'Geisha's Dancing', about 1895
© Science & Society
A hand-coloured photograph of two geishas, one dancing with fans, the other playing a musical instrument, taken by an unknown photographer in Japan in about 1895. This photograph is from an album depicting Japanese people, customs and scenery. Geishas were hostesses trained to entertain men with their dancing, singing and poetry. Traditionally, the only places where a Japanese man of any importance could relax and enjoy himself was in the tea houses of the hanamachis or geisha districts. The seated woman is playing a samisen, a three-stringed instrument like a banjo. During the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan samisen music grew in popularity. It was used to accompany kabuki plays and bunraku puppet shows. Japanese photographs produced during the late nineteenth century were often hand-coloured. In style and content they closely resembled popular ukiyo-e woodblock prints. These images portrayed Japan to Europeans as an old-fashioned and inward-looking country. This album is possibly by Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1934) who worked in Yokahama from 1885 to 1912. Previously, he had worked closely with the Austrian photographer Baron Raimund von Stillfried (1839-1911), buying his studio and stock of photographs in 1885. This also included negatives by Felice Beato (1825-1903). Kimbei's albums often included the work of these photographers alongside his own.