Tag Archives: Kyoto tourism

Poster of Godzilla and Maiko meeting in front of Kyoto Tower

The Maiko Godzilla Face-Off

As Kyoto’s mascots, maiko often welcome VIPs to the Old Capital.  Maiko have greeted U.S. presidents, British royalty, and famed artists.  But Godzilla?  What’s behind this fantasy assignment?

Today’s post explores this Kyoto tourist campaign, its Godzilla goods, and ponders the imagined Maiko Godzilla face-off.  We also reflect on these two Japanese icons’ journey from victims in the 1950s to cute ambassadors today.

Godzilla Comes to the Old Capital: Godzilla vs. Kyoto

This eye-catching poster by Nakamura Yusuke promotes the 2021 tourist campaign Godzilla vs. Kyoto. https://gvskyoto.jp/

This Godzilla summer series of activities (stamp rallies; Godzilla film showings) takes one to various places in Kyoto.  Stamp rally collectors visit Kyoto Station, Tōji Temple, and six places in the Kyoto Tower.

The Godzilla Art of KAIDA Yuji
By YUJI KAIDA. Titan Books, forthcoming October 2021.

Godzilla vs. Kyoto also features exhibits of original Godzilla-themed art by monster illustrators Yuji Kaida and Nishikawa Shinji.  In April, the Kyoto International Manga Museum invited visitors to Nishikawa’s  “live drawing” event.

Although the series opened in April 2021, it paused due to the pandemic emergency.  Reopened, it has been extended through August. Organizers remind visitors to wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid alcohol.

 

Godzilla Goods: Grooming the Monster Kyoto-Style

Image of Godzilla as an advertisment for a giant towelette

Towelette for Godzilla. July 2021.

The Godzilla towelette is just one of many goods devised by Kyoto businesses to sell during the Godzilla vs. Kyoto events.  The typical towelettes (aburatori-gami) are slim, delicate papers. They fit easily in the palm of your hand. One uses them to remove make-up and blot facial oil.

About 33 times the size of the usual ones, these giant papers perfectly suit Godzilla.  [Hard to imagine Godzilla feeling the need to get the shine off his nose, but he does have his close-ups].  Online at the Godzilla Store.

The towelette gives Godzilla hands-on experience with Kyoto tradition.

The Kyoto cosmetics store Yojiya claims to have sold the first towelettes in 1920. They quickly became popular with geisha and Kabuki actors who used make-up professionally. The Yojiya site remarks, “The circumstances of its creation could only have happened in Kyoto, the capital of Japanese cinema.”   How fitting that Godzilla, a cinematic star himself, would enjoy a Kyoto towelette super-sized for him.

The Maiko Vs. Godzilla Face-Off

In Nakamura’s poster, Godzilla looks ferocious. He’s ready to snap off Kyoto Tower.  Is he going to unleash his atomic breath on the maiko? Or ravish the beauty like King Kong? The maiko remains calm, meeting his gaze.

 

 

Nakamura’s poster suggests a sly Kyoto vs Tokyo competition.  Kyoto has the winsome but fearless girl who embodies the movement of tradition into a modern sphere. Tokyo has the hideous monster, specter of modernity gone amuck.  “No thanks!” the maiko seems to say. “Stay in your lane, Godzilla-kun.  Hands off our tower.”

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, postponed to July 2021, offer an intriguing background.  The Kyoto Tower, opened in December 1964, a couple months after the Tokyo Olympics.  Tokyo may have a delayed Olympics this year, but Godzilla is visiting Kyoto and its Tower!

A Comic Diversion amid Olympic Concerns

Adorable monsters and tourists stroll across the bottom of Nakamura’s poster. They create a lighthearted pop cultural moment, moving freely in public after isolation. Here, sadly, the poster’s optimism belies the unabated spread of the pandemic in 2021, the slow roll-out of the vaccine in Japan, and  opposition in Japan to holding the Olympics amid the pandemic. The monsters pose a cheerful deflection.

A Different Story of Godzilla and Maiko in the 1950s

Charming icons of cute today, the monster and the maiko represented quite different views of Japan in the 1950s.

