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Izzy Bird, blind shampooers

Izzy Bird, a wedding and a festival


As promised, the wedding.

The house-master’s third wife* dressed Isabella in an appropriate outfit for the ceremony. Ito is pouting because he was not invited.

The ceremony Isabella observes does not match what she has read about weddings but realizes that her information was based on those of the samurai class. This couple belong to the heimin.**

The bride’s trousseau and furniture had been moved to the groom’s house earlier in the day, along with six barrels of sake and seven sorts of condiments. The bride is 17; the groom is 22. The bride is “very comely, so far as I could see through the paint with which she was profusely disfigured.”

For the first most solemn part of the ceremony, the bride is carried in a norimon***, accompanied by her family and friends, to the groom’s house. Each member of the procession carries a Chinese lantern. Like our weddings, guests are seated on either the groom’s side or the bride’s side.

“Two young girls, very beautifully dressed, bought in the bride, … dressed entirely in white silk, with a veil of white silk covering her from heat to foot.” The groom is already seated in the upper part of the room, does not rise to meet her, and, indeed, never looks at there during this part. She is seated oppose him. A low table with a two-spouted kettle full of sake, some sake bottles, some cups, small figures representing a fir tree, a plum tree in blossom, and a stork standing on a tortoise, which represents the former beauty of women and the strength of men.

There is then very solemn sake drinking and food eating.

The couple then exit, undergo a costume change (Isabella doesn’t specify into what), but the bride “still wore her silk veil, which will one day be her shroud.”

What follows is *a lot* of sake drinking. The bride presents cups to her new husband’s family, who present more cups back to her. By the end of this bit, Isabella says, “Now if you possess the clear-sightedness which I labored to preserve, you will perceive that each of the three had imbibed nine cups of some generous liquor!”

Then the couple drinks from the two-spouted kettle, which is the concluding of the ceremony and said to be “emblematic of the tasting together of the joys and sorrows of life.”

Then everyone keeps drinking and eating until they fall over or wander home.

* In Nikko, Ito and Isabella talked about how many wives a Japanese man could have. “Only one lawful one,” Ito said, “but as many others as he can support, just as Englishmen have.”

** Businessmen and commoners, mostly

*** 15180231-norimon-japanese-covered-litter-and-carriers-old-illustration-created-by-bayard-published-on-le-tour



The weather has changed enough to allow Isabella to leave Kubota/Akita. However, on her way out of town, she is trapped in a festival in honor of the god Shimmai’s* birthday. This was day three of the festival and was its most exuberant.

Police tell her that there were 22,000 strangers in the town and a force of 25 policemen is sufficient, which she finds slightly surprising, given that would never work in Britain.

What I love about this passage is the wealth of detail Isabella gives us — and how familiar it is to anyone with any knowledge of theatre and its history.

Isabella and Ito stay in the kurumas until the crowd gets to thick. “…we dived into the crowd, which was edged along a mean street, nearly a mile long — a miserable street of poor tea houses and poor shop fronts; but; in fact, you could hardly see the street for the people… there were rude scaffoldings supporting matted and covered platforms, on which people were drinking tea and sake and enjoying the crowd below; monkey theaters and dog theaters, two mangy sheep and a lean pig attracting wondering crowds, for neither of these animals is known in this region of Japan; a booth with a woman having her head cut-off every half-hour for 2 sen a spectator; cars with roofs like temples, on which, with 40 men at the ropes, dancing children of the highest classes were being borne in procession; a theatre with an open front, on the boards of which two men in antique dresses, with sleeves touching the ground, were performing with tedious slowness a classic dance of tedious posturings, which consisted mainly in dexterous movements of the aforesaid sleeves, and occasional stampings, and the utterances of the word No in a hoarse howl.”**

These visual treats are just an appetizer. More cars, which are essentially very large parade floats being pulled through the muddy streets by 200 men, appear. One is three cars long and uses smoke, fabric, pine trees to represent a mountain on which Shinto gods slew some devils. “On the fronts of each car, under a canopy, were 30 performers on 30 diabolical instrument, which rent the air  with a truly infernal discord, and suggested devils rather than conquerors.”

* My quick research reveals nothing about this god. I welcome any insight anyone else might have. Does it help if I tell you it’s July 27?

** I’m thinking this is “Noh” theatre. It looks like this.


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