Geisha – the art and the person

In September 2018 , in the Capital, the friendship (now historical) between Rome and Tokyo will be celebrated.
Such as? With a series of events that reflect the spirit that has given life to the Walk of Japan (completely viable return, after 10 years, just in July 2018).

The Association 花 見 Hanami ~ Lake of EUR Rome tells us that the Hanami (the rite of going to admire the cherry blossom) is now practiced also in Italy. For example, in the Roman district of EUR, where the EUR Lake Park is located.

On July 20, 1959 , the pedestrian and bicycle path that crossed it was inaugurated and was called the Walk of Japan in honor of the Land of the Rising Sun. On that occasion, in view of the 1960 Olympics in Rome, the Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi , on an official visit to Italy, donated to Rome, on behalf of his government, 2500 sakura .

Japanese flowering cherry trees, of the variety prunus x yedoensis, commonly called yoshino or somei-yoshino, as a sign of friendship between Italy and Japan . Many of the trees from Tokyo were planted right in the EUR park along the aforementioned promenade.

Every year, under these enchanting cherry trees, people come from all over the country to admire the blooming of Sakura (cherry). The flowering begins in the middle / late March (usually around 20/24) and lasts until the beginning of April when the trees begin to fade. Another unmissable show!

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

It’s official: Italy-Japan will be the match that will open the Men’s Volleyball World Cup on September 9th 2018 . It will be played at the Foro Italico in Rome, in an atmosphere that promises to be already very hot in support of Blengini’s blues, included in Pool A along with Japan, Argentina, Belgium, Slovenia and the Dominican Republic.

We will offer an unforgettable show! In the capital there will be only one match, but it is the inaugural one and the whole world is expecting a lot from the city of Rome.

… commented Claudio Martinelli, president of the FIPAV Rome Territorial Committee.

Endocosmo Maraini

Japan is no longer a thing for me to take or leave;
it is a fraction of the blood, an existence of the inner forests.
Fosco Maraini

Daniela Travaglini , yamatologa by chance, translator for passion, professional dreamer, reminds us that in September (and until October 20 ) it will still be possible, at the Japanese Cultural Institute in Rome, to discover the Japan of Fosco Maraini in the exhibition Endocosmo Maraini .

Curated by the nephews Nour Melehi and Mujah Maraini Melehi, it allows you to scroll through the history of this family and their relationship with Japan.
Just in 2018 is the anniversary of his first trip to Japan, when Maraini obtained a bag from Kokusai Gakuyu Kai to study the Ainu at the Imperial University of Sapporo, in Hokkaido.
In 1938 Maraini left with his wife Topazia Alliata and the eldest daughter Dacia, in a period of profound transformation for Europe, which was dominated by the specters of Fascism and Nazism.

Also in September, the traveling festival #AGeishaDay will take place in Rome: from 6 to 16 September , 3 geisha and 1 hangyoku (apprentice) of Tokyo will color the city with the silk of their kimonos. Conferences, workshops, ozashiki (geisha party), tea ceremony: the Italian geisha fans have already started the countdown.

The Museum of Civilizations could not ignore a similar event: geisha is one of the most studied social-anthropological phenomena in the world, ever since.
Suffice it to mention the case of Liza Dalby , the American anthropologist who, in 1975 , went to Japan to carry out research for the purposes of her doctoral thesis entitled The Institution of the Geisha in the Modern Japanese Society ( The institution of geisha in society modern Japanese ). His book, La mia vita da geisha, narrates this experience, lived in a real okiya (house of geisha) located in the district of Pontochō, in Kyōto, one of the most famous geisha neighborhoods of the city and of the entire country.

The Museum of Civilizations will therefore host the inaugural press conference of the #AGeishaDay Festival , on 7 September (from 11 am to 1 pm) at the conference hall of the “Luigi Pigorini” National Museum of Ethnographic Prehistory.

