Tokyobling's Blog

Oiran Parade – Shinagawa-Shukumatsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on September 29, 2014

This weekend saw the annual two day Shinagawa-Shukumatsuri (品川宿場まつり), most famous for its Oiran parade. The festival is to celebrate the hugely important old Tokaido, which was an ancient “highway” connecting all the province capitals of the southern central part of Japan. In Edo times, the main part of the route started at Tokyo’s Nihonbashi (hence the old saying “All roads lead to Nihonbashi”, not Rome, in this case) and ended up in Kyoto. The trip which was 487.8km took 12 days and was absolutely all inclusive. The road was well maintained with paving, guards, toll stations and trees were even planted along the road to protect the travelers from sun and wind. On the road there were 53 waystations, or Shukuba (宿場) where travelers could change horses, hire porters or palanquins, get fed and find a place to sleep. Naturally the Shukuba competed to attract customers so there were also entertainment, bars, souvenirs and special food to entice people to spend their nights. You can still see these traditions carried on at the many highway rest stops around Japan. The word “shuku” is often to be found in place names, so it is easy to figure out if place used to a shukuba on the Tokaido or any of the many other classical highways in Japan. Shinjuku is a good example, the word meaning “the new shuku”.

The first of the Shukuba was the one in Shinagawa (only 7.8km from Nihonbashi), in present day Kitashinagawa. Being so close to Tokyo it must have been popular with people who wanted to get rested before the final part of the trip or even people from Edo not traveling but still wanting to sample the atmosphere. At Kitashinagawa the highway is still there and the width of the street has been preserved. To celebrate the old shukuba tradition the oiran parade is held on the first day of the festival. Unlike the Oiran parade in Asakusa, there are several oiran taking part in this one and the popularity of the festival is increasing for every year. This year there was quite a lot of media coverage and of course the crowds grew quite a lot. The parade stretch is about 2km though, so if you avoid the most crowded spots you should be able to find a good spot to view it!

Oiran are famous for these parades which used to be held every evening when the oiran (think a very old fashioned geisha) used to go from her house to the restaurant or home of a client. The lavish parade was part of the high status, and she was always accompanied by an umbrella carrier, an assistant and any number of hanger ons, staff, apprentices and bosses. Oiran would wear very tall, three pronged clogs and walk in a slow fashion, sweeping her legs in front of her at every step of the way. It must have been something to see and I can imagine quite inconvenient for people in a hurry along these narrow streets.
















13 Responses

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  1. Celia said, on September 29, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Wow! I just don’t know how they walk in those geta!


    • tokyobling said, on September 30, 2014 at 1:47 am

      Must be tricky. But I saw a man the following day in a single pronged geta. Now that takes skill!!


  2. taroikai said, on September 29, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Google led me to your wonderful blog when I searched for ‘Tokyo Strobist’. You make killer photographs, and capture Tokyo in exactly the way I wish to. Thanks. I hope to keep coming here.


    • tokyobling said, on September 30, 2014 at 1:47 am

      Thank you Tarokai, you are much too kind! Looking forward to having you here! (^-^)


  3. amadl said, on September 30, 2014 at 2:30 am

    Great photos as aLways! And thanks for the history info on Tokaido, I aLways thought the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto wouLd take weeks or even months ^^;


    • tokyobling said, on September 30, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Thank you for the kind comment amadl! Yes, me too. But it is eminently doable. I am kind of tempted to try it out myself since there are actually still hotels at everyone of the 53 rest stops!


      • amadl said, on September 30, 2014 at 8:04 am

        ReaLLy? By foot Like the oLd days? :p
        If you reaLLy do it, don’t forget to share with us, I bet there are tons of great photogenic objects aLong the way


        • tokyobling said, on September 30, 2014 at 11:50 am

          I’m sure it would be fantastic fun! Only problem is getting such a long holiday… (^-^;)


  4. Timi said, on October 5, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    They are really a sight to see! Thanks for the great photos. Also I was thinking about it, is there any meaning in the way she walks (sweeping the legs etc.) other than to make it..more interesting?


    • tokyobling said, on October 6, 2014 at 1:15 am

      Thanks! I am sure there is a meaning, but it could also just be a way to balance your progress, it would be very hard to walk upright normally with this kind of footwear, and tiring too, I guess. (^-^;) I have to do more research!


      • Timi said, on October 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm

        Hmm that’s true. After all it’s impossible to raise your foot in a kimono that high 😮 still interested, I’ll try to look up as well 😀


  5. rudyhou said, on October 14, 2014 at 8:44 am

    wow. awesome pictures. the many geisha-like models remind me of kyoto. my most favorite city in japan.


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