Before coming to Japan I did not know much about geisha. Not that I am an expert on all things Japanese now, but there are ways to learn various aspects of culture and history while exploring the country and its culture. One of the ways to do so is to attend the annual Oiran Dochu Procession held in Asakusa, Tokyo.
doronko on FlickrWho are oiran? According to Wikipedia, the word originates from the Japanese phrase "oira no tokoro no nēsan", which translates into "my elder sister." The kanji characters are 花 meaning "flower" and 魁 meaning "leader" or "first". They were high-class courtesans that possessed entertainer’s skills, such as playing musical instruments, arranging ikebana, performing tea ceremonies, etc. They lived in a special entertainment area, such as Yoshiwara in Edo, which is now Asakusa. Now there are no oiran anymore, as the prostitution was outlawed in 1957.
MJY-shogun on Flickr
Shinya ICHINOHE on FlickrOiran procession events are performed by actors and/or selected individuals. This year the procession in Niigata featured a foreigner for the first time. The key figure in the procession are tayu – the highest ranked oiran, who have to walk on 15 cm geta shoes and wear the 30 kg wig and accessories. It does sound like a terribly hard job, but it is a great visual beauty to watch and hence worth all the work and efforts.
Shinya ICHINOHE on FlickrThe event at Asakusa (there are similar parades in other parts of Japan, including Shinagawa in Tokyo) takes place every year in April (check the details in advance) and starts at around 10 am. But we were busy on the day and could not attend the beginning. However, this great time schedule uploaded here helped us figure out when and where we were. Another excellent article was of a great help with directions. We were able to catch the end of the stage performance and find a spot to watch the parade.
Shinya ICHINOHE on FlickrIf you are planning to go to any crowded event in Japan, you have to be prepared that the best spots are easily taken by the early birds. Unless you are significantly taller than average people here, you might need to be faster. Japanese photographers with huge lens even bring their own small ladders to overcome the crowd.
To give a fair credit to the organizers, the Asakusa oiran procession was pretty much on time. Staff also ran ahead of the procession to make sure there are no obstacles and things go smooth. Conveniently, the host of the event explains the meanings and roles played by the performers over the speakerphone, both in Japanese and English.
Shimabara.Tayuu on FlickrI do not want to spoil your expectations, so no specific details. Except just one; tayu have an elegant style of walking which makes the whole efforts of rushing the crowds so you can see their foot movement absolutely worth it. I would also suggest not just standing on the side, but trying to get to the end of the procession and then walk with the crowd. Accompanied by the traditional music played by real geisha this is a spectacular experience.
Once the event is over, it’s time to explore fun and vibrant life of Asakusa.