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Postcards from Asia: Beautiful Portraits of a Famed Meiji Era Geisha

At the turn of the century in Japan, there once lived a geisha who captivated the hearts of everyone in Tokyo. Not a lot is known about her, but a collection of vintage photos showing her delicate beauty has survived and continued to fascinate people from around the world to this day.

Simply known as Hawaryu, she lived and worked as a geisha — traditional female entertainers in Japan, skilled in classical music, dance, and conversation — in Tokyo during Japan’s Meiji Era (September 1868 – July 1912). A century later, an American photographer working and living in Japan shared on Flickr a set of photographs showing the simple yet youthful beauty that captivated the capital back then, and continues to fascinate the world today.

Not much is known about her, but judging from the hairstyle she donned, Hawaryu was still a maiko or apprentice geisha, and therefore under 20 years old when the photos were taken in 1910.

According to Flickr user Okinawa Soba, Hawaryu might have continued to work as a geisha well until the early days of the Taisho Era (July 1912 – December 1926) if her marriage was delayed or she did not get married at all.

As for the photographer behind the beautiful hand-colored collotype portraits, Okinawa Soba also deduced that for those imprinted with the “SN” monogram, there was only one Meiji-era photographer working in Tokyo’s Shiba district: Shisui Naruse. On the back of each photograph, he put “S.N. Banshudo,” the name of his studio in Shiba.

All information for this article were sourced from Daily Mail and Okinawa Soba on Flickr.

written by plasticpopsicle

1 comment

  1. lynnofthewood

    Her obi is tied high on her waist and the back of her kimono collar is away from the nape of her neck, both indicating a young, unmarried woman. It is amazing how vibrant the tints still are.

    12 months ago · report as spam