WASHINGTON (Feb. 1, 2006)–A collection of 24 magnificent, rare kimonos and other personal effects that once belonged to Ichimaru, a geisha turned popular singer and entertainer of 20th-century Japan, will be on display at the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall from Thursday, Feb. 23, to Sunday, April 23.
The exhibit, “From Geisha to Diva: The Kimonos of Ichimaru,” showcasing intricately patterned and embroidered kimonos, obi (waist sashes), wigs, hair combs, fans, sandals and other belongings of Ichimaru, tells the story of the elegant and accomplished hostess and singer who rose from a background of poverty to become one of her country’s national treasures.
Ichimaru (1906-1997), began working as a low-rank geisha at a spa inn at Asama, Nagano Prefecture, at the age of 14 or 15. Asked one day to sing a particular song by a customer, she was embarrassed when unable to perform it. Determined to improve her skills, she left for Tokyo and began studying the songs of the geisha in earnest.
Her singing talent enabled her to enter a geisha house in Tokyo. She sang at many tea houses and restaurants, and in 1931 was signed by the Victor Recording company. In 1933 she recorded several major hits and left the geisha world to become a full-time recording artist and entertainer.
She performed in full geisha regalia throughout her long career — which included a decade-long radio show, television appearances, theatre performances and international concerts — and in true geisha fashion, she continued to purchase beautiful kimonos that demonstrated her style and taste.
Kimonos are made from whole widths of the bolt of kimono fabric, about 14 inches wide, sewn together with a simple running stitch, wrapped around the body and tied at the waist with an obi. Since the fabric strips are not cut and shaped as they are in Western clothing, the kimono presents an ideal canvas for the textile artist, as the kimonos in this exhibit demonstrate.
The kimonos on display are made from silk gauze or silk crepe and most are decorated with intricate designs using the lengthy and intricate paste-resist dyeing technique. Many of the kimonos are also finely embroidered with silver and gold thread and additionally decorated with silver and gold stenciling. With their variety of designs and motifs, from peacocks, cranes and river scenes to cherry blossoms, chrysanthemums and fans, each kimono in the exhibit is a work of art.
As a tie-in with the exhibit, the National Geographic Museum will display a collection of National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb’s images of geishas, from Feb. 23 to April 9. Cobb entered the closed world of these entertainers for her 1995 book “Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art.” Granted unprecedented access to the geisha, their art and their mystique, Cobb’s images allow a rare glimpse behind the scenes of this private world.
“From Geisha to Diva: The Kimonos of Ichimaru” is a traveling exhibit, organized by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Its run at the National Geographic Museum coincides with Washington’s National Cherry Blossom festival from March 25 to April 9.
National Geographic Live! is holding a series of events to coincide with the exhibit.
– On Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m., Japanese art scholar Andrew Maske will celebrate the opening of the exhibit with a presentation, “GEISHA: Beyond the Painted Smile,” in which he will explain the role of the geisha within Japanese culture, past and present.
– In “GEISHA: An Artist’s Journey,” on Friday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m., award-winning performing artist Shizumi Manale will offer an interpretation of the art of geisha in a multimedia performance set to traditional and original music.
– On Friday, March 31, at 7 p.m., the classic 1953 Japanese film “Gion Bayashi” will be screened. It follows the difficult life of a young geisha as she and her mentor battle the social pressures of postwar Japan.
– On Tuesday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m., travel writer and filmmaker Karin Muller will present “JAPANLAND: A Year in Search of Wa,” in which she will talk about the year she spent traveling from one end of Japan to the other, living among the people and exploring the country’s ancient and modern ways in her search to discover the soul of Japan.
– A Grand Sushi and Sake Tasting will be held on Wednesday, April 5, at 7, p.m.,presented by the National Cherry Blossom Festival, National Geographic and the National Sushi Society. Grand master Sushi chefs from Japan and area Japanese restaurants will present an evening of sushi delights, Japanese beer and sake samples.
For more information on these events and details of how to purchase tickets, visit nationalgeographic.com/nglive.
The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Dec. 25. Admission is free. For information on the “From Geisha to Diva” exhibit, the public should call (202) 857-7588 or visit nationalgeographic.com/museum.