When I first got here, on my first trip to Kyoto, I saw a couple maiko (apprentice geisha), and blogged about wondering if a geisha could be feminist.
At the beginning of April, one of my colleagues at the university asked me if I'd like tickets to a dance performance called the Miyako Odori (Dance of the Capital; miyako is an old word for capital, and odori is dance). She told me that she's been studying tea ceremony for some years, and was given tickets to a dance performance and tea ceremony, but was too busy to go. She'd been wondering who might really enjoy the experience, and her thoughts landed on me. Of course, I said "yes" with great enthusiasm.
I didn't blog about it at the time because it was so weirdly complicated. My colleague had ticket things, which had to be exchanged in one of several places for actual tickets for a specific performance, seven days ahead of time. Now as you know, I'm totally illiterate, and can't speak but three words of Japanese (okay, maybe I'm up to 5 now). So my colleague and I were talking in the main office, and one of the staff members (H) helpfully offered to call the theater and get information for me. And as we were talking, I asked H if she'd ever seen anything like this, and she hadn't, so I asked if she would be interested in using the second ticket. She was, but only if we could arrange to go on a Sunday, since that's the only day she has off.
We decided to go on Sunday the 27th. And the next time I had a chance, I went off to find the theater in Kyoto. H and another staff member made a map for me, which was a great help.
But when I got to the theater to exchange the tickets, I learned that you can only exchange tickets EXACTLY seven days before the performance, so I would have to go back (I'd assumed they meant at least seven days, but that wasn't it). At any rate, I wasn't sure til we actually got there that I wouldn't mess things up, so I didn't want to blog about it. And then the blog was blocked for most of last week, so I didn't have a chance to blog about it then.
But on the 27th, H and I met at the train station early, then went and had lunch in Kyoto, and then went to the performance.
The dance is put on by a dance school that trains (some of) the geiko (the Kyoto dialect word for geisha) and maiko of the Gion district of Kyoto. I read up a bit in the playbill, and it seems that shortly after the Meiji restoration, when the capital was officially moved to Tokyo and the emperor's whole court moved there, folks in Kyoto were a bit worried about an economic downturn. The city put on a big exhibition for commerce, and this dance school did a public performance. And since then, they've put on yearly (I think) public performances, called the Dance of the Capital (other geisha districts also do public dance performances). And now the geiko community is working to change things a bit so that the big economic downturns of the past several years (which have limited the big expense budgets of businessmen who traditionally hired geiko to entertain) would have a less deleterious effect on the geiko community economically.
What can I say? The tea ceremony was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn't see much, and things felt very rushed. BUT the dance was incredible. I've never seen anything like it! The music was totally new to me, but really got into my head, and the dancing was so beautifully controlled and graceful.
The dance this year told the story of Genji, in honor of the one thousand year anniversary of when the story was supposed to have happened. There's a big opening scene, with a large number of dancers all in blue kimono. Then the scene turns to spring, and we meet Genji. The dance follows through the seasons, and the finale happens in spring again, with the sakura (cherry blossom) season represented beautifully on stage. (And since April is sakura season, this was way cool!)
I think H enjoyed it even more than I did, because she could follow the plot a whole lot better.
I've embedded several youtube videos I found on the web of this year's performance, ending with the finale (final of the three clips). So you can share some little bit of my experience.
I still don't know if a geisha can be a feminist, but I've gotten the sense that they can be quite savvy businesswomen. And they're danged amazing dancers and musicians (which is a big part of their entertainment, as I understand it).