Original movie poster of Godzilla

Godzilla 1954 Japanese poster. Wikimedia Commons.

The original 1954 Japanese film, pronounced Gojira, aimed for an adult audience. It carried a serious, anti-nuclear message.  Godzilla was a peaceable, deep-sea giant who was mutated by U.S. hydrogen bomb testing in the South Pacific.  The trauma causes him to rise and attack Tokyo (Tsutsui 2010). In 1954, Godzilla resonated in Japan with the traumas of war, defeat, occupation, and of course, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Also in 1954, Japanese fishermen aboard the Lucky Dragon suffered radiation poisoning amid U.S. nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll.

In the 1960s, however, in the era of Japan’s high-speed economic growth, Japanese Godzilla producers wanted to appeal to children. They tamed the monster’s image (Guthrie-Shimizu 59). Gerow observes that “Godzilla shifts from being a frightening beast to a fatherly hero defending Japan” (64).  Between 1954 and 2004, Godzilla appeared in 28 Toho studios films (Tsutsui  2010: 79). Today, like Hello Kitty, Godzilla has become “camp/cool”; both are globally famous as Japanese icons (Yano 153).

Godzilla, Cultural Ambassador

Movie poster of Godzilla, King of the Monsters advertises the 1956 film release

1956 movie poster. Wikipedia.

As Tsutsui observes, Godzilla served as many moviegoers’ first introduction to Japan (2006: 2).  The American adaptation, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, debuted in the U.S. in 1956, billed as another among a spate of monster B-movies (Guthrie-Shimizu 52-53).  Anti-American messages or serious reflections on nuclear issues were removed. Reflecting on Godzilla’s status as a long-time ambassador for Japanese popular culture, Tsutsui notes that a “1985 New York Times/ CBS News Poll famously found that the king of the monsters was one of the three best-known ‘Japanese people’ among Americans (2006: 2).

The Maiko’s Changing Representation

Gion Bayashi poster.

In the 1950s top-selling Japanese films about maiko represented her as victim, too. As I discuss in Ch. 4 in Maiko Masquerade, Mizoguchi’s 1953 film A Geisha (Gion bayashi), for example, depicts the maiko as harassed by clients and teahouse managers alike. Mizoguchi sees her world as beautiful and artistic, but also corrupt.

Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san, manga by Koyama Aiko. 2017

Maiko tales of the 2000s tell a different story. The popular manga, now anime, Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House imagines a girls’ world of friendship and comfort foods. Like Godzilla in Nakamura’s poster, she, too, stands for playful Japan.

 

 

Toying with the Maiko Godzilla Face-off .

Toy icons.  Chapel Hill, NC 2021

REFERENCES

For all things Godzilla, see the work of William M. Tsutsui:

Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage. Co-edited with Michiko Ito. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization. Key Issues in Asian Studies. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, Inc., 2010.

Just a few of the provocative articles in Tsutsui & Ito’s co-edited book:

Gerow, Aaron. “Wrestling with Godzilla: Intertextuality, Childish Spectatorship, and the National Body.”  63-82 in In Godzilla’s Footsteps.

Guthrie-Shimizu, Sayuri. “Lost in Translation and Morphed in Transit: Godzilla in Cold War America.” 51-62 in In Godzilla’s Footsteps.

Yano, Christine R.  “Monstering the Japanese Cute: Pink Globalization and Its Critics Abroad.” 153- 66 in In Godzilla’s Footsteps.

Jan Bardsley, “The Maiko Godzilla Face-Off,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/  July 23, 2021.

Enjoying summer breezes at Kamo River, Kyoto

Outside Dining at Kamo River on Raised Platforms

How does Kyoto’s Kamo River become a festive site of outdoor dining in early summer? What does this mean for maiko and geiko? This post explores the custom of erecting raised yuka platforms and the changes wrought by Covid-19.  Seeing these photos also takes me back to a delightful student party on the platforms, too.

What are the raised platforms 納涼床?

Noryo-yuka by einalem. 2007. Wikimedia Commons.

This photo shows the platforms open for outdoor seating. They extend from a row of restaurants in the Pontochō district and overlook the Kamogawa “riverbed” (kawadoko). 

