Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (part 4A)

Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3A, and Part 3B.

Today, we will start discussing where to find or how to make substitutes for the various parts of a geisha or maiko costume. Since this too turned into a monster post, I will be dividing it into two parts like I did with Part 3 on buying authentic items. Today's part 4A will include substitutions for Hikizuri, Obi, Obi Age, Obi Jime, Obi Dome, and Han Eri.

4) Make or Buy Reasonable Substitutes
  • Hikizuri SUBSTITUTES: If you can’t find an authentic hikizuri or susohiki that suits your taste and budget, consider using a substitute. This is something most of the maiko henshin (maiko dress-up) studios do. Though it definitely will not produce a 100% authentic look, you may be able to substitute a non-hikizuri for your costume. For maiko, look for longer furisode with an all-over pattern or a pattern that is concentrated along the hem. Antique furisode are actually great for this sort of thing, but may not be long enough for a hikizuri look, especially on a modern body (not to mention that they might be fragile and/or in bad shape). If you are confident in your sewing abilities you can do what the henshin studios often do, and add some fabric to the body of the furisode to make it longer. You would do this by taking the piece apart at the torso seam (the one that runs parallel to the shoulders and is usually hidden by the obi), adding extra fabric, and sewing the kimono back together. The extra fabric thus winds up being at your waist, in the area that would normally be hidden by an obi. You might also consider adding shoulder and sleeve tucks. However, if you aren’t confident in your sewing abilities, I suggest skipping these alterations rather than running the risk of ruining a perfectly good kimono. It is often easy to find hikizuri/hikifurisode meant for weddings. While these will definitely be long enough and may also feature padded hems or false layers at the skirt, which are great for a fall or winter look, they tend to be way too gaudy for maiko kimono. For a geisha look, any kimono more formal than a komon will do, especially a tsukesage, houmongi, or tomesode. Kurotomesode (tomesode with a black base) are particularly striking.
  • Obi SUBSTITUTES: For maiko, your best bet is probably a maru obi, and your next best bet is a fukuro obi. Maru obi tend to be longer though, and that will help you imitate the darari obi look. For a geisha look, any obi that can tied in the otaiko musubi will work. A fukuro obi is probably going to look more authentic, but if you need to save money consider going for a nice Nagoya obi, since they tend to be a little cheaper than fukuro obi. You might also be able to get a pre-tied obi that would work for a geisha costume. If you can get the appropriate materials and you feel your skills are up to it, you could also attempt making the obi.
  • Obi age SUBSTITUTES: For a geisha, any obi age will do. Seriously. You might want to avoid full-shibori ones meant for furisode, and you might want to aim for colors like red or white (or white with red accents, which also seems to be popular), but there is no real need to be super-picky here. You could even substitute a nice scarf for an obi age as long as it was an appropriate material, didn’t have anything like bead or sequin embellishments, and you could tuck the ends in so anything like fringe wouldn’t be noticed. For a maiko, consider buying a completely red version and tying it for a more senior look. Technically a senior maiko’s tied obi age can still have the silver design, but you could probably get away without it. This would also be a super-easy item to make for yourself. If you want the junior maiko look, where the silver pattern is very obvious, you may have to purchase a plain red obi age or scarf or a length of plain red material and paint or stamp the design on yourself.
  • Obi jime SUBSTITUTES: This is a tough one, since it’s not like regular everyday people ever use anything like a maiko’s obi jime. You could (at least in theory) get a few regular flat obi jime in different colors and attach them together somehow. A particularly crafty person might even be able to make their own. For a geisha, like I said, any nice obi jime will do. You might be able to get a plain wedding obi jime to use if you want to try the thick-and-round obi jime look.
  • Obi dome SUBSTITUTES: Unfortunately, it’s tough to find a ready-made substitute, as most other obi dome and brooches aren’t big enough. However, you can probably make one, either from scratch or by combining existing pieces (e.g. several smaller brooches). While a real maiko obi dome typically includes some combination of precious and/or semi-precious stones on a metal base, your substitute could be carved or painted wood or some other material that you are comfortable working with. Many of the larger obi dome used by maiko henshin studios are wood or imitation wood and lack any gemstone decorations.
  • Han eri SUBSTITUTES: Since white han eri are so easy to find, you might not even need to find a substitute for one -- and if you like to wear kimono anyway, a nice white han eri could be a worthwhile investment. Maiko han eri are tougher to substitute since they usually involve a lot of embroidery. Depending on how picky you are about the authenticity of your collar, you might be willing to consider getting a red collar with colorful embroidery instead of a pure red and white one. This actually isn’t 100% inauthentic, since many misedashi han eri have colors other than red and white (though those colors may tend to be more muted than you might find on a regular non-maiko han eri). If you have the time and talent you could buy some red or white fabric and embroider it yourself. The idea of using white appliques or lace over the fabric popped into my head while writing this, but I have never tried either idea. If you do, let me know how it goes. Or if you want, you could mimic a look I have seen on some maiko in the sakkou stage: a pure red collar with gold threads worked through it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (Part 3B)

