April 2016 - Vikingess Voyages

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hiking in Yamanashi: The view of Mt. Fuji from Mt. Iwadonosan to Chigo-Otoshi

4:00:00 PM

In my previous post I wrote about sakura viewing at Maruyama Kouen (丸山公園), a park located on Mt. Iwadonosan where you find what is said to be Japan's best view of Mt. Fuji. For people who would like to do some more hiking than just the 20 minutes long walk to the castle it is possible to continue by foot up to the top of Mt. Iwadonosan. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mt. Fuji & Sakura Viewing: Maruyama Kouen (丸山公園) and Iwadono Castle (岩殿城)

4:11:00 PM
From the Ootsuki Tourism Association
If you're visiting Japan during spring you’re probably keen to get a good look at the sakura, Japan's unofficial national flower. While the spots where you can view cherry blossoms in Tokyo usually are extremely crowded you can find many equally or more beautifully picturesque sakura spots in the areas close to the metropolis. And then again, as a tourist you might want to combine the view of the sakura with other things that are typical for Japan. If that is the case then I would recommend a trip to Yamanashi Prefecture to see Mt. Fuji from Mt. Iwadonosan.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Tsubame Sakura Matsuri: Cherry Blossom PR & Last Minute Preparations

12:31:00 AM

It is only 2 days left until the Tsubame Sakura Matsuri festival (つばめ桜まつり) in Bunsui, Niigata, and we have had a last round of practice for the big day. The 17th is the day of the Oiran Dochu where I'll be one of four girls getting dressed up as an Oiran - a courtesan lady from the Edo period. As a part of the preparations for the festival we went to the Bunsui station where we took part in greeting travellers who had come to the Bunsui station to see the yozakura (夜桜) evening cherry blossoms.
The Bunsui Station is known for its beautiful sakura, most of which were planted more than a hundred years ago, and the row of cherry trees by the platform have come to symbolize the station itself. 

In addition to the event at the station this day we also got our last chance to practice the particular walking style called Soto-Hachi Monji (外八文字) before the festival. Local and national press joined us for the practice, which was sent on the news both on the direct and on the following day (all photos in this blogposts have been taken from TV broadcasts). 
With only two days left to the festival it is hard not to feel slightly nervous, as there will be people coming from near and far to watch the procession. There is also a certain chance that we'll have rain on the 17th, in which case they might be forced to hold the festival indoors. Fingers crossed! 
If the weather is bad on Sunday the procession will be held indoors.

Related blogposts

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tokyo Cherry Blossom Spots: Nakameguro's Meguro River (目黒川)

3:30:00 PM
In Japan, the biggest sign that spring is on its way is the blooming of the cherry blossom, sakura. This is without a doubt Japan's most popular flower, and if you're in Japan you'll find yourself surrounded by products with cherry blossom design or even flavor (in most cases it's just wrapping with sakura design though). One of the popular places to see the pretty flowers is the Meguro-gawa River (目黒川) in Nakameguro. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Unique Japanese Festivals: A visit to the Kanamaru Matsuri Penis Festival

9:41:00 PM

Japan is a country where anything seemingly is possible, and if you like the slightly weird combination of public festivities and giant phalluses then the Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り / Festival of the Steel Phallus) in Kawasaki should probably be on the top of your list of things to see in Japan. This festival is celebrated annually around the first Sunday of April, and people come to the shrine for a variety of purposes such as praying for an easy delivery, protection from sexually transmitted diseases, general prosperity and harmony in marriage. In recent years the festival has particularly become a popular event among foreign visitors, and on this day people from all corners of the world flock to the area to see the unique sight of the pink and black phalluses being carried around the streets in Kawasaki Daishi.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Rebound Phenomenon, or how rural Japan was saved by tourists

11:02:00 PM
An estimated 19,730,000 foreigners visited Japan in 2015 according to Inbound Navi
The number of tourists visiting Japan has been increasing rapidly during the last couple of years as Japan is experiencing a weaker yen, low-cost carriers providing cheaper flights, combined with a softening on visa regulations especially for its Asian neighbours. This has led to an "opening" of the country in a scale that almost gives associations to the end of the Sakoku in 1853 when Japan started opening up to foreigners for the first time in around 200 years.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Geisha vs. Oiran: The Characteristics of the Japanese Courtesans

10:48:00 AM
The Tsubame Sakura festival in Bunsui. 
From the Tsubame Tourism Assoication
Japan is a country of some very distinct traditions, and one thing that might come to mind when thinking about this far-east country is the graceful Japanese courtesan ladies. That is especially the case for the Japanese Geisha, as these courtesans were made famous through the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” from 2005. There are however another type of Japanese courtesan ladies that hold at least as much history as the Geisha, namely the Oiran (花魁). Some of you might be wondering what the difference is between an Oiran and a Geisha, and although they might appear similar at a first glance there are a few important things that sets them apart.