Furthermore, on September 9 , an important stage of the festival will be held at the Museum of Civilizations and in collaboration with the nearby Euroma2 Shopping Center .
“One day in a geisha house” workshop: a joint event between the Museum of Civilizations and Euroma2.
FIRST PART: at the museum pole of the Museum of Civilizations (in the conference room of the National Museum of Prehistoric Ethnography “Luigi Pigorini”).
The program, in short:
11:00 – “Life from Geisha”, the story of the protagonists, with the support of slides and the possibility to address their personal questions to the artists.
13: 00/14: 00 – Lunch break
14: 00/16: 00 – Geisha School with demonstrations of lessons in traditional dance and music.
16: 00/16: 30 – coffee break
During the coffee break the guests will move to the Euroma2 shopping center (10 minutes from the museum),
in Viale dell’Oceano Pacifico, 83, 00144 Rome (RM),
for the SECOND PART of the event.
The program, in short:
16: 30 / 17:30 – Oshiroi Make Up and Kitsuke (dressing of the kimono).
We will discover the magic and the secrets of the Make Up and the typical hairstyles of the Geisha.
17: 30/18: 30 – Greetings Final and PHOTO I remember with the Geisha and the Maiko.

Euroma2 has started an important collaboration with the “Museum of Civilizations” of Eur MuCiv .

The project stems from the common intent of making art accessible, integrating it into the spaces of everyday life as a stimulus and entertainment for the general public.

The innovative agreement was inaugurated on Friday 3 August with an exhibition (inside the mall) parallel to the exhibition in progress at the Pigorini Museum “Geisha – art and the person” curated by Loretta Paderni. The route will remain active until September 30, 2018.

So, in September, geisha fans will also have the pleasure of visiting this wonderful exhibition that, today, tells us about the curator, Loretta Paderni.

Let’s start from the beating heart of the exhibition …
«The exhibition Geisha – art, the person presents some precious objects that the Palermo sculptor Vincenzo Ragusa collected ( between 1876 and 1882 ) in Japan . During his stay to teach Western sculpture at Kobu Bijutsu Gakko, the first state school of Fine Arts in the country. Upon his return to Palermo, he founded and directed the School of Applied Art in Industry . It was initially annexed to the Japanese Museum consisting of its collection of 4200 objects , representative of Japanese art and crafts of the Edo and Meiji periods ( now kept in Rome at the Museum of Civilization ).

The sculptor was, in fact, among the first “ambassadors” of Italian culture in Japan and, on his return from the Land of the Rising Sun, became the spokesman of Japanese culture in Italy.

Reading the biography of Vincenzo Ragusa, in the book “Kiyohara Tama the painted collection” (Sellerio Editore), I was conquered by this man, passionate and generous, idealist and impulsive …
«When it leaves for Japan, in 1876, Italy is struggling to consolidate the process of national unification and trying to catch up with the most advanced European cultural and industrial realities.

The question of the opportunity to found industrial art museums with related training schools for skilled workers is much debated at the political level, but also on the pages of the newspapers.
Ragusa is certainly aware of these ferments. It arrives in Japan in a formidable historical period, a harbinger of stimuli, of changes. Since 1868, following the fall of the military government and the Restoration of imperial power, the country aspires to become a new power, modernized industrialized and economically developed.

The Japanese government strongly wants to internationalize its culture: the Universal Expositions in vogue at the time become the place of election in which Japan and the West confront each other and build their own images.

Kimono invernale mostra al Museo Pigorini “Geisha – l’arte e la persona” a cura di Loretta Paderni 


And Ragusa is the right man (and artist) to “educate” the creative Japanese craftsmen and together with them develop new and profitable production methods. Obviously with the aim of promoting the industrial arts (and the possibility of selling the products) …
“Ragusa does not know the language and history of Japan, perhaps does not fully understand the purpose for which he was invited to teach the techniques of representation from life, but is an artist . He perfectly captures the quality, the beauty of the materials with which he comes into contact, he makes them conquer.
In a letter to the architect Francesco Enrico Di Simone, his former teacher and friend, he writes: “I find that Japanese art is so original and so fine that I would buy everything that presents itself to me .