Somehow, I have made it home without being too exhausted to post the next part of the series! In case you're wondering, there is also a Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3A. Part 3A contains information on Hikizuri, Obi, Obi Age, Obi Jime, Obi Dome, and Han Eri.

This section contains information on juban footwear, kanzashi, wigs, makeup, and accessories

  • Juban: There is good news and bad news concerned juban. The good news is that red and pink juban are extremely common. It’s actually not that hard to find red ones with white patterns either, though the patterns may not be as delicate as those of a typical maiko’s juban. The bad news is that regular kimono juban aren’t always long enough for a maiko or geisha outfit, and it is very important that the juban reach your ankles because it will be seen when the skirt is worn or carried properly. In this case you might have to look for a two-piece juban. These can be a little harder to come by in the right colors, but they are out there. You might wind up getting a solid red one rather than one with a white pattern on red. Or you could see if you could have one made from someplace like Bokunan-do, which offers a couple of different options of pink or red and white fabric. Of course, having a piece custom-made will be a bit costly. Generally speaking, juban are extremely easy to find. They come up on eBay all the time and places like Ichiroya and Yamatoku typically have a good stock of them mixed in with the kimono. Keep in mind that while maiko are pretty much restricted to red, geisha can also wear pink and I have seen one picture of a geisha with a blue juban, so if you really must substitute another color for your geisha outfit you probably can.
  • Footwear: Maiko typically wear high wooden sandals known as okobo or pokkuri. Geisha usually wear zori. Sometimes you will see a maiko in zori or a geisha in certain kinds of geta (but not okobo). Both wear white tabi, even with geta. Okobo (or okobo-like shoes), zori, geta, and tabi can be found all over, even on eBay. If you buy okobo, make sure you double-check the size so you don't accidentally buy a child's size! Girls sometimes wear child-sized okobo for holidays like shichigosan, and while these okobo can often be distinguished from maiko ones by the color (they might be red, but maiko ones are always plain wood or black lacquer) and/or the presence of a painted pattern, there are always exceptions to that.
  • Kanzashi: If you’re trying to pull off the geisha look you have it super-easy. For a regular, not super-formal engagement, a geisha will probably wear a nice comb. Her wig will also be decorated with white threads and a silver band at the back. Easy, yes? Especially since pretty combs are easy to find. For the maiko look you’re going to have it much more difficult, and much of what you wear will be determined by the hairstyle you choose and whether the look you’re going for is more junior or senior. The junior look is probably going to be the easiest to emulate even without buying authentic maiko kanzashi, and there are plenty of instructions out there for styling your hair or a wig in the wareshinobu style (unfortunately, unless you have the book “Nihongami no Sekai,” I haven’t found instructions for other styles). As you may have noticed from my personal collection, it is indeed possible to buy authentic maiko kanzashi if that is an investment you are willing to make. The tsumami kanzashi set alone will run you somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 yen though (not counting shipping fees and not taking things like price increases or exchange rates into account).
  • Wigs: You CAN in fact buy yourself a geisha or maiko wig. Geisha wear the takashimada hair style popular among brides, and katsura styled in takashimada do come up for sale sometimes on places like eBay. Some have wedding kanzashi attached that you might want to try removing, they tend to be expensive, and they often need some tender loving care to make them wearable again. But they do exist. You could also buy a new version, or wigs of maiko hairstyles like wareshinobu, from places like the Japanese seller Outlet Wig (you may need to go through a shopping service like Celga or Noppin to shop with them). These are of course very expensive.
  • Makeup: Maiko and geisha both use a white base with red and black applied in specific ways to the lips and eyes. Maiko may also add some pink to their makeup, especially around the eyes, but it isn’t always noticeable and you could probably get away without it if you are concerned about overdoing it. The goal here is to NOT look like the various You Tube “geisha makeup” and “geisha-style makeup” tutorials (if you’re at all familiar with these you probably know exactly what I’m talking about). The only place I know of to get authentic maiko makeup is Hannari-ya, where you can buy individual parts or you can buy a full set with makeup and the brushes to apply it. I have heard of other places like Rakuten selling it in the past too. This is going to eat up a few hundred dollars, so unless you plan on making a living out of your geisha costume or you absolutely must have the 100% authentic look you probably don’t want to invest in this. And if you DO decide to get authentic stuff, make sure you at least get the abura for under the makeup and the proper white foundation to put over the abura.
  • Accessories: Though none of these are required, you might want to include one or more of them in your costume. Maiko and geisha often carry a large bag consisting of a woven basket-style bottom and a cloth draw-string top. They use these bags (which we could just call kago but I could have sworn they have a special name) to carry their supplies, like fans or supplies for hair and makeup touch-ups. These can be hard to come by. Bokunan-do sells some, but I believe they are all child-sized. You might also be able to get one through Ikuokaya, and it might be worth checking on Rakuten or keeping an eye on Yahoo Japan Auctions. Maiko and geisha may also carry one or two fans for dancing, called maiogi. You can find maiogi for sale on Bokunan-do (where they fall under the sensu or mai-sensu category) and you may be able to find them elsewhere sometimes. I have seen them pop up on Ichiroya and eBay from time to time. If you want real maiogi, you have to be careful to make sure you aren’t getting decorative fans, which often have the same style as maiogi. But dancing fans have 10 spines while decorative fans only have 9. Paper umbrellas are another common accessory. The red versions are very common, but if you take a look at the picture of the geiko I posted in Part 2 you will notice that they can come in other colors as well. You can probably find these umbrellas on Rakuten. You can also get paper umbrellas from Bokunan-do. If you decide to get an umbrella, please be careful about taking it out in the rain or snow! Umbrellas that are made for use outdoors in the weather can probably handle a drizzle or light snow fall (I don’t know how strong they are to be honest so maybe they can handle more than that), but umbrellas that are just made for stage performances or only for use as parasols may not be suitable for use outdoors during bad weather. And since an authentic, good-quality paper umbrella can be expensive, you don’t want yours ruined by rain.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (Part 3A)

