.

What are some main features of this annual event? What stands out about it in 2022?  Today’s post explores these questions.

A Local Event Becomes a National One

Gion Kōbu, the largest hanamachi, gets the most publicity. Apparently, it was the only hanamachi to hold an Opening Ceremony in 2022.  Online videos and news articles elevate Gion’s Opening Ceremony to a matter of national cultural significance.  

Maiko Tomitsuyu, 2015. Gion Higashi.

Pre-pandemic, every January, each of Kyoto’s five hanamachi held its own Opening Ceremony (shigyō-shiki 始業式).  Guidebooks do not mention when this practice began. They do explain that four hanamachi (Gion Kōbu, Miyagawa-chō, Ponto-chō, and Gion Higashi) hold the ceremony on January 7th, and Kamishichiken, on January 9th.  But that was before the pandemic.  In 2020 and 2021 all districts cancelled.

The pandemic has been hard on the hanamachi.  Public dances and most parties were cancelled.

 

With little way to earn income,  many geiko have had to rely on savings. Trainees had to postpone their maiko debut.  By last March, the total number of maiko had dropped from 81 to 68 (Onuki).

Celebrating Safely: Masks in 2022 

This JIJI PRESS video shows the joyous  2022 Gion Opening Ceremony. Everyone is masked and the event is reportedly shorter than usual.

About 100 people attended this event. It was held in the building where maiko and geiko take arts lessons, Yasaka Nyokoba Gakuen.

The Gion Kōbu Pledge

At one point in Gion’s Opening Ceremony, all the maiko, geiko, arts teachers, and teahouse proprietors stand to read a short pledge of resolve in unison. Here’s how the pledge opens:

私たちは常に美しく優しく親切にいたしましょう。

We shall always conduct ourselves beautifully,
with gentleness and kindness.

Gion maiko and geiko pledge their resolve. Gion Shopping Street Promotion Associates. https://www.gion.or.jp/

They also pledge to take pride in Gion traditions, strive to cultivate their hearts and minds (kokoro), and to exert themselves in their arts training. Remaining aware of Kyoto’s global status, they will endeavor to seek new knowledge and broaden their vision, while fostering fine customs and winning favor with all.

Recognition at the Opening Ceremony

Generally, at the Opening Ceremony, each hanamachi recognizes its top-earning teahouse manager, geiko, and maiko of the past year.  However, this year, Gion did not recognize earnings — an acknowledgement of the problems caused by the pandemic.

It’s not hard, however, to understand an emphasis on earnings in most years. After all, the hanamachi must earn income to stay alive. Thus, the Opening Ceremony underscores the importance of artistic and business success to the vitality of the hanamachi.  No wonder leaders reward teahouses that attract the most customers and the geiko and maiko that receive the most requests to appear at ozashiki parties.

Earning Hanamachi Awards Takes Ambition and Effort

Komomo and Naoyuki Ogino.  Kodansha International, 2008.

Artistic merit also earns recognition at the Opening Ceremony. It is not easy to achieve this honor and few manage to earn highest ranking in consecutive years.  In Geisha, A Life, Iwasaki Mineko describes the sheer ambition and physical exertion obtaining this award required (187).  In A Geisha’s Journey, Komomo explains her excitement and surprise at winning two awards in her second year as a maiko. One recognized her for “being one of the ten most successful maiko” in her district and the other for “working so hard in my dance and music lessons” (40).

 

Photographers like to capture maiko and geiko at the event in their formal costumes.  Our next post explores the significance of the small, bright golden ear of rice the maiko and geiko wear.

FEATURED IMAGE: This comes from Aiko Koyama’s bestselling serialized manga Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 3. Shōgakukan, 2017. p.117. For the animated version, See Chapters 23 and 24 on NHK World.  Available until September 23, 2022. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2094008/

2015 photos here of maiko in the Gion Higashi district posted online at https://giwonhigashi.com/sigyousiki2015/

REFERENCES

Iwasaki Mineko and Rande Brown. Geisha: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Komomo and Naoyuki Ogino. A Geisha’s Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice. Translated by Gearoid Reidy and Philip Price. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2008.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 3. Shōgakukan, 2017.

Onuki Satoko. “20 Maiko and Geiko Leave Hanamachi, Annual Income Drops Sharply, the Predicament for Kyoto’s Hanamachi.” (In Japanese). Asahi Shinbun Digital. May 28, 2021. https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASP5W7DT2P5LPLZB00V.html
Access January 11, 2022.