And, fortunately for us, he did it! Quite right?
“…Yup! The sculptor invests his considerable earnings from oyatoi gaikokujin (rented foreigner) collecting a collection of about 4200 objects, representative of all sectors of the Japanese figurative and decorative arts.

The encounter with the Western world introduces, and induces, radical changes in taste and aspirations. If Japanese art gathers admirers and generates the phenomenon of Japonism in Europe, the West also becomes fashionable in Japan. Illustrated books and prints show information on clothes, foods, lifestyle of foreigners and it is the Emperor himself who pushes his people towards “civilization”, taking photographs of them dressed in a uniform in 1872.

The adoption of new tools and techniques, moreover, leads to replace objects traditionally produced in large quantities, which are then abandoned and sold, often at affordable prices, giving rise to delusions collectibles.
Ragusa is in the field and, thanks to the prestige it enjoys, the objects are offered spontaneously.
The Sicilian sculptor is indeed credited with having contributed to the introduction of modern art in Japan. As evidenced by a certificate issued to him at the time of departure by the Minister for Public Works Sasaki Takayuki.

Karuta-bako container for playing cards and playing cards Karuta-bako, container for playing cards, wood, black lacquer, gold lacquer; silk brocade case, golden paper; two decks of 198 Uta-garuta playing cards, silk, balsa, golden paper, pigments, 19th century. The cards are rectangular, made up of a thin sheet of balsa wood covered on the back by gilded paper. On the front of a deck are the names of the poets, the verses of the poems and the hand-painted portraits of characters from the sophisticated clothing sitting on the tatami. On the other deck are printed the final verses of the aforementioned poems.

So what motivations led Ragusa to collect the evidence of Japanese craftsmanship and art?
“What is certain is that immediately the sculptor, perhaps inspired by the illustrations of the Enchizuroku, is concerned with documenting the objects in his collection. For it has already conceived the role of witness of the arts and culture of the Japanese people .

His interest, in fact, despite being markedly towards the understanding and acquisition of technical craft skills, is aimed at an almost anthropological study of the country that has welcomed him and of which he wants to make known in Italy the lifestyle , the positive attitude towards work, the artistic attitude, cultivated in all the strata of society.

Ragusa stands beyond the exotic patterns of a literary and artistic Japanism, but rather sees the possibility of constructive confrontation, an exchange of attitudes and skills between the two countries. 

So does the idea of a School-workshop take shape in his mind in which to use Japanese techniques and teachers to create a specialized industrial manufacturing in Italy? I reply with your words .

… In the midst of a population endowed with exquisite and genial artistic attitudes, awakened in me the dormant resolutions of youthful aspirations and wanted to bring the contribution of devoted son to the progress of my neglected homeland, implanting in Sicily the Schools of Art applied to Industry .

Returning to Palermo in 1882 , Ragusa strongly pursues the project of the School , which will become his greatest dream and his greatest disillusionment. »

Makeup set Make-up set consisting of: double retractable cosmetic brush, wood, gold lacquer, metal, bristles; brush for double cosmetics, wood, gold lacquer, metal, bristles; case for a bellet, golden metal; small bottle with scented essences, gilded metal, silver, 19th century. The set for makeup is combined with a small bottle with scented essences, decorated with floral motifs in gold on a black background and closed by a knob that is screwed into a chrysanthemum ring in silver.


In a conference held in February 1884, to the workers in Palermo, talking about Japan, he recalls …
“Everyone joins in activity; calm, tireless, industrious, proud citizens; because in that country the law punishes those who do and those who receive alms, and this is how man does not become depressed, instead honoring himself with work and education – there the law on compulsory education does not exist, because every house is a school and everyone can read and write and profess an art; since in those same houses the children find tools, books, drawings and useful toys; real kindergartens. “

“The objects collected in Japan and exhibited in the eleven rooms of the Museum inaugurated in 1883, must support the educational activities of the School-workshop, provide technical and aesthetic models to inspire, and be at the same time a source of” … expressive, ethnographic concept social, political and religious … “of their country.
The innovative project of Ragusa stands as a bridge between the two cultures, to be traveled in both directions . 