This is Part 3A of a multi-part series on putting together a reasonably authentic maiko or geisha costume for Halloween. If you're looking for the other parts to the series, you can find them at Part 1 and Part 2

In today's post I'll be talking a bit about where you can look for different parts of your costumes. I was going to post information on finding and/or making substitutes as well, but this topic alone turned out to be a monster of a post and I decided to post it in two parts (hey, a series within a series!). I'll see if I can post 3B tomorrow, but it's one of my two back-to-back 10-hour school and work days so the next part might not go up until Friday.

3) Where to buy authentic items (part A: Hikizuri, Obi, Obi Age, Obi Jime, Obi Dome, and Han Eri)

Unfortunately, if you want to buy 100% authentic versions of some of these items, you are literally going to be spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on one single piece -- even for very small things. A full maiko tsumami kanzashi set, for example, can run you $300 or more depending on the exchange rate and the specific set in question. If you need the kanoko dome to wear with a wareshinobu hairstyle, expect to pay hundreds for an authentic one. An obi dome can run you well over $1000. If you really want to go shopping, there are some places where you might find authentic items. But keep in mind that for some of them, you may want or need to use a substitute, which we will discuss later.
  • Hikizuri: Authentic maiko and geisha hikizuri or susohiki rarely come up for sale, and when they do they tend to be very expensive -- even if they are in awful, unwearable condition. Maiko hikizuri are especially rare and expensive. If you want to look for a hikizuri or susohiki, Ichiroya sometimes has a few for sale. You may also be able to find some on eBay or Yahoo Japan Auctions (be aware that you will need to use a shopping service like Celga or Noppin to shop there). It wouldn’t hurt to check with sellers like Yamatoku or Shinei either. Bokunan-do makes stage costumes, including a couple of with furisode sleeves that could potentially be used for maiko, but use caution. Many of their pieces aren’t really appropriate for a modern geisha or maiko look (at least not if you’re tying to emulate Kyoto style) and at least one of their pieces looks like it is for a specific character, not a generic maiko or geisha look. Also, please use caution when buying hikizuri! Just because it’s long enough doesn’t mean it is authentic! If you’re unsure about a piece, seek advice before you buy.
  • Obi: Maiko wear a special type of obi called a darari obi. These are some of the rarest maiko items out there, possibly because they tend to get recycled into geisha obi, and also tend to be extremely expensive. If you want to look for one, they have popped up on eBay (just be careful not to get taken in by a scam) and Yahoo Japan Auctions before. I believe I have heard of Shinei having them once in a while. I can’t remember if Ichiroya has ever had one. Ichiroya and Bokunan-do both sell darari-style pre-tied obi, but I believe that in both cases the tails are actually too short for a proper Kyoto maiko look (they may be fine if you aren’t going for the Kyoto look or if you’re going for a minarai look though). Geisha wear obi that can be tied in the otaiko musubi -- usually fukuro obi, but you could probably also get away with a nice nagoya obi.
  • Obi age: Maiko typically wear a red and silver obi age, while geisha can wear pretty much any color (though red is still a safe bet, as is white or pink). I actually don’t see maiko obi age come up for sale that often, though you might be able to get one through someplace like Ikuokaya or Hannari-ya if you must have a brand-new one. For a geisha, you should be able to get away with using any high-quality obi age in an appropriate color for your ensemble. You might want to avoid the full-shibori ones meant for use with furisode, but one with a few small sections of pattern done in shibori should be fine.
