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.