HER NAME IS KOMAN -- The Tokyo Geisha with the Cloud of Hair

See her in a more colorful pose here :

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2336937010/in/set-7215...

 

Photo by K. OGAWA, taken in his Tokyo studio. Cropped from a larger image that included more of the studio background.

 

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March 4, 2009. Today marks the first Anniversary of this FLICKr ARCHIVE OF OLD JAPANESE PHOTOGRAPHS. The original plan was to stop at 300 photos..... What happened ?

 

THE GEISHA GIRL OF JAPAN

 

This is the ornate title heading of a large format article by Yone Noguchi, seen HERE :

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/3329199977/in/photostr...

 

The author himself may be seen HERE :

 

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yone_Noguchi

 

Although I only show the illustrated heading, in the unshown body of the text, Noguchi describes in detail both the idealized public image, and the practical realities of a Japanese Geisha --- including the true nature of her employment, and the various activities she performed in that capacity. (Again, with apologies, his lengthy essay will not be transcribed here).

 

During the past year, I have gotten some comments that took exception to my recurring explanation that.....

 

GEISHA WERE --- IN MOST CASES --- THE MODELS USED BY JAPANESE PHOTOGRAPHERS TO PORTRAY THE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF JAPAN AND ITS WOMEN. THIS WAS ESPECIALLY TRUE FOR STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY DURING THE LAST HALF OF THE MEIJI ERA, AND THE EARLY YEARS OF THE TAISHO ERA.

 

Here's a paraphrased composite of a few well-meaning complaints :

 

"....Okinawa_Soba, you should learn something about Japan before posting your pictures, and writing captions. These women with their long hair hanging down.... in bathing suits... showing boobs.... cutting vegetables.... cleaning the floor.... dressed in Western gowns (etc etc) were NOT GEISHA !!! These models were just regular women off the streets......"

 

Etc etc.

 

Well, at least I have carefully explained the history of the Japanese KIMONO right here :

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2347140752/ (hehehe)

 

Seriously, though, as the old Meiji-era images of identified GEISHA (such as those in the above Title Photo show), they appear in any manner of costume, in any manner of Kimono, with hair up or down, doing yard work, pulling weeds, gathering flowers, modeling the latest bathing suits, or whatever the photographers and director needed them to be.

 

And while dressing in these "out of character" roles for the camera as flexible models, they were all still GEISHA, doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing as part of their GEISHA existence.

 

In the very early days of photography, the photographers would occasionally use their wives and family members (or even mistresses) if they would agree to it --- some did not want to be photographed due to both superstition, and fear of being criticized for allowing men who were strangers to buy and look at their images. In such touchy cases, the photographers would sometimes employ prostitutes.

 

However, as the Meiji era and photography moved on, the wives, mistresses and prostitutes were gradually replaced by GEISHA in the Studio shots needing women. It seems that this transition was fairly complete by the 1880s, and the 1890s for sure --- the period of most (but not all) of the old Japanese studio images on my photostream, running right through to about 1915 or so.

 

The 1920s seemed to belong to the Maiko of Kyoto, with the popularity of their images, and kimono with the long Obi in the back, subverting the former primacy of Geisha images.

 

From the 1930s on, postcards of Movie Stars gradually replaced those of the Maiko and Geisha in popularity. This seems only natural, as the Geisha entertained the few (and those usually being only the man), while the Movie Star entertained not only everyone in Japan, but also the world.

 

This is the last time I will be mentioning these things about GEISHA and PHOTOGRAPHY. So, I politely request that all of you GEISHA LOVERS who are tempted to "straighten me out" on the subject (and thank God it's only a few of you) please hold your horses --- keeping in mind that the Geisha of today ply their trade as anachronistic shells of the former originals (though sometimes very talented, and pretty shells, indeed).

 

Those who have a further interest in the practical employments of a real Meiji-era Japanese Geisha would do well to read the caption under this photo, where old Japanese text is again quoted for our instruction : www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2802613366/in/set-7215...

 

Two for the road : www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2550688260/

 

 

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Uploaded on March 5, 2009