Gion Odori Starts November 1 in Gion Higashi


Gion Higashi's Gion Odori, held every November 1 - 10 at the Gion Kaikan in Kyoto, stands apart from Kyoto's other geisha dances. For one thing, it is the only major dance performance held in the fall. Most importantly, though, it is the only dance that surprises me each year with its originality and unique theme.

When I go to Miyako Odori and Kyo Odori, I pretty much know what to expect. Miyako Odori, in my opinion, is really about celebrating the history and traditions of Gion Kobu, Kyoto's largest and most famous geisha district. Although the theme of Miyako Odori changes each year, three of the eight dances are quite similar from year to year, and the geiko and maiko wear the same "cinnabar red and indigo blue" kimono Miyako Odori is famous for in these scenes.

Kyo Odori is more innovative than Miyako Odori, and it has always been my favorite dance. However, I know there will usually be one lively comic scene followed by a more dramatic scene inspired by kabuki, and there is always a very short and poignant dance by one of the district's most senior geiko before the annual finale, "Miyagawa Ondo."

When I attend Gion Odori (and I must admit I do not attend it as religiously as I do Miyako Odori and Kyo Odori), I am always pleasantly surprised by how different it is. Gion Odori really does have a new theme every year, and the theme is usually quite charming and cute, but in a good way (not the infantile "cuteness" of most of Japan's "kawaii" culture).

The photo I've posted here of the geisha Hinagiku performing as the "Doll of Sweet Tooth" in Scene 3 of the 2011 Gion Odori is a good example of the style and theme of Gion Odori. Last year's theme was the "Favorite Things of Fushimi Clay Dolls," and each scene featured the geiko and maiko of Gion Higashi portraying clay dolls that get into all kinds of mischief when they are left unattended in an okiya while the "real" maiko go to their dance lessons.

Scene 3 takes place in the okiya's kitchen, and "Sweet Tooth" cannot resist eating a red bean cake (the egg-like object Hinagiku is holding in this photo). At first Sweet Tooth cuts the bean cake in half, but she ends up eating the whole thing, much to her own dismay.

Whatever the theme of Gion Odori is this year, I am sure it will be quite different (but no less original) than last year's or that of previous years. In fact, I hadn't been planning on attending this year's dance, but after writing this I'm rethinking my schedule. Maybe I can find a little time on November 2 or 3 to attend...