Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gion Odori - Act 6 - The Final Frontier

1st November 2006 - By now you've perhaps had your fill of geisha and maiko....but (and this is coming from someone that was never a huge fan... even though he indulged in the traditional geisha stalking of Gion on a Friday evening) it was a good show, and one that I would recommend to all that are in Kyōto in early November. And now it was coming an end...


The sixth and final act begins with all of the performers now standing together for the first time. Maiko and geisha - and centre stage, the aged geisha who played the mischevious lady in Act Four.
The lights come up...

To the left are the five geisha, their kimono, make-up and hanakanzashi subdued and elegant...

To the right, the four maiko (sorry fourth one - out of shot), their outfits inspired by the colours of spring and autumn their makeup softer, lighter, and their hanakanzashi bright and beaming.

Time often stood still, as if it were captured on film...

Each moment in the dance is careful, deliberate, beautiful and yet distant. This is not an invitation to join with the world of the geisha...

But rather an opportunity to see that world, as through the looking glass... forever to be but a moment of stillness, before the exhalation of breath.

Who are these works of living art? A life-line of Japanese culture, or a dying anachronism? They might not share much with the world of most tourists that come to Japan (or indeed for the majority of Japanese themselves), but like golden leaves that tease the city streets and hills outside, they provide a colour and depth to the scenery that makes their absence so much more palpable.

And now for the last of the videos...once again - it can at best just give a sense of the dance. The one thing that I take from the video is that one shouldn't think of this dance as "synchronised" brilliance. Each geisha and maiko remain distinct...

I hope you have enjoyed my little photo-blog description of the Gion Odori... This was taken some time ago now - and of course every year is a different performance, but I hope that it has given you inspiration to attend one of the full performances. They aren't cheap (at 4000 yen per ticket with tea... but it's an experience you certainly will struggle to find anywhere else). There are a number of such performances throughout the year, so look around before you go to see when the nearest dance is scheduled.

Finally - I have to once thank my wife, T-chan, for her beautiful camera work... her steady hand and keen eye was our saviour. Now, as we stepped from the theatre, we knew that our time in Kyōto was coming to an end...
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  1. Great series, as always the framing of the photos is perfect.
    I am ashamed to admit that I haven't been to this type of performance yet, but looking at the series, it is really worth a visit.

  2. Gorgeous photos! The colours from their outfits to the sets are amazing.

  3. Thnx all - it's definitely worth going to see; and yes, the costumes and sets are brilliant. I think that as a culture-bank, these sorts of events (whilst relatively new...Gion Odori has only been going for about 50 years or so) are very important for maintaining that history.

    Of course - it's definitely a living history.

  4. wow I'd give anything to experience a show like this! thank your wife for me too for her excellent photographs

  5. Definitely something to consider when planning your trip next year. I'll pass on your thanks to my wife.

  6. Both of you are great photographers!

    Talking about geishas, I used to tutor a boy in Tokyo, whose mother was a single-mother Akasaka geisha (Geishas are in Tokyo, too). I was invited to a performance like yours, too.
    Surprisingly, and so surprisingly, she had connections with many presidents of major Japanese companies. I even had lunch with some of them.

    It was an interesting experience.

  7. Thnx for sharing that Muravej... it must have been a very interesting experience. It must have been a good experience... although I have to admit that we often don't see the other side of the make-up.

    I'm sure she (and her son) had an amazing story to tell as well. Did you maintain contact?

    I don't often think of Geisha as mothers, let alone single mothers, but I suppose that says more about myself than the reality of being a Geisha.

  8. Hello, Ben, from Las Vegas.
    I lost all the contacts with them. I was helping the son with his high school entrance exams, which he passed.
    They lived in an apartment near the Parliament building. The mother seemed to have acquaintances with politicians, too.
    On one hand, they live in a modern society. There is a geisha union, too. On the other hand, she was so serious about learning about the ancient skills of dancing.
    Her life seemed to be in harmony, though.