  • Obi jime: Maiko typically wear a flat but wide and very colorful obi jime. Geisha can wear regular flat obi jime or can wear very round, thick versions of obi jime similar to those used for weddings. Again, maiko obi jime are tough to find but could probably be bought through someplace like Ikuokaya or Hannari-ya. For a geisha, you could buy just a regular nice obi jime and use that.
  • Obi dome: Fortunately for the geisha look, there is no obi dome! Unfortunately for the maiko look, you need a huge one. If you have the money (and like I said these things can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars) you can look into getting one from Ikuokaya. They have “cheap” versions, but those are still expensive. A maiko-size obi dome popped up on eBay recently, but that was unusual.
  • Han eri: A geisha’s han eri is usually white and fairly simple. White han eri are actually a pretty basic part of everyday kitsuke even for non-geisha, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a suitable plain white han eri. Senior maiko also wear white han eri, but they typically have heavy white embroidery all over them. More junior maiko wear red han eri with white embroidered designs, and the more white on the collar the more senior the maiko. Every so often you will find a red and white maiko’s han eri up for sale, but they can be very expensive (I know, I know, you totally didn’t see that one coming). This is especially the case if you should try to find a new one somewhere. I run into them sometimes on eBay or Ichiroya.

To be continued...

Friday, September 9, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (Part 2)

 (If you missed Part 1 and want to read it first, scroll down the page or click the link.)

In Part 1 of this mini-series, we discussed...well, actually, it was mostly me having a polite rant about what passes for maiko and geisha costumes these days and why I personally find them offensive. But today, we'll get down to the stuff all of you happy costumers really care about: figuring out how to put together your geisha or maiko costume. We will cover two specific steps today: Figuring out what you really want to be for Halloween, and what goes into making a maiko or geisha costume.

1) Figure out what you really want to be for Halloween
Clearly you want to dress up as something to do with the Flower and Willow World. But here’s the thing: for lots of people, when they talk about geisha, the image they actually have in their head is of a maiko. Take a look at these pictures:

Which look is closer to what you want? If it’s the look of the women in the poster on the top, you want to be a maiko. If it’s the look of the picture on the bottom, you want to be a geisha The distinction is important because it will determine what you need, what you can get away without, how easy it will be to find or make the substitutes you need, and even how easy it will be to do your costume on a budget.

2) Learn the parts of an authentic maiko or geisha costume
While the basic elements of maiko and geisha costumes are the same (i.e. you need a kimono, juban, and obi for both), the details are different.

For a maiko, you would need:
- a hikizuri with furisode-style sleeves (ideally with tucks in the sleeves and the shoulders)
- a two-piece juban with furisode sleeves and a white pattern on a red background
- a heavily-embroidered collar (more red  = more junior, more white = more senior
- a darari obi
- a red obi age with a silver pattern
- a wide and colorful obi jime
- a very large obi dome for that obi jime
- a pair of white tabi
- one pair of okobo (red straps are the default but more senior maiko sometimes wear other colors). You may also be able to substitute zori for the okobo.
- the red thing that I can’t remember the name of that wraps around the torso under the obi. The name will come to me someday, I know. (ETA: I have been informed by yieldforkimono that this is a momi!)

A maiko also has a head full of various kinds of kanzashi. The specifics change depending on her hair style, but always include a silver ougi kanzashi (the fan-shaped one over the right eye) and some sort of seasonal tsumami kanzashi. The only exception to this is during Hassaku or during the misedashi in at least some districts, where maiko may be able to wear carved tortoise shell kanzashi instead of or in addition to tsumami kanzashi.

