Japan’s geisha have a well-known reputation around the world as entertainers who are competent artists of many art forms. However, in the past, it wasn’t often that foreigners got to see them perform. They were only seen performing at small places such as tea houses, but this is no longer the case now. Kyoto’s geisha communities have put up an annual public show where you can see geisha performances such as the ‘Miyako Odori’, a traditional spring dance.
Miyako Odori comes from the Japanese words ‘miyako’ meaning capital, and ‘odori’ meaning dance. It is a dance performed by the ‘geiko’ (geisha) and ‘maiko’ (apprentice geisha) of Gion Kobu (the largest geisha district in Kyoto). Geisha from Kyoto prefer to be called a geiko rather than a geisha. Geiko means ‘art child’ while geisha means ‘art person’.
Though Kyoto is no longer the capital of Japan, it is still written with characters that mean ‘capital city’ in Japanese. Thus, the dance has been called the ‘Capital City Dances’. Since this event takes place during the spring season, it has also been dubbed ‘The Cherry Blossom Dances’.
The dance formally started in the year 1872 when the first geiko of the Gion Kobu performed in public. Ever since performances have been held yearly in the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater. It then became the setting of this vibrant cultural gem. Nowadays, the dance is being performed every day during the whole month of April, which makes it a month of very hard work for the geiko and maiko. Every performance lasts an hour for a total of four hours from 12.30 pm to 4.50 pm and is expected to be flawless. Every move must always be perfect.
Each performance consists of 8 scenes, with each scene representing an aspect of Japanese life. There’s always a focus in every dance, such as traditional places or changes in nature and so on. What makes this performance unique is the fact that it is not only restricted to dancing. Sometimes the geiko will sing and act in a drama scene. Costumes and make-up are lavish. Everyone is wearing a kimono which has been beautifully adorned depending on the theme. A total of 60 geiko and maiko will take the stage.
Miyako Odori is a legacy to be proud of, that continues to captivate audiences hailing from countries around the world. Head to Kyoto in April to see one of the most elaborate and timeless performances in Japan!