SHIRABYOSHI----- HEIAN DANCERS
The most famous shirabyoshi in this Milky Way: Tomoe, concubine of Minamoto Yoshinaka (click here for their pictures and story).
In the pic above, Tomoe is wearing an armor in her last battle. Oh, yeah.
This is not a dancer although (that's why I put the pic here) she looks like Tomoe at war. This is none other than Empress Jingu.
If you're asking 'Empress Who?", click here.
A shirabyoshi putting on her makeup.
A shirabyoshi on the way to work.
The second most-famous shirabyoshi, Gio, concubine of Lord Regent Taira Kiyomori (click here).
Latter-day shirabyoshi (in the middle), a mobile vendor (left) and a geisha of 1700's.
A geisha apprentice, maiko, performing her routine dance.
A kabuki dancer in 1700's before women were kicked out of the biz by the Tokugawa shogunate which also released some law about their hairdo.
Mobile female dancers, shirabyoshi, might have existed a while before the year 749 during the Japanese 'Golden Age' (the Heian era -- click here for everything about it and why it is dubbed 'golden').
But it was in the Heian period of Japanese history that they became regular items in historians' notebooks.
A shirabyoshi, actually, was not only a dancer; she was a performer of variety shows -- telling tales, acting, playing music, and so on, even playing cards.
They could get easily distinguished by their male costume (it's never clear why they took it up, though some insist it was a concession to the bisexuality of the samurai), with one sword which they could use to cut some heads off if they had to, as well as a tool of the trade, because their special show was saga of real-life and mythical warriors.
It was through shirabyoshi, the greatness of the samurai got trumpeted all over the rest of the nation; something that would be taken up by the Noh drama later, then the kabuki even later, and all sorts of crooning such as the ballad-like joruri.
The third most-famous shirabyoshi in the history of Japan: Shizuka, concubine of the greatest samurai ever, Minamoto Yoshitsune (click here for pictures).
When Minamoto was unreasonably banished by his brother, the Shogun Yoritomo (click here for picture), Shizuka accompanied him, but later she was captured and brought back to Kamakura.
Yoshitsune died with his wife and kids when Yoritomo's assasins stormed into their final refuge.
Yoritomo, characteristically, demanded Shizuka's presence when the head of Minamoto Yoshitsune was brought to him.
Then he asked her if she would "add more entertainment".
Shizuka bowed and did perform her usual dance -- only this time she told of the glory of Minamoto Yoshitsune instead of ancient heroes.
That impromptu act immortalized her in Japanese history.
And what she sang and danced -- the Yoshitsune saga -- became a standard performance for other shirabyoshis around for ages. It is still performed today by the geisha of Kyoto and Tokyo (click here for History of Geisha).
This is of course not a shirabyoshi, not even female in that matter; he's the most famous kabuki actor Zeami, concubine of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.
Kabuki used to be a second-class entertainment before 1374 when Ashikaga saw Zeami for the first time and fell in love with him and hence kabuki itself was elevated into something unembarrassing for the upper class to watch, though would never get on the same level with the always-dignified Noh.
Zeami got onstage as a variety of women, too. Here he is dancing.
This is no one's concubine. He's Taira Tomoakira, dancing his last dance when about to get killed by Minamoto Yoritomo in the Gempei War of 1182-1185.
Dancing in the face of adversity is considered as inimitable courage in a samurai.
The pictures above are of Oda Nobunaga, when dancing his favorite 'samurai dance' Atsumori in the morning before his battle of Okehazama in 1560.
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