A 27-year-old Norwegian national has become the first Western female ever to be chosen to play a leading role at a cherry blossom festival in the city of Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture, which features women dressed as high-class Edo Period (1603-1868) courtesans.
Anette Hansen, who lives in Tokyo, was picked by organizers of the Bunsui Sakura Matsuri Oiran Dochu festival to play the role of one of three oiran, or courtesans, who will parade through the streets of the city on April 17.
It is the first time in the 74-year history of the event that a non-Japanese has applied and been selected to perform a key part in the festivities, according to an official with the Tsubame tourism board.
Hansen, who came to Japan in 2010 and works as a hotel consultant for a major booking firm, was selected from several dozen applicants after two rounds of screening, the official said.
“Being elected is a huge honor for me, and I know that I am taking a spot that a lot of girls in the prefecture dreamed about having,” Hansen said. “This festival is a mixture of some of the most stereotypical things about Japan: You have the traditional oiran costumes and you have the sakura flowers. For me it seemed like a perfect combination and the ultimate Japan experience all in one.”
Hansen and two local women, all dressed as courtesans, will lead the parade accompanied by about 70 servants in waiting. One other model also dressed as a courtesan will also be present at the event to pose for photographs.
The performers will wear traditional 15-centimeter-high platform sandals and showcase the unique walking style oiran used when entertaining their guests.
“Given the whole outfit weights nearly 30 kilograms, the organizing committee took into account the physical condition of applicants,” the Tsubame official said.
“I’m slightly worried about tripping,” Hansen said, referring to several instances in the past where performers playing the part of oiran were so exhausted that they could not complete the two-hour walk. She will also wear a wig popular with oiran during the Edo Period with hair that will droop down her back
According to the city, the festival began in 1933 to entertain visitors who had come to view cherry blossom trees, which were planted to commemorate the completion of a flood control channel at the mouth of the Shinano River that flows around the city.
For more information on the festival, visit jtim.es/ZeZ2O