Jan Bardsley, “The Maiko Gets Back to Work in the New Year,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, January 18, 2022.

Merry Maiko Christmas

True, Christmas is not an official event in the hanamachi. But in today’s post, we learn how playful maiko characters pop up in Christmas merrymaking.  Even a former geiko’s ensemble nods to the holiday.

Making My Desk Maiko-Christmas Ready

Nothing like some cheery maiko to welcome December to my study.

I hang the “Maiko’s Christmas” tenugui from Eirakuya–shown above– across the wide computer screen. It’s an easy way to brighten up my desk for the holidays. Looking at this, you can almost forget December writing deadlines.

Holiday card from Greeting Life, Inc., Kyoto. 2021.

Displaying this delightful holiday card from Haruka sparks joy, too. Here, the maiko sits quietly at Renge-ji Temple. She gazes at its lovely garden. Tiny Santa Claus characters rambling around her seem comically misplaced. Merry mischief makers!

Christmas Decorations in Japan

Christmas 2018. Shizuoka. Jan Bardsley

Of course, I enjoy Christmas in Japan, too. Festive lights and special department store windows, prettily decorated Christmas cakes, and ornamented trees brighten the urban landscape in December. Spectacular light shows, known as winter illuminations, create fantasy spaces of LED lights, even in the Kyoto area. In 2018, Phil and I had great fun in Shizuoka City (near Mt. Fuji), hearing the brass band outside the train station belting out bouncy Christmas tunes, seeing Santa Claus-costumed dancers and Dixie Land band members in the shopping street, and attending a handbell-ringing concert by local high school girls.

Brass Band Shizuoka, 2018. Jan Bardsley.

Maiko and Geiko Join in Unofficial Christmas Fun

Christmas inspires hanamachi fiction, too. Koyama Aiko’s manga about superstar maiko Momohana and her cooking pal Kiyo “whip up” a sweet story.

Koyama Aiko, 2017.

The NHK-World Japan online anime “Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House” imagines maiko enjoying sugary delights in “Christmas in Kagai.” (Kagai is another pronunciation for hanamachi, the “flower districts” of teahouses and okiya).

As “Christmas in Kagai” opens, it’s nighttime. We see a giant lighted Christmas tree outdoors and illuminations. But when the view shifts to the hanamachi, the quiet streets look the same as ever. Only the usual hanamachi lanterns stand out.  The narrator explains:

“There are no special Christmas events in kagai. No Christmas light decorations. And no Christmas trees. But there are hints of Christmas.”

Takashimaya Christmas Cake 2021.

The anime shows these jolly hints. One elderly teahouse okami-san (manager) wraps her obi with a bright red, green, and white obijime cord. Western-style flower arrangements in the room carry the Christmas theme. Clients bring gifts of brightly decorated Christmas cake, like the pretty 2021 confection shown here from Takashimaya.

Indeed, so many cakes arrive at Kiyo’s okiya that soon the maiko have had their fill of whipped cream and strawberries. Too busy practicing her dance, the diligent maiko Momohana has not had a single bite!  Kiyo comes to the rescue, whipping up a tasty strawberry fruit sandwich for her pal.  The “Christmas in Kagai” anime ends with a lesson in how to make fruit sandwiches, a maiko favorite.

An Elegant Geiko’s Christmas-themed Obi 

Kiriki Chizu’s chic Christmas obi. Posted on her blog Dec. 12, 2021.

“In Gion, the kimono is the indispensable heart of style,” writes former geiko Kiriki Chizu (226).  As we see on her blog, Kiriki always turns an elegant figure in her tasteful kimono. Invoking Christmas gives an unusual seasonal dash to her ensemble.

In December, Kiriki sometimes posts photos of her chic yuletide obi. In 2017, she wrote about wearing it to Kabuki, “I wore my Christmas wreath obi. Kimono help you enjoy the feeling of the season, and that makes me happy.”  This December, she paired the obi with a  pale mauve kimono. In her book The Gion Way, Kiriki credits her sartorial flair to her okiya mother’s tutelage during her maiko days. She’d advise, “Doing the same thing as others is never stylish” (227).

Enjoy Seasonality, Feel Free to Invent

The Gion Way, 2007.

