“Akita Obako”, c. 1930.



1930sArts & CultureFolkloreGeisha/Maiko/Onnanoko
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“Akita obako” folk music and lyrics, c. 1930. In the Akita dialect, obako means “daughter” or “unmarried girl”. The obako of Akita are renowned throughout Japan for their beauty, simplicity, and purity of heart.

“In Akita ben, or the dialect of Japanese as it is spoken in Akita, obako means ‘daughter’, but the word is often used to refer to an unmarried woman. A local phrase – ‘Akita obako musume‘ – is used to refer to someone who was born and raised in Akita. The city of Daisen is where the phrase first began being used, but it is now a common turn of phrase used around the prefecture. Unlike the Akita Bijin, or ‘beauty of Akita’, the Akita Obako is meant to represent a simple, unstudied grace, and it’s a quality you can expect to encounter on your travels around the prefecture.

“… Along with the prefecture’s many festivals, Akita is known for its rich history of folk singing, and there is a famous minyo (folk song) named in honor of the Akita Obako. The song’s lyrics tell of a 17-year-old girl who spends her time amid hills and fields, gazing on the blooming trees and flowers.

“It’s a well known song that has been recorded by everyone from traditional Japanese singers to the switched-on shamisen duo, the Yoshida Brothers. But perhaps nowhere is it more beloved than in the Omagari neighborhood of Daisen, where a yearly folksinging competition is held.

“Young and old join take part each June as each singer does their utmost to bring an award-winning interpretation to the beloved words and melody.”

‘Maid in Akita: Introducing the Akita Obako’, Tokyo Weekender, July 30, 2016

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