In Tokyo, Ragusa met the young and promising painter Kiyohara Tama , who followed him on his return to Palermo in 1882, successfully entering the artistic scene of the city, where he lived for 50 years.
Vincenzo Ragusa founded and directed in Palermo the School of Applied Art in Industry, of which Tama was the director of the women’s section.
The Japanese museum was initially annexed. It consists of a rich collection of 4200 objects, representative of Japanese art and crafts from the Edo and Meiji period, which the sculptor had collected during his stay in Japan and which are now all in Rome at Museum of Civilization, among the collections of the “Luigi Pigorini” National Museum of Prehistory Ethnography.


Until October 30, 2018, we will therefore have the opportunity to make this ideal trip to the Japan of Ragusa. An opportunity not to be missed!

Illustrazioni delle Bellezze delle Case Verdi (Ehon seirō bijin awase) Suzuki Harunobu

The objects collected by Ragusa come to life, in the exhibition, through the images taken from the volumes Illus trations of the Beauties of the Green Houses ( Ehon seirō bijin awase ), by the artist Suzuki Harunobu (eighteenth century).

Suzuki Harunobu (鈴木 春 信; 1725 approximately – 15 June 1770) was one of the most famous interpreters of the Ukiyo-e style. He was an innovator in the artistic field, the first to produce multicolored prints (nishiki-e) in 1765 , news that made obsolete previous prints made with only two or three colors.

The books in the exhibition, ancient and precious, are kept in display cases, but we can browse them on a digital screen. In them, the ukiyo – “the floating world”, ie the aesthetic values and the vision of life based on the awareness and appreciation of imperfection by the Japanese society during the Edo period (1603-1868), is expertly described .

In the illustrations of Harunobu the oiran are represented in their rooms (oku), in moments dedicated to education, personal care and the study of the arts.
The exhibited objects, such as accessories for hairstyles or elaborate kimono, tell us about the elegance, sensuality and grace of these young women. The rigorous study of music, dance, poetry, calligraphy and floral composition (ikebana), fundamental for their entertainment activities, allows courtesans to be an emblem of cultured sensuality.
From other objects we appreciate the private moments, hidden outside by sliding windows, also witnessed by images in which we can glimpse the woman who smokes, reads, is wandered with pets or is dedicated to games and pastimes.

Illustrazioni delle Bellezze delle Case Verdi (Ehon seirō bijin awase) Suzuki Harunobu

Well distinguished from the geisha (artiste), in the history and in the Japanese culture the oiran (花魁) are figures similar to courtesans and are considered yūjo (遊 女), that is “women of pleasure”. Their social status is distinguished from that of ordinary Yūjo. The oirans were indeed luxury courtesans and some of them were so successful that they became celebrities even outside the pleasure districts.

Their art led them alongside men of power and their dressmaking was often at the origin of fashions and trends, which is why some aspects of their tradition still survive in Japan in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

mostra al Museo Pigorini “Geisha – l’arte e la persona” a cura di Loretta Paderni

Finally, with the exhibition of photographs by Fabrizio and Federico Bonifazi , made mainly in the Gion district in Kyōto , the topic of geisha in today’s Japan is addressed. The images show the iconic figures of the maiko and the current geiko, while they are walking towards the ozashiki (geisha party), they smile to the curious goal of the westerners or they come down from a taxi to go back to the okiya (the geisha house).

The geisha, like other icons of Japanese culture, is therefore still a clear bridge between Japan’s past and present . As if, unchangeable and eternal, emerged from the soft lights of the deepest paths of a country that has now been completely transformed, all around her.

The geisha is a treasure of humanity, we hope it never disappears.

Waiting for the next trip, in Japan, we can admire it at the exhibition Geisha – art, the person (at the Museum of Civilizations – Science Fair Prehistoric ethnographic museum “Luigi Pigorini”, from 26 July to 30 October 2018).

locandina mostra al Museo Pigorini “Geisha – l’arte e la persona” a cura di Loretta Paderni