Tokyobling's Blog

Miniature Train Rides in Kitashinagawa

Posted in Places by tokyobling on December 12, 2014

If you ever want to try ride the smallest Shinkansen train in the world just head over to the Kitashinagawa Shukumatsuri in autumn every year. I saw these two very happy looking volunteers taking the local kids out for a spin on a train line that must have been at least one hundred meters long, Shinkansen in one end and small steam engine looking train in the other. I felt a little bit weird stepping over the track to avoid the train as it came hurtling towards me at almost 6 km/h, but the siren sounded almost as fierce as on a normal sized train!

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Police Officer for a day – Yuri Takami

Posted in People by tokyobling on October 7, 2014

At the Shinagawa Shukumatsuri a couple of weeks ago I happened by chance to be right at the spot where the police parade was assembling. One of the members of the parade was the famous TV announcer and show hostess Yuri Takami (高見侑里). She has quite a fan base and there were photographers and autograph hunters everywhere! I was the only foreigner in the crowd and still managed to get the best spot and even a mention in one of the speeches. She is currently on two famous TV morning shows, the Mezamashidoyobi (on Saturdays) and the Mezamashi Terebi Akua (めざましどようび, めざましテレビ アクア). You can see her in a Nissan Commercial here.

Why the police uniform? In order to promote the police and fire brigades here in Japan their PR departments have invented a “Police officer for a day” program where celebrities and notable locals (almost always young ladies) take part in parades and various performances as an honorary police officer for a day. It seems like a nice project to take part in and one of my friends who did was happy to show me the memorabilia she received as thanks, quite cool stuff. Of course it is all in good fun and none of the participants are given any real police power. In this case Ms. Takami got to ride in an open care with the local chief of police and just look smashing in her uniform.

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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.

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Oiran Parade – Kitashinagawa

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on October 1, 2012

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.








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