One of the things you see a lot of in Japan are the old tiny stores selling traditional things. Here’s one gloriously over stocked hakimonoya, a traditional foot wear store that I passed in Omiya city in Saitama prefecture north of Tokyo. The Japanese merchant custom of putting a lot of their wares on the street is naturally due to small spaces and the fact that Japanese shops, restaurants and cafes love having huge menus, lots of choices to pick from. All kinds of Japanese stores have huge choices! I have never been in the market for these kinds of traditional footwear so I wouldn’t be able to identify half of these items or the prices, but it’s great to see these hold out stores in local neighborhoods.
Although the traditional costume of the Awaodori dancers are somewhat strict, there is still plenty of room for improvisation, adaptation and individualization. One of the teams that have decided upon wearing radically different costumes is the comparatively recently formed Nihoren, 弐穂連. They started as a traditional dance troupe in 2000 (I think they are based in the Western Tokyo town of Koganei, 小金井) and have since developed a unique costume and their own particular way of dancing that is somewhat slower and more “elegant” than the usual manner of dance.
The main feature of their costume is that that instead of the folded rice hat the ladies wear traditional Japanese handkerchiefs, tenugui (手ぬぐい) wrapped around their faces and held fast in their mouths. This is a style that is said to origin in the Edo period of Japanese history, when a young princess was so eager to join the festivals she could see from her room in the castle that she disguised herself with a handkerchief and stole out to participate. On the last photo you can also note the fan sticking out the princess’s obi, although some there are rumors that the real princess of the legend actually wore a concealed dagger rather than a fan! Of course the ladies can’t join the singing, but the male dancers (or the female dancers in the male roles) make up for it by being even more boisterous and staying close to the working class roots of the awaodori dance, the loose fitting, bare shouldered costume was typical for many of the workmen who built the castles in Japan’s medieval period.
Nihoren is still a small troupe but with a unique and fantastic performance, and actively recruiting new members. If you get a chance to see them, this team should be high on your list. Personally I just can’t get enough of the ladies with the handkerchiefs. Any student of classical Japanese art will understand the significance of the image of the noble lady clenching thin cloth with her teeth.
Naturally, when I meet people visiting Tokyo for the first time, I ask them what they photographed and also what they wish they had taken more photos of. The answer is always the same, no matter whom I talk to, everyone tells me that they regret not taking more pictures of the crowds, of the people. And I agree. I have lived here for a long time but can still spend an entire day at any street corner just watching people pass by. Of course, the most bang for your buck is to be had on the hip street corners of Harajuku, Omotesando and Shibuya. The other night I was meeting up with a friend in Harajuku and decided to try a little bit of street photography, just getting as many decent photos of random people as possible in the half hour I had to wait. Here’s some of the photos I took, while it’s not crowd photography exactly, imagine that you are standing on a busy street a warm summer evening and all these people pass by, one or two persons every second. I took these with my Nikon D3s and 135mm lens, which on a full frame camera still forces you to be pretty close to the subject. I wish I had more courage to ask them to actually pose for me!
Still, the less said about the fashion we have been seeing this summer the better. I tried to include as little as possible of what have been in the stores recently but still it was hard. I love the Dr Spock look-alike! The last picture is from a few days later, in Yurakucho, a much richer and more business minded area next to the Ginza. Enjoy!
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