My first encounter with Japan actually happened in… France! Indeed, as a teenager, I had just started photography with my Canon EOS 600, at the times of the film camera (around 1990). It is where I saw this young kimono musician playing in the gardens of Tuilleries (near the Louvre).
The kimono musician
This young lady was playing the traditional instrument called “koto”, obviously busking, probably to pay for her studies. In a very Japanese attempt at perfectionism, she even wore a kimono while playing in the hot summer sun.
At the time, the police was quite strict on buskers and vendors in the garden, but yet, they tolerated this lady, probably because of the exquisite poetry of this scene.
Looking back at this scene, shot before the social medias became a pest and before people would start posting all about Japan or their trips, I guess this sparked my interest for Japanese culture and its refinement.
I was still a pretty shy guy at the time, so one regret I have today is not having spoken to the young lady. But photography can open worlds to you.
In an interesting cultural twist (I believe I mentioned that this blog was also about showing cultural interactions), the Koto originally comes from China, where it was called guzheng (古箏) and it was imported to Japan around the VIIth century AD.
Originally reserved to the imperial court, playing Koto is a sign of aristocracy. However, few are the young Japanese ladies who are still capable of playing the instrument with some degree of proficiency. As such, this young lady was probably placing herself among the most refined of her society. Why did she have to play the instrument for busking? An interesting question to which we may never have an answer.
If you are looking for more information about the Koto, you may visit this site: Musique traditionnelle japonaise (French).