Spirituality Meets Sensuality in Nagoya

Attending the Street Performer’s Festival in Osu, Nagoya

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Solemn bald-headed monks in orange robes are usually the image that comes to mind when people think of going to a temple. Nobody would imagine finding sexy pole-dancers or half-naked visual artists gyrating suggestively in front of a holy place, but that’s exactly what you’ll find if you attend the Street Performer’s festival in Nagoya’s most eclectic neighborhood – Osu.

Pole Dancer in front of Osu Temple

Well known for its indiscriminate vibe, great food options, and artistic atmosphere, Osu is usually quite crowded to begin with, but during the annual Street Performer’s Festival, the covered arcade(s) fill to the brim with people observing all kinds of performing artis ranging from clowns, musicians, magicians, and any combination thereof.

As entertaining as these artists might be, one of the main draws of the festival is the Oiran Parade, however. At first glance, these beauties may be mistaken for Geisha, but they’re quite different.

Oiran (花魁) was a name given to a prostitute who was very popular and highly regarded, mostly for her beauty, in the brothels of Yoshiwara in Edo (Tokyo). In the Edo period, prostitution was conducted in specified areas, called Yuukaku (遊郭), and was legal. A regular prostitute was called a Yuujo (遊女) which means “play woman.”  An Oiran, in comparison, was a highly skilled artist and entertainer, and was like the pinup girl of Edo—many of the bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women) that exist as woodcut prints are actually of Oiran.

A Geisha (芸者), Geiko (芸子), or Geiki (芸妓) on the other hand, is predominantly a trained entertainer who is very skilled in song, dance, playing an instrument, and otherwise entertaining guests. Although not primarily prostitutes, few did sleep with clients and many “successfully” retired by becoming the mistress of a client, or were sponsored by one or more. There were also male geisha in the Edo period.

While these ladies (and gentlemen accompanying them) will get your attention, sexy pole dancers and half-naked visual artists will certainly hold your undivided attention during the nighttime performance in front of Osu Temple, a Buddhist Temple built in the Kamakura Era (1192-1333). Yes, in Japan, Spirituality and Sensuality can, and do co-exist in what can only be described as a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience.

Enough reading, I’ll let the pictures do the talking and will simply say this: If you’re in Japan during this time next year, make sure to mark this event in your calendars, because it is one festival that cannot be missed here in Aichi.

Big thanks to Don Whigan for the excellent photos (close ups) and beginning video contribution, and to Katie from Uncomfoodable.

Thanks all, and see you in the next episode! Ciao!