Thus, Kiriki learned to enjoy inventing her own creative moments within  kimono conventions. Among these, the Christmas wreath most delights her.  When a certain Kabuki actor’s wife, an aficionado of kimono, spotted her wearing the obi from afar, she rushed up to Kiriki. “Ooooh my, oh my, oh my…what is that?,” she asked with glee.  With great satisfaction, Kiriki responded, “Oh, this? It’s Christmas.”  Kiriki’s sole regret: she can only wear this chic obi in December (228).

Happy Holidays from Chapel Hill

Here’s to enjoying the year’s end in 2021 with your own ways of celebrating the season.

Maiko Solar Doll. 2021.

REFERENCES

Today’s featured image, the design “Maiko’s Christmas” is found at the website of Eirakuya, Kyoto’s famed textile firm, known for its tenugui (cloth hand towels).
https://eirakuya.shop-pro.jp/?pid=85952743

Kiriki Chizu. Aisare jōzu ni naru Gion-ryū: Onna migaki [The Gion way to skill in becoming loveable: A woman’s polish]. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2007. For much more discussion of Kiriki’s book, see Maiko Masquerade: Crafting Geisha Girlhood in Japan, 2021. Translations here are mine.

Koyama Aiko.  Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 17. Episode 23, Shōgakukan, 2017. NHK World Japan translates the manga title for its anime adaptation as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.  Here, I reference anime Chapter 17: “Christmas in Kagai.” https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2094006/

Jan Bardsley, “Merry Maiko Christmas,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/  December 20, 2021.

Dance in The Kimono Tattoo: An Interview with Rebecca Copeland

The Kimono Tattoo, 2021.

The Kimono Tattoo, a fast-paced mystery set in Kyoto, follows American translator Ruth Bennett on her dangerous quest for the truth. Ruth’s expertise in kimono history and fluency in Japanese give her the tools. Her intrepid friends take risks to help. Amid the chaos, Ruth’s practice of Nihon buyō (Japanese dance) steadies her.

As we explored in our last blog, The Kimono Tattoo gives insight into the practice of Nihon buyō by its teachers and students.

 

Meet Rebecca Copeland

Today’s blog features a special treat. We get to catch up with the author, Rebecca Copeland.    Renown for her expertise in modern Japanese women’s literature, Rebecca has studied dance in Japan, too.  Our interview explores how her experiences learning Nihon buyō shaped the dance scenes in The Kimono Tattoo.

You can also hear Rebecca’s podcast on The Kimono Tattoo. It’s on the popular channel, Japan Station: A Podcast About Japan by JapanKyo.com

The fun of taking first steps in Nihon buyō

JB:  Great to talk with you today, Rebecca.  Let’s start with your first experiences of Japanese dance.

In your blog post on dance, you recount taking your first steps in dance in 1976 at age nineteen. You describe the fun of staying “for tea, sweets, and gossip” after the lesson.  Much later, rather like Ruth, you took Nihon buyō lessons as an adult in Kyoto.  But what were those first lessons like?

RC:  Thanks, Jan.  I first began studying Japanese dance when I was a college student in Japan. A young woman about my age offered to teach dance to the foreigners where she lived in Fukuoka.  At the time I did not know how extraordinary this was.  I’ve since learned how difficult it is to acquire the credentials and more importantly the permission to teach a traditional art.  But since this young woman was only providing foreigners with a form of “art appreciation,” her sensei thought it would be okay. After all, no one expected any of us to pursue dance seriously.

What stands out about these early dance lessons? What did you learn?

RC:  For me, it was much more than “art appreciation,” and even much more than dance.  I learned basic forms of etiquette.  I learned different ways to understand grace and elegance. I learned how to dress myself in a kimono and how to fold and store the kimono after use.

Even though my sensei knew I would never excel at the form, she still pursued her teaching with serious intention.  She was proud of her art.  It meant so much to her.  Clearly, it wasn’t just a hobby or a weekend exercise. It was a way of life. Her investment in her art touched me deeply. This experience, along with others I had that year in Fukuoka, influenced me to continue my study of Japan.

Now I see why Ruth Bennett knows so much about kimono. What about your later dance lessons as an adult?

In the mid-2000s, I lived for a year in Kyoto. I taught at what was then the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies (a consortium of American universities). The students in my program were given the opportunity to study Japanese dance, but none of them did.  I asked the organizers if I could.

The class was offered by Nishikawa Senrei Sensei, of the Nishikawa School of Dance.  All the other students in the class were about the age I was when I first began studying dance in Fukuoka.

We began our studies with the same dance I had learned when I was 19, “Sakura, sakura.”  But because in Fukuoka I had trained in the Hanayagi-style, the movements were different.

