April 13, 2009

by Yukari Maruoka; Chiho Inaba; Airi Ishikawa

(Cherry Dances)


In February 1867, in Japan, the Emperor Komei was restored to the throne after the fall of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate. Later that year, upon his father’s death, the Emperor Meiji took the throne in his place, and set about moving the country away from being a feudal society to a more western influenced model. Among the many changes to take place under the ‘Meiji Restoration’ was the moving of the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo. This caused grave concern among many Kyoto citizens, as they felt the unique status that Kyoto held as the cultural centre of Japan would be irreparably diminished.

In order to combat this, and raise Kyoto’s profile, as both a seat of cultural activity, and a burgeoning commercial centre, the city’s leaders devised a plan to once again bring Kyoto under the national spotlight. One of the events staged under this plan was the Exhibition for the Promotion of Domestic Industry. It was here that the Miyako-0dori, among other traditional arts, was first showcased.

The Miyako-Odori was first performed in March 1872, at an exquisite, traditional house in the Gion area of Kyoto. The year after, in April 1873, the performances were moved to the more spacious Kaburen-jo theatre in Gion, where it is still performed to this day. The performances were conceived and choreographed by Yachio Inouye the III, who was master of the Kyomai Dance School, on the request of the vice-Governor of Kyoto, Masanao Makimura. The current Miyako-Odori performances are still entrusted to the Kyomai Dance School under the tutelage of Yachio Inouye the V.

When and Where to See Miyako-Odori

Here is some information on how to see a Miyako dance performance.

When can you see it?

Miyako dances are held from April 1st ~ 30th, and there are four performances a day. Each performance lasts for one hour.

12.30 ~ 14.00 ~ 15.30 ~ 16.50 ~

The performances are only given over the course of one month a year, but the maiko and geiko practice very hard throughout the whole year.

The price of admission differs according to the category of seat, and there are three classes to choose from:

Special Class Ticket: 4500 yen (including tea service and a gift)

1st Class Ticket: 4,000 yen

2nd Class Ticket: 2,000 yen

*Besides the main performances in April, there are eight days of review performances held in October. This is for those people who may have missed out on the experience in April.

Where can you see it?

Performances are held at the Gion Kobu Kaburen-jo (theatre), which is located in downtown Kyoto and easily accessed by bus or train services. There is seating for up to 900 people here, on three levels, but the tremendous popularity of the events means that there are usually packed houses for all performances. Although it came to be the main stage for the Miyako dance, this space was originally set up as a training area for maiko.

What kind of person attends a performance?

Many of the people in the audience are elderly, and there are a lot of foreign tourists, too. There is a pamphlet and a homepage in English, so it is easy to get information on the events.

Other Famous Kyoto Dances

Miyako-Odori is the main, and probably most famous, original Kyoto dance performance, but there are four others performed throughout the year in the five recognized entertainment districts around the city. There were originally six entertainment districts, actually, but the Shimabara district sadly no longer exists. Below are brief details of four of the performance styles.


From the 1st Saturday to the 3rd Sunday of April at Miyagawa-cho Kaburen-jo

Judo Wakayagu started this style of Nihonbuyo. He was a student of Jusuke Hanayagi in Tokyo, but was actually expelled from his school. Following this, he moved to Kyoto to tread his own path in the dance world. The theme behind this dance is a little like Kabuki, and it is somewhat male-like in its moves and execution.


From the 15th to the 25th of April at Kamishichiken Kaburen-jo

The style of dance performed here is Hanayagi-ryu, named after the 4th iemoto (head) of the school where it originates, Jusuke Hanayagi. He was very famous as a stage designer and arranger, so this dance has a definite story to it. At the end of the performance, the maiko and geiko have their hair arranged in the Shimada-mage style.


From the 1st to the 24th of May in Ponto-cho Kaburen-jo

The performances here are in the Onoue-ryu style and are divided into two parts. The first is more dramatic, like a musical, and the other is purely dance. The music is not really like traditional Japanese music and a little more flamboyant, so it is a more like a show.


At the beginning of November at Gion east Kaburen-jo

The Fujima-ryu style is danced here, named after Kanbei Fujima, its originator. However, it was later divided up between two families, the Kanjuro and the Kanemon.

* The Miyako no Nigiwai is performed on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday in June at Kyoto Kaikan and is a joint programme of performances from among the five entertainment districts.

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