Although the Geisha are more well-known in Western countries the role and position of the two courtesans used to be very different. The Oiran tradition flourished back in the early Edo period (1600-1868), a time where they were seen as entertainers and superstars. The Geisha on the other hand were held in the background and dressed restraint in order for them to not be in competition with the Oiran, and the Oiran profession is thus in a sense the forerunner of the Geisha. The Oiran were educated women who were masters of a wide range of traditional arts, and highly respected for their profession. Back in the days a night with an Oiran would cost as much as one year’s salary for a commoner, but even if you could afford it the Oiran was still free to reject a customer if he was deemed unworthy. 

The Oiran profession has however died out, and unlike Geishas there are no professional working Oiran left in Japan today. The Oiran tradition does however live on even today through Oiran Dochu (おいらん道中) parades. During their primetime the Oiran ladies used to do daily parades around their district, which in a sense functioned as a sort of advertisement for their services. Oiran Dochu parades are still held throughout the country mostly as parts of local festivals, and the most famous among these are Asakusa’s Edo Yoshiwara Oiran Dochu (江戸吉原おいらん道中) and the Tsubame Sakura Festival (つばめ桜祭り)’s Oiran Dochu in Niigata.

So what is it that physically distinguishes an Oiran from a Geisha?

The Kimono

From my Oiran costplay experience
The Geisha is dressed modestly, and her kimono is not supposed to be too flashy. The Oiran is on the other hand supposed to attract customers, and her kimono is made to get her the attention. She is extravagantly dressed, typically in a kimono with patterns in gold and with strong vivid colours. The quality of the kimonos is also different. While the Geisha traditionally wore kimonos of cheaper materials the Oiran wear a kimono made of the purest silk. And then comes all the layers! The Tayuu (太夫) is the highest-ranked Oiran, and in addition to the kimono she also wears a special obi called uchikake which is tied at the front. Her full attire can weigh about 20 kilos, so as you can imagine she has to be physically strong as well.

The Hair

From DeepJapan.org
The part about Geisha ladies dressing modestly is also the case for her hairstyle; She traditionally would wear a simple wig without any accessories. The Oiran on the other hand has her hair filled with ornamental hairpins (kanzashi) and other golden coloured accessories. Her katsura wig also has a special bow shape that helps distinguish her from the Geisha. Her katsura weigh around 10 kilos, which brings the total weight of the Oiran outfit to around 30 kilos.

The Geta (Shoes)

While both Geisha and Oiran ladies walk around in the distinct Japanese wooden geta shoes there is a big difference in how tall the shoes are. The geta worn by a Geisha do not differ that much from regular shoes in terms of hight, but the geta shoes of the Oiran are about 15 cm tall. This is to ensure that the Oiran ladies are the tallest in the Oiran Dochu parades and to make them more visible to the audience. The Oiran also walk in a particular style knows as Soto-Hachi-Monji (外八文字 - "Outside 8 sign"), and her walking style is considered a type of art in itself.
(I've written about this topic in the post Tsubame Sakura Matsuri Oiran Dochu: The Soto-Hachimonji (外八文字) - How to Walk like an Oiran ).

The Feet

Back in the Edo period it was not common for ladies to show off their bare skin in pubic. While the Geisha ladies wore white socks known as tabi to cover up, the Oiran women didn’t wear anything except their geta. This both showed their endurance during the cold winter, and at the same time made men go crazy just by sight of the bare skin. But even here the Oiran ladies didn’t go completely without cover; instead their bare skin was painted white, which also was the case for any part of their bodies that was not covered in cloth.

Video about Oiran from ONLY in JAPAN

This post is a part of my series about the Tsubame Sakura Festival where I will participate in the Oiran Dochu as the Sakura Tayuu (桜太夫) Oiran on April 17th 2016. All blogpost about this topic can be found in the links below.

Related blogposts

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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