Miyako Odori: The Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto Dancing in Gorgeous Coordination
What is the Miyako Odori?
A public dance held by geiko (the preferred term for “geisha” in Kyoto) and maiko (a girl in the training stages of being a geiko) at Kyoto’s Gion Kaburenjo Theater, this event will be held for the 144th time in 2016. Running from the 1st to the 30th of April, the Miyako Odori famously heralds the coming of spring in the city. Primarily held as an ensemble dance by a large group of geiko and maiko, the dance event also introduces the famous places, kabuki, and literature of Kyoto in song. The performance methods themselves are nearly identical to those established when it first began. For those familiar with the famous theater troupe out of Hyogo, this dance might seem for all the world like a Takarazuka Revue in traditional Japanese costume.
*The characters used for the sounds of the Japanese language have changed in the last century, but the “o” in “Miyako Odori” is still the old “wo” character.
The History of Miyako Odori
During the Meiji Reformation, the Imperial capital was moved to Tokyo, and many of the people of Kyoto feared that it might spell the decline of the nation’s once-capital. In 1872 (the fifth year of the Meiji emperor), the very first Miyako Odori was held as an entertainment at the Kyoto Exhibition. A truly Kyotoite creation, the event was envisioned as a way to both preserve the traditions of Kyoto while ushering it into the new century as a modern city.
At that point in time, ensemble group dances and hanamichi (traverse entrance stages) were still quite rare, and these elements of innovation turned the Kyoto Odori into a smash hit. Echoing that, the dance is even now one of Kyoto’s representative events.
5 Highlights to Keep an Eye Out For at the Miyako Odori
#1 The Venue: Gion Kaburenjo Theater
The first thing that you’ll marvel at will be the site itself. The event’s venue, the Gion Kaburenjo Theatre, is designated as a national cultural asset, and historically it was a very special place that everyday people weren’t even allowed to enter. Just going here for the view of the cherry blossoms alone makes it worth the trip.
The interior boasts a luxurious atmosphere as well, with stage and seating seamlessly blended.
#2 The Maiko’s Kimono
2012 Garb (Theme: Takarabune Treasure Ship), https://www.flickr.com
Be sure to pay attention the costume of the Maiko, which changes every year. Historical examples can be found displayed within the theater.
#3 Tea Service by Geiko
Before the Miyako Odori begins, a tea service is held on the 2nd floor of the theater.
#4 The Hanamichi Entrance Scene
After the mood is set with the tea service, the event begins at last. Dressed in coordinated garb, the geiko and maiko approach the stage along the hanamichi, which runs alongside the theater seating. With this entrance, the audience is pulled at once into the world of the Miyako Odori.
#5 An Innovative Performance Program
In total, the Miyako Odori spans about an hour, with eight scenes based on the four seasons. Similar to the hanamichi, another thing that wowed those first Meiji-era audiences was the lack of curtain drop. Instead, with changes in season and scene the stage is dimmed and the backdrop changed during that interval. At that time, this style of stagecraft was exceptionally modern and creative. (Please note that there isn’t an intermission for this performance.)
The Miyako Odori is an enchanting performance that draws the viewer in, leaving them in a dream until the very last scene. If you go to see this traditional yet innovative dance, we hope what we’ve written here today will help inform you as you enjoy the practiced movements of experienced geiko alongside the charming freshness of the trainee maiko. With costumes, programs, and choreography that change year to year, this event offers something fresh every time you see it. Kyoto Category