Japanese accounts use the term 納涼床, pronounced nōryō-yuka or nōryō-doko. Jim Breen translates this as “raised platform on the bank of a river for enjoying the summer cool.” Visiting the website of the Kyoto Kamo River Nōryō-yuka Association, I found a detailed history. Here are some highlights. (Check their site for breathtaking photos.)

Roots in the 1600s Entertainment District

“Shijo Kawara Yusuzumi Kiitsu” by Yōzaburō Shirahata. “History of Kamo River Nouryou-yuka” 2021. https://yuka-kyoto.com/history/

The custom of enjoying the river breeze while dining outside dates back to the early 1600s when the riverbed became an entertainment district. Artist Shirahata’s print here shows people seated on mats directly on the riverbed. Wealthy clients sit on raised platforms outside the teahouses.  In the mid-Edo period (1603-1867), access to riverbed seating became regulated, allowing teahouses only a limited number of outside seats.  (History of Kamo River Nouryou-Yuka).

Evening Cool on the Riverbank

I’m re Evening Cool on the Riverbank. Utagawa Toyohiro (1773-1828). British Museum. Part of woodblock triptych.

The custom inspired artists, photographers, and writers.  This ukiyo-e (woodblock print) by Utagawa Toyohiro creates a sensual nōryō-yuka scene. The river flows, the robes flow, and perhaps the sake flows, too. In Geisha (1983), Liza Dalby observes how the print shows  “a geisha holding a shamisen, a maid with a kettle of sake, and a lady of pleasure on a wooden veranda over the Kamo River in the early 1800s” (50). 

I’m reminded that women in the 2000s enjoy the nōryō-yuka experience for their own pleasure.

Modern Summer Festivity

ca. 1870-1900. Rijksmuseum. Wikimedia Commons.

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), platforms were regularly erected in July and August. This photo features nōryō-yuka and apprentice geisha together as signs of summer leisure in Kyoto.  Today, too, one may catch sight of maiko and geiko hired to attend riverside parties. Walking along the river in 2015, I happened to see a maiko’s bright hair ornament (kanzashi) through the open window of a restaurant above the platforms. One also sees many groups of young people relaxing on the riverbanks closer to the water, enjoying the experience for free, rather like the crowds that flocked there centuries ago.

A Whiff of Nostalgia in the 2000s

This 2005 daytime photo captures the look of buildings that reflect a bygone era. In 1955, 40-50 establishments sought permission to construct platforms; in 2015, over 100 did. (History of Kamo River Nouryou-Yuka).

Photo by Wolfiewolf from Pontocho, Nakagyo, Kyoto. Wikimedia Commons, 2005.

Walking across the bridges over the Kamo River at night, one catches sight of yuka festivities.  It looks like a blaze of fun!

This reminds me of a wonderful farewell party. In 2005, UNC students, our guides, teachers, and I celebrated the end of our summer study with a nōryō-yuka party.  The weather was perfect.  We’d become a close group. The students had worked hard, literally day and night, learning about Japanese culture, education, and theater. They attended field trips, gave class presentations, and did their own research projects. Funny, I don’t have any photos of this memorable party, but I will never forget it. I wish I could have invited a maiko to join us but that was beyond our budget.

Closed in 2020, Platforms open again in 2021

View at Twilight. Photo by MShades. 2006. Wikimedia Commons

On May 1, 2021, the platforms along the Kamo River opened once again. But, with a twist–shorter hours and no alcohol–in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. According to Kyoto Shinbun, the season will extend through October this year, given the warmer months of early autumn. I hope visitors enjoy this year’s nōryō-yuka safely.

 

References
Liza Dalby. Geisha. University of California Press, 1983; 2008.

Find a detailed history of the yuka in English and Japanese : https://www.kyoto-yuka.com/about/history.html ; In English, https://yuka-kyoto.com/

You can find an intriguing historical analysis of nōryō-yuka at RADIANT, Ritsumeikan University Research Report: Issue #7, Kyoto: http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/research/radiant/eng/kyoto/story6.html/

Jan Bardsley, “Enjoying summer breezes at Kamo River, Kyoto,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, May 5, 2021.