Maiko costumes are typically very colorful and youthful and may involve busy patterns. Red is a particularly good color for very young maiko. Bright shades of blue also seem to be popular for maiko of all ages. A maiko costume may also involve bold color matches, such as a blue kimono with an orange obi. When you are putting your costume together, you want to pay attention and make sure you don’t cross the border between flashy and gaudy. A true maiko may be very flashy, colorful, and eye-catching, but is rarely tacky or gaudy.

For a geisha, you would need:
- a hikizuri or susohiki with shorter sleeves (and no tucks)
- a matching juban (red and white is still typical but many geisha also wear pink juban)
- an obi that can be tied in the otaiko musubi
- an obi age (can be red but I have also seen other colors)
- an obi jime
- white tabi
- a pair of zori. You may be able to substitute certain styles of geta.
- Geisha also wear the red cloth that wraps around the torso under the obi. (AKA the momi.)

However, they don’t wear nearly as many hair accessories, often only wearing a nice comb on less-formal occasions. Unlike maiko, who style their own hair, geisha typically wear wigs. Black can be a popular color for geisha kimono, particularly for very formal occasions, but don’t feel like you can only pick a black kimono for your costume. Geisha can and do wear colored kimono, but the colors and designs are typically more subdued that those of maiko.

Both maiko and geiko may carry a basket with accessories, and may use things like fans (usually maiogi but uchiwa are often used in the summer) when dancing. You don’t have to have these things, but they can add a nice touch to your outfit, and fans can be particularly useful for a little costumed flirting. After all, just because geisha aren’t prostitutes doesn’t mean they’re celibate nuns either. Both maiko and geisha also wear makeup called oshiroi or shiro-nuri that consists of a white base, red and black eye liner, black mascara, and red lip color. There is also often a bit of pink added around the eyes, especially in the look of younger maiko, but it is barely noticeable. The white base is spread down onto the neck, chest, and a portion of the upper back, and two or three prongs of skin are left unpainted at the back of the neck -- even on geisha, though you often can’t see it because the way their wigs are styled hides it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (part 1)

(Please note that all opinions contained in this post are just that, my opinions, and are not in any way official or final-word views on the matter. Also, my opinions on this matter are rather strong.)

It’s that time of year again (or close to it anyway), the time when people flood question communities and websites with questions about how to dress as a geisha for Halloween. The suggested costumes usually involve some combination of super-short satin bathrobes, stockings or tights, high-heeled shoes, Gibson Girl-esque wigs with chopsticks as decorations, and makeup whose only similarity to authentic geisha makeup is the fact that it has a white base.

This, in my opinion, is very uncool.

It’s uncool for a few reasons, but I’ll pick out my two “favorites” here. Reason #1 is that such costumes look nothing like what real geisha actually wear, and are simply built around a combination of Orientalist fantasies and the Western misconception that geisha are prostitutes/hookers/escorts/whatever you want to call them. Sometimes these costumes involve super-short cheongsam, which brings up a whole host of other issues, like the (offensive) idea that all Asian cultures are the same and interchangeable. This is of course not the case. Reason #2 is that geisha are real, living women who are part of a real, living culture that is usually NOT the culture of the person wearing a satin bathrobe and calling herself (or himself, I suppose) a geisha. I find it pretty damn offensive, along the lines of dressing up in those fake “leather” dresses and feather headbands and calling oneself an “Indian princess.”

So if you want to dress up in a mini satin bathrobe, there’s nothing stopping you, but it would be way more accurate and less offensive if you didn't call yourself a geisha while doing it. But at the same time, if that’s what you want to wear for Halloween, then this really isn’t the series for you.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to put in a bit of work to put together a costume, you can have a reasonably-authentic-looking maiko or geisha costume. It can involve a lot of money, since buying authentic maiko or geisha items is super expensive and even buying reasonable substitutes won’t be cheap. It can also involve a lot of work, since you have to track down everything you want to buy and/or you have to make or alter items to work for you, especially if you try to make or alter things to save money. But if you want a more authentic look, the time and/or money invested could very well be worth it. You should be aware that, unless you have the money and access required to purchase 100% authentic maiko or geisha goods, you probably will not have a 100% accurate costume. But you can get close!

Since this is going to turn into a Post of Doom if I try to post it all at once, I’m going to break it up into sections and post it over the next couple of weeks. Here’s what we’ll be talking about in the future:
1) Figuring out what you really want to be for Halloween (i.e. do you want to be a geisha or do you actually want to be a maiko?)
2) The parts of an authentic maiko or geisha costume
3) Reasonable substitutions for when you can’t get the real thing