Try it yourself: An Oiran (花魁) Cosplay Experience in Japan - Vikingess Voyages

Monday, November 23, 2015

Try it yourself: An Oiran (花魁) Cosplay Experience in Japan

Most people have heard about the Japanese escort ladies called geisha, known in the West through for instance the world famous book & movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”.
Throughout history there have however been other types of Japanese escort ladies, and the forerunner to the Japanese geisha is known as oiran 'woman of pleasure'. 
Oiran was a popular profession during the Edo period (1600~1868). Back in the early days of the Edo period the Oiran were considered high class courtesans, and unlike yūjo (遊女) prostitutes they were first and foremost entertainers with refined skills in a number of traditional arts such as sadō (Japanese tea ceremony), shamisen (three-stringed Japanese bajo), ikebana (flower arranging), and calligraphy. Elegant as they were, some Oiran women even went on to become famous outside of their daily workplace, and have inspired various Japanese fashion trends throughout the years.

The word oiran comes from an abbriviation of the sentence "Oira no tokoro no nēsan" (おいらの所の姉さん), which can be translated into "my elder sister". The kanji characters used to express this word are "flower" (花) and to "charge ahead of others" (魁). 

Although Oiran is a tradition of the past that ended with the rise of the geisha and later almost disappeared along with strict laws enforced to stop prostitution there are still people who are working to keep the tradition alive. But a big difference from the past is that today women dress up oiran style in order to preserve a cultural heritage or to entertain rather than having it as a profession or lifestyle, and it does not include sexual services anymore. I've written more about the difference between Oiran and Geisha here.

Even though it no longer is a common profession nor holds the popularity it used to have in the past one can still find extremely popular events and festivals dedicated to oiran, such as for instance the Bunsui Sakura Matsuri Oiran Dōchū that is held every year in Tsubame, Niigata. 

The vivid and colorful style also keeps attracting people who are interested in Japanese fashion and traditional arts in general. As a result of this popularity there are also a growing number of companies out there offering people who are interested the chance to try on the oiran outfit themselves.

La Petit Fleur in Oukurayama
As you've probably noticed from the pictures above I recently had the honor of getting dressed up in a oiran style kimono. This opportunity came through a company called Workshop Japan, who's goal is to help introduce Japanese culture to foreign visitors. In addition to offering oiran cosplay they also hold various other workshops that foreigners can attend, such as Kazari-maki-zushi(Art Sushi Roll) cooking class and Japanese calligraphy.

The Oiran cosplay experience was a cooperation between Workshop Japan, a flower shop & cafe at Oukurayama in Yokohama called La Petit Fleur café and last but not least the makeup artist Candy Blue. La Petit Café was used as the location for the photo shoot, and Candy Blue (artist name) was in charge of the kimono and makeup. She styled me according to the season, and since it was autumn I got to try out a kimono with red autumn leaves in my hair. Here are some more photos from the experience (these ones are all taken with my phone so the quality is not as good as the ones that Workshop Japan took):

Getting to try out Oiran cosplay was a totally new experience for me. I previously had the chance to do some wedding modeling while in Japan, both with kimono and more modern style Japanese dresses, but this time the vibe was quite different, especially as one usually would associate wearing a kimono with being kawaii rather than sensual.

As Candy Blue is mainly focusing on body jewelry you can notice the detailed decoration on my shoulder. These are stickers, all hand-made by Candy Blue herself. The devil is in the detail, and the team did their utmost to make sure that everything was perfect for the shooting.

After the shooting was done the crew printed out a couple of the pictures they had taken and gave them to me in a cute album with sakura-design that they gave me on the spot. The whole experience was very professional, and besides all the nice photos I got another great memory from Japan.

One of the pictures from the shooting being used on a Workshop Japan pamphlet. (Credit: Candy Blue) 
Workshop Japan is taking reservations from any travelers and expats who want to get dressed up oiran style. If you're in the area and interested in this opportunity, please check out the following links:

Finally, please note that this is oiran cosplay and not necessarily an exact depiction of how oiran were dressed. If you're interested in the real thing please check out this post where I've written about my experience as the first foreigner participating as an oiran in the Tsubame Sakura festival.

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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