That must have been frustrating. Like Ruth Bennett, you had to start all over again.

Yes, I do remember feeling very frustrated at first.  I knew I should know this.  But everything was new to me, and I felt so disoriented.

Actually, it had been that way from the start.  As soon as I arrived in Kyoto, I felt dislocated.  I was used to Tokyo. After that year in Fukuoka, my next visits to Japan had all been in Tokyo.  I had lived there off and on for close to ten years.  Kyoto was so different.  I found it hard to get around as I was unfamiliar with the bus system (in Tokyo I almost always took trains.)  Everything was different.

On top of that, I was in a class with quick young women who immediately picked up the dance movements.  I was always the one lagging behind.  But Senrei Sensei was very kind to me.    After class I would often linger and talk with her about literature.  That’s when I learned that sensei also choreographed new, original dances.  She performed one that year based on the French sculptor Camille Claudel.  Another dance of hers retold the famous Meiji-era story of Mori Ogai’s “Dancing Girl” (Maihime).

Senrei Sensei was incredibly talented. She invested her time teaching foreigners out of a spirit of generosity and passion, not unlike that of my first dance teacher.

Senrei Sensei must have been quite a talented artist in her own right.

Senrei Sensei

Absolutely. Senrei Sensei managed her own studio, curated her own recitals, choreographed her own dances, and traveled the world.  She was grounded in traditional Japanese arts and amazingly independent and fierce. Jonah Salz published a wonderful essay about Senrei Sensei in Kyoto Journal.

She was a strict teacher.  A sharp glance from her would be enough to make me wilt with embarrassment and regret.  But she was also patient and understanding.  I would be so honored to share The Kimono Tattoo with her, but she tragically died several years ago.

Such rich experiences! How did these help you craft the dance scenes in The Kimono Tattoo?

Admittedly, the dance teacher is loosely modeled on Senrei Sensei. She taught me so much about Kyoto and kimono.  She also taught me about art and about finding the source of art in yourself.

As I noted, I wasn’t very quick to pick up the steps and I often felt like a drag on the class. As we prepared for our recital, I was amazed by how smooth the young women in the class were.  They had no problem remembering all the steps.

Later, after one class when we were putting away our kimono, one of the students told me that they watched videos of earlier performances. They received them from previous students.  Aha! I could certainly use that help. I wanted to see those videos and practice at home with them, too.

Rebecca Copeland dancing Shizuka Gozen.

When I mentioned borrowing a video to Sensei,  she grew visibly irritated.  “Art is not about perfecting form!” she snapped.  “It’s not just about memorizing.  You have to feel it in your heart.”  Then and there, she forbade all of us from studying the videos.  She told me to listen to the music at home.  “Feel the music,” she said as she thumped my breast.  “Feel it here.”  So, I tried that.  I was never as smooth as the other students, but Sensei complimented me for having the right spirit. I think Ruth and her sensei share a similar relationship. Ruth isn’t perfect but she is keen to appreciate the spirit of the dance.

Looking back on these dance lessons, what did you take away from the Sensei’s guidance?

Strangely, I think her lessons helped me in other aspects of my life as well. I stopped worrying so much about making mistakes and getting facts wrong in my own lectures and classes.  My classes became better as a result.  And, perhaps it is this awareness of following the heart, trusting the heart, that gave me the courage to try my hand at a novel.

Do you have more in store for these characters?

Rebecca, I enjoyed the lively cast of characters in The Kimono Tattoo. My favorite is Ruth’s pal Maho, who wears a Mohawk.  And, of course, one gets attached to Ruth Bennett, who can’t pull away from signs of danger.  What’s next for them?

Thanks, Jan.  You know, it took so long to complete The Kimono Tattoo–almost ten years.  I started it in 2012, and I could only work on it during the summers.  That means that I have lived with Ruth and Maho for a long time.  They continue to visit me, especially when I return to Japan.  Ruth will walk alongside me and make comments.  I don’t think I’ve seen the last of her.

Will the next mystery take place in Kyoto, too?

Sarasa Nishijin Cafe. Posted to Matcha, 2016. https://matcha-jp.com/en/1224

Yes. A few years ago I started another Ruth Bennett story.  This one is set in the Nishijin area of Kyoto. It features the sumptuous brocade for which Kyoto is famous.

