8/15 is a special day for many Japanese, called “Obon” (お盆). (For people in some areas, it is 7/15.)
Is is said that the souls of your ancestors come back to the living world on this day, so that we celebrate and welcome them. As a custom, many Japanese take their summer vacation on the week of 8/15.
“Okuribi” (送り火) is the event to see off the souls going back to the world of afterlife. There are 2 major kinds of “Okuribi”. One is done on the hill, called “Yama no Okuribi”, (山の送り火) and the other one is done in the water, called “Umi no Okuribi” (海の送り火). “Umi no Okuribi” is “Toro Nagashi” (灯籠流し) in another words.
“Gozan Okuribi” (五山送り火) in Kyoto is the most famous one of “Yamano Okuribi” and many tourists look forward to seeing it. “Gozan” means 5 hills, then, there are 5 places that fire at the same time on 8/16.
This represents the Kanji character, “大”. Why this character is not known clearly, but some say it depicts the shape of human.
There are characters that represent “Torii”(鳥居), a shrine gate and a boat.
“Okuribi” is one of representatives of Summer traditional events in Kyoto.
If you have a chance to visit Kyoto in summer, why don’t you try feeling Japanese “Obon” ?
Christmas was initially introduced to Japan with the arrival of the first Europeans in the 16th century. But only in recent decades has the event become widely popular in Japan, and this despite the fact that Christians make up only about two percent of the population. Though Christianity is a minority religion but Japan is a freedom of religion. Yes, we do cerebrate Christmas. People are taking up traditions such as decorating their home, giving presents to friends and celebrating the event with a special meal.
During this holiday season, Japanese send New Year’s card rather than Christmas card. Design of New Year’s card is very traditional or formal but we have many unique designs that mix and match Japanese culture with traditional western Christmas imagery. When Santa Claus is involved, it is always cute !
Do you think this is just a Christmas imagery ? Not really. Actually Santa Claus coming from Finland sometimes stop by to meet Maiko in Kyoto before visiting children. I wonder what was his present for them!
Do you know what is Ukiyoe (浮世絵) ?
Although many of you may have heard the word, it is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17 and 20th centuries.
“Ukiyo”(浮世) literally means “Floating world” where current life exists, but not exactly real life or another life.
So that, the motifs of Ukiyoe had been not only beautiful landscapes but also, sexy lives, dramas, and fashionable cultures at that time.
At beginning (about 1657-1763), most of Ukiyoe motifs were beautiful women and Kabuki actors.
Motif of beautiful woman was limited to high ranked prostitute, or hetaera, at first, then expanded to Geisha, waitresses in the restaurants, and even to ordinary pretty young women.
Allegedly, Hishikawa Moronobu (菱川師宣) is the pioneer of Ukiyoe, and one of very famous Ukiyoe artists we know. His representative work is “Mikaeri Bijin” (見返り美人), meaning “back looking Beautiful woman”.
Mikaeri Bijin by Hishikawa Moronobu
Kansei San-Bijin by Kitagawa Utamaro
As Ukiyoe played a role of poster or bormide for Kabuki actors, it spreaded to deal with Sumo restlers, as well.
In the mid-term (about 1764-1803), Ukiyoe artist started picturing daily lives of Samurai and went into illustrating books, which became one of thier important works.
Illustration in the book “Tokaidochu Hizakurige” by Jippensha Ikku
Latterly (about 1804-1868), in alignment with sublimated town culture of the society, themes of Ukiyoe diverged into details, where areas of “Landscapes” and “Birds and Flowers” developed and came into fashion.
They depicted daily lives, travel lives, and admiration for nature of the people, humbly but outstandingly.
Katsushika Hokusai is one of the reporesentative of this time, and he is one of the most famous Ukiyoe artists we know, as well.
Fugaku Sanjurokkei Sunsyu Ejiri by Hokusai
Flower by Hokusai
It is said that he influenced Vincent van Gogh , a famous impressionist painter from Netherland in 19th centuries.
Hokusai was so mysterious that it has been said that Toshusai Sharaku (東洲斎写楽) and Hokusai is a same person although Sharaku has been treated as one independent Ukiyoe artist, who suddenly disappeared after his short term activities.
Otani Oniji, a Kabuki actor, by Sharaku
There were hundreds of Ukiyoe artists, and it is impossible to describe about all of them !
Ukiyoe had another aspect that played a important role of “media”.
For example, when famous people died, their portraits were printed and published with their past record and condolences.
It can be said that Ukiyoe had some influece on the newspaper that develpled in later period.
