Miyako Odori, Scene One: Prelude

Geisha and maiko perform in the first scene of the 2012 Miyako Odori, "Prelude."
Geisha and maiko perform in the first scene of the 2012 Miyako Odori, "Prelude."

The first scene of the 2012 Miyako Odori is the "Prelude," as it is every year. In this first scene geisha and maiko enter through curtains at stage left and right and proceed down the hanamichi (wooden walkways) to the main stage. Each year the women wear the same blue kimono in the "Prelude" and several other scenes, including the grand finale. In this photo, the geiko and maiko have paused along the hanamichi to dance for a few moments.

Of the six women pictured here, only the young lady at the bottom right (Mamechika) is a maiko. The other five are all geiko. Geiko usually wear wigs called katsura, but during Miyako Odori all the geiko and maiko performing in the "Prelude" and the other group dances (So Odori in Japanese) have the same hairstyle and kanzashi (hair ornaments) that are pictured in this post. The hairstyle is Chu-Shimada. After pausing along the walways, the geiko and maiko proceed to the main stage. At the end of the first scene, all the geiko and maiko exit the stage and some of the geiko return for the second scene.

For those of you who will be attending Miyako Odori and are interested in getting as close as possible to the geiko and maiko, I recommend trying to get either seats 1 and 2 (stage left) or seats 23 and 24 (stage right) in any row from 1 - 15. These are the seats that are right next to the wooden walkways, so the geiko and maiko will pass right by you as they make their way to the main stage during the "Prelude." In fact, the geiko and maiko can see you just as well as you can see them! Last year one of the maiko I photograph just happened to be dancing right in front of me during the "Prelude," and she told me afterwards that she spotted me there in the audience. I often get to photograph geiko and maiko in rooms much smaller than the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo, so I am quite used to being in close proximity to them. However, even I feel it's special for geiko and maiko to be dancing so close to me in front of such a large audience.

People contact me from time to time about when is the best time to visit Kyoto during the year, and I would have to say that coming during April is one of the best times. Yes, you will have to deal with the large crowds of Japanese and foreign tourists who flock to Kyoto for the cherry blossoms (which still haven't quite bloomed yet this year since it has been unusually cold), but there are events like Miyako Odori, Kyo Odori, and several other festivals that are well worth attending in April. There are also many temples and shrines without cherry trees that are quite quiet and peaceful in April, too!

Photographically, this is an unusual photo for me. I almost never take photos of large groups of geiko and maiko like this, and with good reason. I took six or seven shots of this pose or ones close to it, and this is the only one where at least one of the women does not have her eyes closed. This photo is also rare for me in that I usually only photograph maiko and geiko I know personally. The only geiko I know well in this photo is Yukako, the geiko looking down at her hand drum in the middle background of the photo. I have to admit that when I took this photo, I didn't even realize that Yukako was one of the musicians. I was on the other side of the theater, and I simply didn't see her behind the dancers.

Since getting the chance to photograph Miyako Odori is a rare treat and privilege for me, I decided to document more of the performances this year than I did when I photographed the dance the first time back in 2007, when I focused almost entirely on the geiko Satomi for my book Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto: Beauty, Art, &Dance. I'm very glad I took a different approach this year, and I hope any viewers of these photos are, too.