October 28, 2010

Enjoy good old Nara! - Geisha District

Have you visited Naramachi (Nara Town)? Walking along the narrow streets in Naramachi, I'm sure, you will  get  nostalgic and relaxed, feeling  as if you came back to your hometown after long absence. Naramachi has been drawing a number of tourists since they enjoy the atmoshpere of good old Nara. Here preserved are the merchant town houses dating back to19th century.

Naramachi, located to the south of Sarusawa, is not an official name but the name refers to the broad area comprising a lot of small towns. 

This is Ganrin-in Town, one of small towns in Naramachi. Although many people visit this quiet and elegant area, few people know once this area flourished as Hanamachi ( Geisha or Geiko district). In Nara or Kyoto, they are called  Geiko which refers to  Geisha. Around 1860s the town began to develop as Geiko district. In its heyday from 1920s to 1930s, there were more than two hundred Geiko and Maiko in the town. Most of the town people were engaged in related jobs to Geiko district such as Okiya, Ochaya, hair salons, public bath houses, restaurants and more. But its glory didn't last forever. Around the middle of 1960s, the town began to decay since the number of wealthy merchants ,who called Geiko or Maiko to attend  their banquets, decreased. Besides, not so many women wanted to become Geiko or Maiko. Now there are only a few Geiko and two Maiko in this quiet  town. It is hard to imagine its heyday, isn't it?. The traditional Japanese house in the magazine  is "Mangyoku" which  used to be one of Okiya.
(Okiya is a boarding house for Geiko and Maiko.
Ochaya is an exclusive Japanese restaurant where Geiko or Maiko attend a party to entertain customers.
Maiko is an apprentice Geiko.)

Geiko and Maiko are often introduced in the various magazines.

 Many interesting pictures of Geiko and Maiko have been preserved  and exhibited in Ganrin-in Photo Gallery which is  also architect Yamashita's working place.  He opens his office to the public as a private museum (まちかど博物館).
You'll be surprised to  find a number of changes and differeces  if you compare old Naramachi  with present Naramachi.

Let see some of the pictures in the gallery.
 Maiko on Eya Bridge in 1932 and present Eya Bridge.
 Eya means painters who used to live near this bridge. The area is said to have been picturesque with perfect combination of clear water of the river and seasonal flowers blooming on the riversides. This picturesque scene must have inspired the imagination of the painters.  Now the river is gone as it was converted to a concrete culvert.

Celebration of the 10th anniversary of telephone exchange in 1918.
The pictures show once there were more than two hundred Geiko and Maiko in Naramachi at its peak .  Surprising!!

Open-air beer garden in 1932.
In summer a temporary beer garden was set up near Sarusawa Pond or in the precincts of Kofuku-ji Temple, where Geiko served cold beer and showed comical dances or plays to entertain people. Unbelievable!!

An American soldier and Geiko in Kofuku-ji Temple in 1947.
After World War Ⅱ, for a while US occupation army was stationed in Nara. They used the central branch of Nanto Bank as the headquarters  and flied the Stars and Stripes.

While strolling in Nara Park, I have seen Geiko and  Maiko several times, especially around the road  under Five-Story Pagoda of Kofuku-ji Temple. I suppose this road  must be the commuting route for them. Come to Naramachi!  If you are lucky enough, you'll see Geiko or Maiko.

Maiko in formal Kimono
                                                                                                 Maiko in casual Kimono

October 15, 2010

Are Town People Cerebrating Good Harvest of Rice?

This is a big town at the foot of the mountains.

Zoom in,  you will find the town people in happi coats carrying portable shrines on their shoulders saying "Wasshoi, Wasshoi!" They are holding the autumn festival.

There is another autumn festival.  The town people are drawing a float decorated with elaborative wooden carvings and beautifully embroidered cloths. Now, the float is going to turn a street corner and people are trying to take a balance.
On the day in the town,  merry sounds of  drums and whistles are everywhere and boost the festive mood.

 Autumn is the season of the rice harvest . And  people hold the festivals to give thanks to Shinto deities for good rice harvest. So in October, countless autumn festivals are held all over Japan.

The rice is more than a staple food in Japan. It has been deeply connected to our daily life and embedded in Japanese culture or religion.  But, there is no paddy fields in or around the town. I wonder if people or children know the reason why they have autumn festivals at this time of year.

Maybe autumn festivals have survived as legacy or customs, and given local people a great fun and help strengthen the ties of the communities.