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.

 

*********************************************

 

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/

 

 

  • Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley 6y

    Wow, great one. That hair... man.
  • Clever Poet (beebe) PRO 6y

    She is lovely.
  • josefnovak33 6y

    In this decent pose more beautiful than in the swimsuit.
  • PBY 6y

    Keep going this wonderful OLD JAPANESE PHOTO ARCHIVE. It's very interesting, and a lot of photo are beautiful.

    It's nice to see such natural photo of a Geisha. She's beautiful.

    I think that Geisha culture is now totally shadowed by what the tourist want to see. A lot of others cultural things are denatured when it becomes a tourist attraction.

    Who other than Geisha would be model at a time where no professional model existed? Geisha must have been the nearest job to the model job.
  • Miegiku 6y

    There is a Geiko in Gion Kobu named Koman. I've always liked that name.

    Beautiful photo Okinawa Soba!
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) PRO 6y

    Hi Meigiku. Yes, it is a nice photo. It would be nice to find it as real-photo postcard someday. I'm sure there must be many more poses and pics of her out there to collect !

    By the way, does the KOMAN you mention also have a great head of luxuriant hair like the one above ? Or, perhaps the Kanji of her name is different.....?
  • Miegiku 6y

    It is probably written differently. If you can compare, this is her name in Kanji:
    小萬

    I don't know about her hair... but I do know that she is a good dancer.
  • Rea Family 6y

    Great picture... I would love to read the article if you have a link.... some of the articles mentioned before have been fascinating reads..
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) PRO 6y

    Hi Rea. It's a large, A3 size 1904 outtake.Three pages on two sheets of cracking, acidified pulp ! I just shot the images with a digital camera rather than manhandling it in a scanner.

    So, the text of the 1904 story is not copied or scanned yet. And the Wikipedia link I gave for the author YONE NOGUCHI does not even mention the magazine in its substantial periodical listing at the bottom --- and therefore no transcribed Web page to see it on ?

    Hmmmm. I suppose I will have to scan it eventually, and post the contents. In the meantime, I will access it again in a day or two, and add the publication info to the caption for those that want to track down a personal copy at the local flea market or paper show !
  • dididumm PRO 6y

    That hair is just awesone, I bet it's really annoying to deal with it, but it looks so beautiful.
  • Hasume Geiko-Henshin 3y

    Okinawa Soba (Rob) what breath-taking beauty. Do you have any idea how old she was in this shot?
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) PRO 3y

    Hasume Geiko-Henshin I think she's an older teenager here. But, it's possible she's an old maid of 20 to 22.
8,970 views
37 faves
12 comments
Uploaded on March 5, 2009
This photo is in 1 album

Additional info

  • Viewing this photo Public
  • Safety level of this photo Safe
  • S Search
    Photo navigation
    < > Thumbnail navigation
    Z Zoom
    B Back to context