Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The best cup of tea

Hello all, Kendra here. On Monday Aaron, Andrea, and I went to this really nice Shrine in Kyoto to see the plum blossoms. The cool thing about plum blossoms is that they bloom despite the cold and the snow.So, yadda yadda a big metaphor for perseverance against all odds, Japanese people love plum blossoms almost as much as cherry blossoms (whose message is not as cheerful; their message is "life is short and beautiful then we die"). But the really awesome thing about this trip was, we got tickets that got us into this area where we got served tea. So what? you say. Read on!

Here is the Shrine's top with the pink and white blossoms below.

Oh, but who is this? This is maiko-san. An apprentice geisha basically. Kyoto is really the only place left in Japan that has this sort of maiko. There used to be hundreds of young girls going into the geisha world, but now a days the numbers are very low. So seeing them is a big deal. They are, contrary to American belief, not prostitutes of any sort. They are artists at heart. Learning shamisen (like a Japanese 3 stringed lute), drums, singing, calligraphy, dancing, tea ceremony and other stuff too. They entertain at expensive parties that are not really open to the public. They fill drinks, make jokes, basically they are professional "life of the party" people who also happen to be classically trained in traditional Japanese arts. Their trademark of course being their garb; the kimono. The complete kimono set that this maiko is wearing cost more than my car back home.

So at this event you could either sit around a raised table or wait for your turn on the floor.We opted to wait for the floor because you get to see better and the geisha actually sit right in front of you. This picture is of a different maiko-san from the back. Her obi (the tie around her waist) is tied in distinctive maiko fashion; called a "dangling obi" in English. The obi when undone is about 8 meters long. Only maiko wear their obi like this. It is extremely heavy, sometimes I wonder how they can walk in so much fabric. See how at her neck their are subtle lines that are unpainted skin, that is also a geisha trademark. It's said to allude to other feminine parts, get my drift?

Here are 3 maiko-san serving tea. Notice how their hair ornaments are slightly different. The geisha system,although ruled by women, is still very Japanese in that is has a very strict hierarchy. The one on the left with the most things in her hair is the youngest kind of maiko. You can tell by her hair style and makeup.

Can you see a difference? This is a true geisha, not a maiko. Her hair style is much more refined, more grown-up. Her obi is tied up much shorter and her kimono is not as bright. It shows that she is an older, more accomplished geisha. She was assisting the tea making geisha.

Here is the youngest maiko I pointed out earlier.Everything about her is to make her look childish. Only her bottom lip is painted, and she has an incredible amount of flowers in her hair. If she were wearing her shoes, she'd look even more childish. The maiko's shoes are something else. Think a wedge flattened on the top and bottom. Oh here's a picture.
So imagine walking in those! In a kimono! Geesh! I would topple over. But, these special shoes are designed to make the maiko have a childish sort of walking gait.

This is another geisha. She sat behind us making tea. For your ticket you got a tea sweet and a cup of frothy matcha green tea.

Here is me and maiko-san. How pretty! Such refinement. She's okay too. Haha, just kidding. I look like a bum next to her.

After the tea we looked at some more blossoms.

Ugh, bad picture. If you're wondering why I look so poofy, I have 3 hooded sweat shirts on. It was cold okay.

Today we leave for Tokyo. We are taking an overnight bus so that should be interesting. We'll be there for two days and then we're back here to Kobe. Hopefully it will be nice and warm when we get back!! ...okay maybe not. One can hope. Till next time.

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