Fragment of Noh theater robe produced in Nishijin district. . Freer Gallery. Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

Nishijin brocades are exquisite.  But like so many works of art that rely on human labor, the people who enjoy the brocades and the people who labor to produce them live very different kinds of lives.  In earlier times weavers often lived subsistence lives and were exploited for their labor.  This kind of dichotomy, the bright side versus the darker underside, as in The Kimono Tattoo, fascinates me.  I want to see what happens when Ruth spends time with this art form.  Sadly, people will die.  And Ruth will find herself once more in the thick of things.

After this novel I would like to send Ruth on the road.  She’ll spend time in Fukuoka and perhaps Nagasaki exploring the traditional arts there and trying to stay out of trouble.  Nagasaki is a particularly interesting city with its different layers of cultural histories: Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, British, American, and more.

Thanks to Rebecca Copeland

Following Ruth Bennett to Kyushu will be an adventure for sure. And I look forward to learning more about Nishijin in her next Kyoto mystery.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with Japanese dance and photos, Rebecca. This gives me renewed appreciation for the evocative dance scenes in The Kimono Tattoo and Ruth’s brilliant sensei.

I highly recommend The Kimono Tattoo.   “Silks unravels. A tattoo is forever. Layer by layer the truth is revealed.”  And you can stay up all night watching the layers fall away.

Jan Bardsley, “Dance in The Kimono Tattoo: Interview with Author Rebecca Copeland.” janbardsley. web.unc.edu  June 3, 2021.

April maiko

A Maiko April Fool’s Day Story

The Maiko who went to America,“Amerika ni itta maiko-san.” Artist Kinoshita Yoshihisa. Shōjo magazine, April 1, 1954 (illustration within magazine; Kobunsha, publisher).

Here’s a delightful maiko image for celebrating the beginning of April.  Happy April Fool’s Day!

This story features  Satō Shigemi 佐藤茂美, a popular young singer of children’s songs who recorded with King Records. Here, she plays the role of a maiko.

The Maiko who went to America

The text alongside the image goes something like this:

“Captivated by the sight of the maiko walking gracefully in the American city in her furisode kimono and darari obi, the patrol officer forgets all about directing the traffic. The cars on the road are unable to move.  Looking on in surprise, the maiko feels like singing one of her favorite songs.”  ”This is my April’s Fool prank.”

The comic image of the maiko abroad

Artist Kinoshita imagines a policeman directing traffic in New York City. Everything comes to a stop when the man is enchanted by the flowing sleeves and long obi worn by an adorable maiko. An American serviceman and a little girl standing nearby seem equally surprised.  With her pretty blue parasol, colorful kimono, and kanzashi hair ornaments, the maiko makes a fetching—and traffic-stopping— sight.

Shōjo, a magazine for girls

This story comes from the April 1954 Shōjo  (Girl). A monthly illustrated magazine, Shōjo introduced movies and teen stars such as Satō Shigemi. Shōjo carried lots of fiction and manga appealing to girl readers (Kikuyo Library). Kōbunsha published Shōjo from 1949 to 1963.  In Maiko Masquerade, I write about the maiko as shōjo.

References

Kikuyo Library: https://www.kikuyo-lib.jp/?page_id=182
Accessed February 11, 2021.

For analysis of Japanese magazines for girls, see Sarah Frederick. “Girls’ Magazines and the Creation of Shōjo Identities.” In Routledge Handbook of Japanese Media, edited by Fabienne Darling-Wolf, 22–38. London: Taylor and Francis, 2018.

Jan Bardsley, “A Maiko April Fool’s Day Story,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/ April 1, 2021.

Asada Mao: Olympic Skater in Maiko Masquerade

Airweave advertisement. Miyako Odori program 2019.

Wasn’t  that the Olympic figure skater Asada Mao?
What was she doing in maiko masquerade?

This ad in my Miyako Odori 2019 dance program caught me by surprise. What was the story here?   As I explore in today’s post, this famous Japanese athlete in maiko garb invites us to think about performances of femininity in sports, dance, and costuming.

Airweave promotion. https://coop.airweave.jp/news/event201709.php

The World Champion as Girl Next Door

Asada was 29 in 2019, almost a decade older than the oldest maiko. But her small frame, apparent youth and innocence, and her “girl next door” persona made Asada a good fit for role-playing as Kyoto’s quintessential girl.  As it turns out, Asada has role-played as a maiko in previous commercials set in Kyoto.  Her maiko masquerade is never a trick, though.  Rather, these performances invite viewers to contemplate the transformation of the national sports icon as a maiko. (As I explain in Maiko Masquerade, media often portray the maiko as an “ordinary girl” transformed).

