Oiran Parade – Kitashinagawa
Before there were Geisha in Japan there were Oiran (花魁), a different class of courtesans who live very formal lives in specially designated “flower towns” around Japan. These Oiran led lives so formalized and so cut of from the rest of the society that even their customers came to think of them as too old fashioned, and the practice of training young women into Oiran died out probably as early as the mid 18th century, instead a new class of women became popular, the far more easy going Geisha. Although the original Oiran are long gone and doomed never to reappear, the tradition with the Oiran formal parade has been revived in some towns around Japan. The parade stems from the tradition that when Oiran were called out to visit customers, they would always do so in a highly ritualized procession, walking on very tall platform sandals accompanied by a parasol bearer who carried the 25kg heavy paper umbrella behind her, as well as a whole host of other servants, retinue and guards. I took these pictures in Kitashinagawa (北品川), where they hold a Edo themed festival at the end of September every year.
A few years ago there was a hugely famous movie release here in Japan, Sakuran, that depicts the life of one of these Oiran. The movie itself is highly stylized with a language and music that is much more modern than the era it portrays. It is interesting to note that the “rude” expressions and phrases used by young women (gyaru) today in Tokyo and Osaka is very similar to formal court language used by these Oiran all those centuries ago. I wonder how it survived? Rude Japanese language really bothers me so I won’t give any examples here. The movie was based on a famous manga with the same name by Moyoco Anno. Director of photography is Japan’s most famous female photographer, Mika Ninagawa and stars Anna Tsuchiya (who is a Japanese-American mixed race multi talented actress-singe-model). Although probably against all rules, there seems to be a copy of the movie on Youtube, if you are interested I recommend renting or buying the original, it is a quite beautifully crafted movie.