Saturday, October 2, 2010

Gion Odori - Teaser Spelt With a Capital Tea

1st November, 2006 - One of the things I neglected to mention in the last post - which is kind of important. This was our last day in Kyōto... *sigh* As I mentioned in my previous post - we had plans for the afternoon. Those plans centred around the Gion Odori... an autumnal Geisha/Maiko dance festival that ran for about 1.5 weeks at the beginning of November (typically 1-10th November each year).

The dancing was centred around the Gion Kaikan, that sits almost directly opposite the Yasaka Jinja (on Higashioji Dori). I've thrown in a Google Streetview of the theatre below. When we went there (from open day of Kyōto Gosho), we didn't really have a good look at the front of the theatre. My memory was that it was fairly non-descript (and I was thankful for T-chan to find it). Looking at Streetview, I wonder how anyone could have missed it.

Gionkaikan - thanks to Google Streetview
Attractive it is not... in fact, it's typical of that which is all too common in modern Japanese cities... very bland buildings. For those that love Japanese blogs, you might be shocked to read this, but, IMHO the majority of modern (post 50's) buildings in Japan are pretty FUGLY. There are many exceptions... especially from around the 80's through to the mid 90's, where style took on a different (geometric) dimension. Kyōto however, has it's fair share of very drab buildings. Also - it should be mentioned that Gion Kaikan is actually a movie theatre normally. Not quite the megaplex that we often see in modern western society... but a cinema nonetheless.

I would not have imagined that when we arrived. It seemed to be very well suited to the Geisha dances... and we were blissfully unaware of any other purpose.

We arrived about 20 mins before the performance was meant to start. As is the tradition for many of these events, proceedings were preceded by a good ol' tea ceremony. In this case that tea ceremony was included in the 4000 yen charge (3,500 yen without tea... er... that would be 500 yen for the matcha).

Two maiko were present to undertake offical duties. Pouring tea that is. Neither of them were apparently bursting with joy and happiness... I guess that's the more traditional view of Japanese cultivation... they were as the story goes, living art.  It's hard to know if the tea-service is a sought after position amongst maiko - or not. The main event is the dance... drinking tea is the appetizer. Literally.

I have no idea how old the maiko were... Maiko can start quite young, and the makeup and clothes act to hide the true person underneath a veneer of cultured timeliness. Maiko by definition are generally girls under 21 years of age... in older times, girls from the age of 10 (or younger) would be associated with geisha houses - but these days it's much more a traditional heritage for young ladies.

Whilst it might seem an initimate affair, the reality was that the room was organised much like a school classroom, with perhaps 50 people all sitting diligently drinking their tea. Oh - did I mention that the average age was most probably also 50+ (with the exception of the few tourists like us).

The tea was prepared in a very large teapot....though the wicked part of me thinks of it like a very elaborate (and exotic) soup kitchen.... Every so often a new pot of tea was prepared as new patrons arrived.

The matcha was suitably thick and just that little bit bitter; the wagashi (accompanying sweet) was delicate in contrast. Whilst it wouldn't win any awards for filling-you-up, you realise that there's so much more to life than taste alone. Even though we had only just arrived in time for the tea-service, it was good to build up the expectation for the dance itself.
Wagashi - sweet served with matcha.

This was our last day in Kyōto, and it was shaping up to be a good day.

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  1. Despite previous posts where i was Geisha (maiko) spotting in Gion, I'm generally not into the whole geisha thing. The one serving kinda gave me the chills (sorry if you're reading... ). Too rigid and cold.

    My hat goes off to them however - I think that it's a hard life in this day and age. Traditionalism is not something that's commonly aspired to, or considered valuable.

  2. The tea ceremony looks pretty elaborate still. I love the sweets they have paired up with the matcha.