Now, we found fabrics for Kimono and Juban that have motifs of Ukiyoe, and made them on sale on our shop page. They are very interesting and rare items.
“Ukiyoe” Pattern Silk Bolt – “Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi” — Motif of ”Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi” by Utagawa Hiroshige .
Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi Hodogaya by Hiroshige
“Ukiyoe” Pattern Silk Bolt “Geisha” and “Kabuki” — Motif of Geisha and Kabuki actors
We hope any of you, who are interested in Ukiyoe and Kimono, will enjoy them !
If you get a chance to visit Japan, where do you want to go?
As far as we know, many foreign tourists would answer “Tsukiji,” ”Shibuya,” ”Asakusa,” and so on. All of these spots in Tokyo are popular among tourists. They would also answer, “Kyoto” or “Nara,” where many historical shrines and temples are located. Most Japan guidebooks for foreigners focus on Tokyo and Kyoto, so these answers are only natural.
Do you know how many prefectures there are in Japan? Japan is a small country, but it has, surprisingly, 47 prefectures. If you are interested in those prefectures, you can get useful information just by going to shops in Tokyo. These shops are called “Antenna Shop, run by a number of Japan’s prefectures, cities and regions as a means to introduce and market themselves, as well as to acquire a sense of consumer trends and tastes outside their own borders.
There are about sixty of these shops in Tokyo—the most advantageous location from which to promote regional specialties—and each presents a friendly introduction to a prefecture or region in Japan. Antenna shops encourage travel and tourism, and promote unique food specialties as well as new ideas and products using traditional ingredients.
In a recent survey of Tokyoites the main reason why they go to antenna shops is to pick up regional food products. The next popular answer was that it was interesting to explore antenna shops followed by picking up brochures for future trips to that prefecture. The other big answer was that people were longing for foods and products from their hometown so came to antenna shops to pick these up.
Some antenna shops also house restaurants: for example, one of the Yamagata Prefecture shops features a popular restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine made with local produce, overseen by a well-known Yamagata chef.
After getting the real taste of a place, customers may be tempted to buy special souvenirs of that locale to round out their “out-of-Tokyo experience.” Traditional local crafts are always popular, such as the handmade lacquerware sold at the Ishikawa Prefecture store, or the lovely kyo-sensu (fans) sold at the Kyoto store which is in front of Tokyo Station. Sometimes, maikos are coming to Tokyo from Kyoto and show their dance performance at Kyoto antenna shop. They also have a facebook page.
Even though Japan is a small country, every area has its original culture. By seeing those shops, we are sure that you will find a prefecture you want to visit in Japan. Or you may even feel like you’ve actually visited many prefectures!
On Sunday Aug. 25, Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel will be host to the spirit of traditional capital Kyoto and the previous life of Tokyo, when it was known as Edo. This show will feature classical dance performances by geiko and maiko from Kyoto, and geisha from Tokyo, a highly unusual combination of extraordinarily accomplished artists representing some of the nation’s most refined schools from its two most respected centers of Japanese dance.
Did you know that Maiko, Geiko and Geisha are different ?
What is Geisha ?
The word Geisha literally translates to “arts person” or “one trained in arts” (gei = art, sha = person). It is also sometimes described as “women of arts, which is exactly what a Geisha is – a woman trained in the traditional arts of Japan such as dance, music, singing to name a few.
What is Maiko ?
The word Maiko literally translates to “dancing child” (mai = dance,ko = child), but is also referred to as “dancing girl”. A Maiko is an apprentice Geisha who must must undergo a period of training that generally takes 5 years, where she learns the various “gei” (arts) such as dancing, singing, music etc before she becomes a Geisha.
What is Geiko ?
The word Geiko is another way of saying Geisha. It is predominately used by Geisha of the Kyoto districts.
Now, you know the difference. Kyoto’s geiko and maiko at the Imperial are from Gionkobu, the largest entertainment district in the old capital, established at the end of the Edo Period. Tokyo’s geisha are from the Shimbashi district, an entertainment section of the city of Edo established in the Ansei Era between 1854 and 1860 and by the Meiji Era one of the new country’s most active cultural centers. The joint performances of Kyoto’s geiko and maiko and Tokyo’s geisha is a highly unusual opportunity to enjoy these two distinctive dance troupes at the same venue at the same time.
Even most of Japanese never have a chance to see Maiko dance nor Geisha dance. How much does the ticket cost ? Well, including dinner and dance performance, 32,000yen (400 USD)per person. That makes sense that I never had a chance to see that.