Miyako Odori is Back at Gion Kobu Kaburenjo!

Loosening up pandemic restrictions brought refreshment to Gion Kobu—after seven years, Miyako Odori is back at Gion Kaburenjo!

Miyako Odori 都をどり is an annual spring dance performance held in the top geisha district of Kyoto, Gion Kobu. The stage performances are organized daily for the whole month of April. It is the most challenging time for every geiko and maiko of Gion Kobu. There are up to four full performances per day and, afterward, usual entertainment job engagements at the teahouses’ banquets around the town that last until late at night. Some of the fresh maiko and shikomi (maiko-to-be) find Miyako Odori too demanding and quit meanwhile.

April is not the only busy month related to Miyako Odori. Intensive dance practice starts around November of the preceding year and finishes on the last day of March. Sometimes, the roles are swapped unexpectedly due to a sudden illness or retirement.

Tickets to Miyako Odori can be purchased online or reserved through a teahouse. Booking through an ochaya ensures better, first-class seats.

Miyako Odori was established in 1872 as a promotional campaign for Japan Expo in Kyoto, intending to revive the rigid city since the capital was relocated to fashionable Tokyo. Geiko and maiko of Gion Kobu presented their dance and musical skills on a big stage for the first time. Around that time, an official dance school was decided for Gion Kobu. 井上八千代 Inoue Yachiyo III (the head of Inoue-ryu) and 杉浦治郎右衞門 Sugiura Jiroemon (the ninth head of Ichiriki-tei, the most influential teahouse in Gion Kobu, then called Man-tei) lobbied for the Inoue school to become the official canon. It survived until today as a specific form of dance, 京舞 kyomai, taught and studied only within the precincts of Gion Kobu.

The performance’s program booklet is available to purchase inside the theatre for 700 yen. Every year, the cover has a different design. 2023 Miyako Odori welcomes us with weeping cherry blossoms and a bird playing with the petals. This leaflet includes explanations of each scene (also in English), exclusive photoshoots, and portraits of every performer. Such booklets are perfect for tracking active artists in each geisha district. Join my Patreon to see the program’s scans!
A brocade curtain covers the stage.

Inoue-ryu has a strong connection with the Noh theatre. It is expressed in delicate and repetitive hand gestures with deep meaning. The leading motif of each year’s Miyako Odori is four seasons and famous places in Kyoto, shown in the interlude scenes performed by geiko and maiko wearing uniform blue kimono.

Cherry blossoms and other flora inside Kaburenjo’s celebrated garden.

Miyako Odori always starts with a traditional shout: “Miyako Odori wa… Yoi-ya-saaa!” performed by geiko and maiko. Photos and videotaping are not allowed during the performance, though it used to be acceptable to photograph even in the early 2000s.

There are several photo spots inside Kaburenjo. All of them are equipped with an authentic sakura-themed folding fan and a sakura twig prop used by geiko and maiko on stage.
A set of kanzashi (flower hair ornaments made of silk) is used by the chorus dancers of Miyako Odori every year. Cherry blossoms, willow, and butterfly pieces decorate the front of the head. The yellow canola flower accessory with tassels is mounted on the back bun. It creates another challenge for the dancers – the kanzashi set is heavy and oversized, with many protruding yet delicate elements. Thus it cumbers dancers’ movements a bit.

Gion Kobu Kaburenjo’s building is a former 清住院 Seiju-in temple of the nearby Kennin-ji. It was adapted as the local theatre for maiko and geiko to host the second Miyako Odori in 1873. Completed in 1913, Kaburenjo got registered as a tangible cultural treasure of Japan. Stage performances ceased during the II World War, and when Miyako Odori returned to Gion in 1950, it was held at the Minamiza kabuki theatre. It gained nationwide attention, culminating in the current Emperor, Naruhito (then crown prince) ‘s visit in 2001. Before the war, many famous artists connected with Kyoto and Gion contributed to the excellence of Miyako Odori, with poet Junichiro Tanizaki as the primary writer of Miyako Odori songs.

2001 Miyako Odori: [The New Millenium] raging waves, sakura petals, and flying cranes (kimono); dancing butterflies (obi)

The distinctive blue kimono used by the chorus dancers changes its bottom part’s motif and obi every year. Each time, the kimono are recycled into merchandise that can be purchased at the souvenir shop inside the venue. Some of the garments are saved as souvenirs and exhibited on various occasions. Every piece is a fabulous example of the craftsmanship of the old capital’s kyoyuzen dyeing and nishijin weaving techniques.

The back hair accessory: canola flowers (they often bloom together with sakura), silver butterflies, tassels, and protruding bira plates.
2023 Miyako Odori: seasonal flowers, bridges, river, and fishing nets (kimono); karahana flower
2012 Miyako Odori: raging waves, seasonal flowers, and treasure ships (kimono); butterflies and karahana flowers (obi)
The famous golden folding fan used exclusively by Gion Kobu maiko. Fans used by geiko have purple stripes instead of red ones. The white sign engraved into the gold paper is Inoue-ryu’s family crest.
2019 Miyako Odori: modern arrangement of hazy clouds, seasonal flowers, and snowflakes (kimono); lucky mallets from takarazukushi (obi) celebrating the new era, Reiwa
1989 Miyako Odori: green kimono with fluttering butterflies; obi with a tortoise shell (made of stylized pine needles) motif
First-year maiko who debut during Miyako Odori do not typically perform on stage. However, they participate as helpers in the tea service and entertain guests at the evening banquets. These inexperienced maiko wear cherry blossom kanzashi with long shidare attachments of silk petals hanging on the left side. The kanzashi pictured here is shaped like a weeping sakura with paper lanterns often seen at night hanami parties, such as at Maruyama Park behind Yasaka Jinja in Gion.

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2023 Miyako Odori

Gion Kobu Kaburenjo

April 1st ~ April 30th, 2023

First-class seat and tea ceremony ¥7,000
First-class seat ¥6,000
Second-class seat ¥4,000

2 Replies to “Miyako Odori is Back at Gion Kobu Kaburenjo!”

  1. How do you reserve through an ochaya? Do they have websites?

    1. It’s only available for the patrons/ochaya members. I recommend booking through the Miyako Odori’s official website!

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