What a beautiful girl! She is a splendid courtesan (01) painted by Hokusai, who is accompanied by her young apprentices. She is parading for the cherry blossom festival in her most beautiful dress. This is a kimono and it is tied at the waist with an obi. Courtesans were the only women who could tie their obi in front: the other ladies had to tie them up at the back.
A kimono (02) is a Japanese garment in the form of a "T"; it is worn by women, men, and children, and is held at the waist by an obi.
It can be made from silk, linen, or cotton. The aristocracy, samurai, and the better-off people wore silk kimonos in the winter, and linen ones in the summer.
They are (05) always beautifully decorated with paintings, embroidery, and gold and silver thread. There are various decorative motifs called shōchikubai: the pine, plum, and bamboo which were known as the three friends of winter. In China, the pine, plum, and bamboo were a theme for paintings and were called suihan sanyou, in other words the three friends who resist the cold. In fact, the pine and bamboo are green and beautiful even in the winter, and the plum is the first to bloom, and so they became symbols of constancy. In Japan plums were considered a good omen.
This garment (06) has many red, yellow, and green leaves... They are Maple leaves! The Japanese love to go to their parks in the autumn when the leaves take on various colours. It is said that at a court festival for the arrival of autumn, prince Genji danced the dance of the Waves of the Blue Sea so well that everyone was moved, and the emperor elevated him to the third major rank. This coat (uchikake) is embroidered with the stage (07) he danced on and the overcoat (08) he wore.
Kimonos (09) were cut from a single length of fabric called a tan; it was about thirty-five centimetres wide and eleven and a half metres long. A finished kimono is made from four large strips of fabric: two panels that cover the body, and two that form the sleeves, as well as another two small strips for the collar and the cuffs of the front.
Music ladies and gentlemen! Here we could have a wonderful concert with all these instruments...
Hmm... here are those for the Nō theatre: a flute (fue), and drums: ōtsuzumi and kotsuzumi.
The drums (20) are shaped like an hourglass: the kotsuzumi can have a lacquered soundboard with horse skin at the ends. The skin is fixed to the soundboard with a cord, known as a tate shirabe. It is played while resting on the right shoulder. The skin can be stretched by cords and so play different sounds.
But there are other instruments, all of them beautiful.
This is a shamisen (22), a lute with three strings; it was invented in China and brought to Japan in 1500. The soundboard is made from leather and cat skin.
How fashionable it was to play this instrument! It was played by geishas to entertain their guests, but it was also used in the orchestra for kabuki plays
And this? How strange: we do not play it in our country... It is a shō (24), a mouthorgan with seventeen bamboo pipes of different lengths. The length of the pipes is irregular to make it more beautiful: in fact it was compared to the wings of a phoenix. And often it is depicted with a phoenix at the bottom... The shō was used to play music for the emperor, music called gagaku or court music.
This koto (26) is so beautiful! Look at how it is decorated! The soundboard is over a metre long and is made from paulownia wood. The player kneels when he plays it and plucks its thirteen strings with his right hand. Metal nails are added to his thumb, index, and middle finger in order to play. The koto is often compared to the body of a Chinese dragon: its back is the upper part of the soundboard, and its head and tail are the right and left extremities. At the beginning, this instrument was only played at the emperor's court, but then it became very popular with the people.
You know this instrument: we play it too! It's a flute (28)! Except that in Japan it is called a shakuhachi and has five holes on top and one underneath. There are others which are even bigger, up to ninety centimetres long, and smaller ones almost forty centimetres long.