Asada has maiko make-up applied for the August 17, 2014 SMILE event at Kyoto Takashimaya. http://maoasada.jp/mao/event/

In 2014, the department store Takashimaya launched SMILE, an exhibit in honor of Asada Mao.  The exhibit, which traveled to various Takashimaya stores in Japan, attracted over 600,000 visitors (Asahi Shimbun).  When in Kyoto for SMILE, Asada did another turn as a maiko.

But let’s not forget the fierce athlete on ice

Certainly, there is more to this hard-driving Olympic athlete than her pretty costumes suggest.  In his insightful Diva Nation chapter, “Ice Princess: Asada Mao the Demure Diva,” Masafumi Monden looks beyond the compliant good girl persona to examine Asada’s strengths and ambition. He argues that, “Asada consciously or otherwise uses her demure, good girl persona to allow the exercise of the ego and power of a diva without attracting criticism, in a subtle, effective, and notably Japanese fashion.”

Mao Asada during her long program at the 2013 World Championships. Photo David W. Carmichael
Wikimedia Commons

Born in Nagoya Prefecture in 1990, Asada Mao was already a graceful ballerina when she tried ice skating to boost her dance skills.  As a teen, Asada earned fame for her ability to land the risky triple axel and triple-triple jumps. In 2010, she won a silver medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.  Monden explains, “Asada is surely one of the few women skaters whose technical proficiency rivals that of men.”

The winner of multiple championships, Asada became a national icon, managing to blend her obvious diligence, skill, and sportsmanship with a feminine, modest persona.  Her good manners won Asada praise abroad, too. Monden shows how she asserts herself in making career choices, never losing fans.  “Asada’s popularity in Japan is massive….[she] claimed the top slot in the ranking of most successful female athletes in 2015.

Mao_Asada_2010_OP_Press_conference.jpg: David W. Carmichael Wikimedia Commons

Asada’s regular feats on the rink astonished spectators, exemplifying “the diva [who] takes risks.”

In April 2017, Asada retired from figure skating. She continues to take an active public role. Asada participates in charity events, makes commercials, and publishes books.  She maintains an official website and blog in Japanese:http://mao-asada.jp/

What Asada Mao tells us about maiko & geiko

The Strength to Be Able to Fulfill Dreams, What I learned from skating by Asada Mao, 2020.

    Asada Mao’s determination, athleticism, and ability to manage her public persona make us take another look at Kyoto’s maiko and geiko.  Devoting themselves to strenuous dance practice, performing as the city’s celebrities, and modeling Japanese etiquette take work.  It’s tempting to see Asada and the maiko’s femininity performances as masquerades given their obvious personal strengths, even a disguise of female ambition that makes it more acceptable. But we can also consider these divas as redefining the feminine. Monden sees Asada as “an icon who demonstrates the potential of a new kind of divahood, as a young diva who gets her own way and refuses to give in, but in a polite, upright amicable way that wins people’s hearts.”

Asada dancing with the geiko

On Aug. 17, 2014, Asada posted photos of herself costumed as a maiko for the Kyoto Takashimaya SMILE exhibit. http://mao-asada.jp/mao/event/
The summer fan displays her name, Mao.

Let’s close with a clip of Asada Mao visiting Kyoto posted in 2015 that Masafumi Monden passed on to me.

The clip shows Asada approaching the famous Gion teahouse Tomiyo. Here, she observes a Gion geiko, also named Mao, dancing. The jikata (musician) Danyū plays the samisen. Then, Asada takes her first lesson in Kyōmai dance from Inoue Yasuko, daughter of dance master Inoue Yachiyo V. Next Asada costumes as a maiko. Now, she’s ready for her dance performance with geiko Mao!  Since the video ends with a night’s rest on an Airweave mattress, we might conclude the event is staged as a commercial. But this clip is more than a fanciful mattress ad–it shows the difficulty of maiko dance, the practiced skill of the geiko, and even champion athlete Asada struggling to learn it.

I come away with admiration for the skills of both the dancer and the skater.

 

 

References

Masafumi Monden. “Ice Princess: Asada Mao the Demure Diva,”  in  Laura Miller and Rebecca Copeland, eds. Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018.

Jan Bardsley, “Asada Mao: Olympic Skater in Maiko Masquerade,” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. March 15, 2021