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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Hei-An Princess 十面埋伏

Updated: Jan 14




佳人難再得。 李延年

In the north there is a beauty; peerless and independent.

A glance from her will overthrow a city; another glance will overthrow a nation.

One would rather not know whether it will be a city or a nation that will be overthrown.

As it would be difficult to behold such a beauty again. Han Dynasty poet Li Yannian(李延年)

I have always enjoyed photographing traditional costumes. It is extremely rare to see one nowadays - only in movie sets and traditional festivals. The idea first came from Zhang Yimou's movie House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏), a movie set in the Tang Dynasty, but of course I preferred a more Japanese version because the costumes are in Kyoto.

The Hei-an period (平安時代, Heian jidai) is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height. The Hei-an period is also considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially poetry and literature.

Although written Chinese (Kanbun) remained the official language of the Heian period imperial court, the introduction and widespread use of kana saw a boom in Japanese literature. Despite the establishment of several new literary genres such as the novel and narrative monogatari (物語) and essays, literacy was only common among the court and Buddhist clergy.

During the Hei-an period, beauty was widely considered an important part of what made one a "good" person. In cosmetic terms, aristocratic men and women powdered their faces and blackened their teeth, the latter termed ohaguro. The male courtly ideal included a faint mustache and thin goatee, while women's mouths were painted small and red, and their eyebrows were plucked or shaved and redrawn higher on the forehead (hikimayu).

Women cultivated shiny, black flowing hair and a courtly woman's formal dress included a complex "twelve-layered robe" called jūnihitoe, though the actual number of layers varied. Costumes were determined by office and season, with a woman's robes, in particular, following a system of color combinations representing flowers, plants, and animals specific to a season or month.

A beautiful fashion model from Kyoto, Serena made this dream come true. The make-up and costumes took about an hour to assemble and then, the usual stuff...private vehicle and then off to the temples/ parks....The costume we selected was a Hei-an Princess costume with a hat and a veil, because Princesses at that time were rarely allowed outside the palace and had to cover much of their faces when outside. Serena is a well-known beauty in Kyoto and was previously crowned Miss Kimono....

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