Getting into a taxi and realising that you’re about to achieve one of your life goals is no small thing. ‘Excited’ doesn’t begin to cover how I felt as we pulled out onto the Gojo-dori.
Our taxi ride was cheap and our driver was friendly, dropping us off right at the door of the Kaburenjo (theatre) on one of the busiest (but quaintest) streets I have ever seen: the Hanamikoji-dori.
This street is part of Gion-Kobu, one of the oldest Hanamachi in Kyoto, possibly Japan.
I’m not really what you’d call a history buff. That is, my bookshelf isn’t groaning under the weight of history books, nor am I a walking encyclopaedia of historical facts. But I do love being in a place that has a palpable age to it – a sense of history.
This is exactly the sense you get walking down the Hanamikoji-dori:
It’s not just the way it looks, but the history that’s written on it in human footprints and echos. Geiko (the local term for Geisha) have been working here since at least the 16th century (according to Wikipedia, anyway) and the street is estimated to have existed since the Middle Ages.
Knowing that the human drama – love, life, loss, regret, pain, joy, beauty, victory, survival and endurance – has been played out for that long, on the same earth that you’re currently walking on, is humbling.
We stopped and exchanged our printed email confirmation for our tickets at the Kaburenjo and then, realising we had an hour or so to wait, set off to find food.
We didn’t have very far to go as we decided to eat at a very small izakaya on the Hanamikoji-dori that seated, in total, 11 people.
It was called Omoide Gohan or ‘Memories of Food’. I’ve been told that it was probably the sort of place that made home-style food – the kind ‘Mum used to make.’
If so Mum must’ve been a freaking wizard in the kitchen – check this out:This was Monique’s meal: a sizzling tofu steak that came with its own little fire! I had teriyaki chicken and tempura. All of our food was fresh, delicious and reasonably priced. Our waiter was a scream and was absolutely fascinated with Monique’s septum and cheek piercings.
You know that scene in Kill Bill at Okinawa where The Bride orders sake from Hattori Hanzo? Our waiter was just like that. Now whether he was playing it up for us, or whether he was just that theatrical, I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter – he was awesome.
After we finished our meals we returned to the Kaburenjo.
Monique and I lined up to be seated in our second-class or ‘cheapie’ seats and I was all a-buzz with excitement. The kind where you’re trying to look in every direction at once, chewing gum too fast, and taking too much. I was stoked to be there.
And I’m really glad we booked the cheap seats. Rather than sitting in a standard theatre seat, we got to take our shoes off and sit on traditional tatami mats on the third level (i.e. looking down on the stage). Our view of the stage was impeccable and we were seated with interesting people – lots of different travellers from around the world, and also Japanese people who were visiting Kyoto for the seasonal Hanami celebrations.
The Miyako Odori was absolutely enchanting. It was an explosion of colour and sound that incorporated some elements of kabuki theatre (the stage hands were dressed all in black and would run and dive across the stage to move props as quickly as possible). The Geiko chorus were dressed in the most exquisite sky blue kimono, dotted with delicate flowers that contrasted beautifully with red Obi and delicate pink and green fans.
Seeing so many Geiko wearing the white, painted face from a distance made me realise that the makeup actually highlights the individuality of each Geiko rather than obscures it. It was suddenly obvious how uniquely beautiful each woman was.
The music was performed by a small live band that featured drums, flute, and shamisen. There was also a separate, hidden chorus who sang the the narrative of the story. They were revealed, dramatically, through the stage floor during the second half.
There was also, unsurprisingly, some really impressive theatrics employed to tell the story. There was interesting use of light and sound to create noises such as wind, thunder, and lightning. Animals featured in the story (such as crabs and cranes) were made to move either through clever rope tricks or by the black-clad stage hands. Some of the sets literally rose through the stage floor and were staggering in their sheer size and flamboyance.
And, of course, the Geiko dances were incredibly beautiful, elegant, and expressive. I did my best to follow the story but, not knowing Japanese, it was hard to put it all together. On a basic level it revolved around the seasons. The story took place over one year (from spring to spring) and seemed to be a sort of hero-quest tale.
Once the final bows were taken and the curtain had fallen, we made our way back down stairs, giddy at the novelty and beauty of it all.
Finding our way to the hotel
Still on a high after the show, we decided to walk home using various landmarks to find our hotel. We sauntered down the Kamo-gawa (forever known to us as ‘make-out point’) under the seemingly never ending branches of sakura.
On the bridge at the intersection of the Gojo-dori and Kawabata-dori I took this lovely picture:
And after only one wrong turn we found our way back to Ryokan Ryokufuso! No internet, no directions, no maps, no nothing! We felt supremely accomplished.
Glad to be out of the cold after a huge day, we checked in and made our way to our room. After another brief adrenaline shot at the awesomeness of our traditional room, we washed up for the day and flopped into our futons – tired but satisfied in only the way that achieving a life-time goal can make you satisfied.
Next post: Ryokan Ryokufuso review
Until next time,
Kally & Mon.
Visiting the Miyako Odori
The Miyako Odori Kaburenjo is located in the Gion-Kobu Hanamachi, specifically on the Hanamikoji-dori which connects with the Shijo-dori, and is near the Kennin-ji temple. It’s (relatively) close to Kyoto train station and the closest local stop is Gion-Shijo on the Keihan subway.
The two maps below show Gion-Kobu relative to Kyoto station (and surrounding area) and the location of the Kaburenjo in the Hanamachi:
If you’re interested in visiting the Miyako Odori you can visit my previous post that outlines booking procedure and cost.
[Feature Image Credit: Mboogiedown: Japan]
[Image Credit (1-6): Monique Nielsen]
Have you seen any of the other Geisha dances during Hanami? Leave a comment and tell us all about it. We’d love pictures too! 🙂