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.
















More Yoshiwara Oiran Parade

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on April 17, 2014

More photos from the Oiran parade in Tokyo’s Asakusa district last weekend. I have been going for a few years now and this year the crowd was the biggest yet. Maybe word is getting out? There is a far bigger parade with several orian in Kitashinagawa every year that has far fewer people. I guess Asakusa is just better branded than Kitashinagawa (although Kitashinagawa also lays claim to some great Godzilla fame!). The day was sunny and the crowds wild. At the end of the parade I got a chance to sneak up in front and get some group photos of the main participants just before they turned around and went to their temporary headquarters in a nearby school. I love the face one of the young assistants to the oiran is making in one of the photos, she must have had an itchy nose!

The orian have a very special way of walking, as in every third step they take they sweep their feet very low in a wide arc, difficult to catch in photos but it looks quite spectacular and is unique as far as I know. You can tell from their three-pronged (remember that normal Japanese shoes have two prongs while monks and tengu have one!) shoes and the way they are scratched bare how low they go in that special step.












Oiran Parade – Asakusa Yoshiwara

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on April 15, 2014

Saturday saw the annual Oiran revival parade through the streets of northern Asakusa, complete with fox dancers, one oiran and a number of geisha and various retainers and servants. The parade is just a reenactment of customs that were considered quaint and old fashioned even in the mid Edo-period (18th century). The location of the parade is not a coincidence, as it takes place a couple of blocks south of the old walled city within the city, the famous Yoshiwara district of Asakusa which was one of Tokyo’s most talked about pleasure or red light districts. Today absolutely nothing remains of the old Yoshiwara itself though except parts of the old street pattern. People today associate Yoshiwara with the old sex industry but in fact Yoshiwara was also home of comedians, professional story tellers and the 18th century equivalent of avant garde fashion houses.

The weather on this sunny Saturday was fantastic and I took plenty of photos, here are a first bunch, with more to come later on.












Asakusa Oiran Parade

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on April 24, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I saw these two wonderfully dressed up girls taking part in the annual oiran parade in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. You might remember my post about the much bigger oiran parade in Kitashinagawa last year, where I wrote more about the history of the oiran women of old Edo. These girls took on the part of maids to the older oiran and the parade is meant to reenact the oiran ritual of going out to visit a customer at a restaurant. Real oiran (which were the predecessor of the much more famous geisha) haven’t been seen on the streets of Edo (or Tokyo) since the 18th century and even then they were considered old fashioned.

These two maids did great in the cold weather and intense sun of this unusually sunny day. It is very difficult to take good photos when there is too much or too little light though! I hope you don’t mind.




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