Saturday, April 28, 2007

Miyako Odori: Autumn Leaves

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The maiko Konomi performing "Autumn color leaves at the Jojakkoji Temple in Sagano with another geiko ( possibly Mao). Jokakkoji Temple was originally built as a retirement home for the priest Nisshin on mount Ogura. The Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (collection of a hundred waka poems) was compiled by Fujiwara no Teika while living in Shiguretei, believed to have been located where Jokakkoji stands today.

The temple and other places in the Sagano area are famous for the beauty of their autumn colored leaves, attracting people from all over Japan each fall.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Miyako Odori: Crepe Facric of Echigo

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Echigo chijimi is a crepe fabric made with a traditional techniques in the Echigo region of north-central Japan. For over 1000 years, the places of its production have been regarded as a synonym for high quality fabric.
One of the most important processes in making chijimi is sarashi (leaving the fabric outside on sunny days in winter). This enhances the brightness of the fabric's color,creating a famous late-winter scene: on a sunny day in February in the fabrics are left in the middle of snow-covered plains.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Miyako Odori: The Hikone Folding screen

Commemorating the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle, the third scene was based on the famous folding screen, once owned by a Hikone Daimyo (feudal lord) from the Ii family. The screen, believed to have been created between 1624 and 1644, is considered one of the best Japanese genre paintings andhas been designated as a national treasure. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
The Kabuki Actress: Today, Kabuki is famous for it's lack of actresses, and the peculiar male actors who specialize in portraying women (onnagata). It was a young shrine maiden named Okuni, however, who first began performing the wild new style of dance drama in Kyoto's dry Kamo riverbed in 1603. Female performers portrayed both men and women in comic playlets about everyday, ordinary life. The style was an instant hit, popular with the masses and eventually, nobility. Okuni was invited to perform before the Imperial Court, inspiring the formation of rival troupes in the wake of such success. Much of its appeal was due to the suggestive performances put on by many troupes, further augmented by the fact that the performers were often also available for prostitution. In fact, kabuki was often written with the characters for song, dance, and prostitute during the Edo Period.
The scene began as the a beautiful golden screen depicting an ex-samurai, a Kabuki actress, two prostitutes and and a child of the pleasure quarters filled the theater with the atmosphere of Kyoto`s old pleasure quarters. One by one, each section of the screen turned to reveal a geiko dressed as the painting character, perfectly still and poised, until they stepped out of the folding screen and onto the stage, bringing the scene of life.
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A prostitute from Kyoto's old pleasure quarters.

The ex-samurai seems to have been very popular...

A young child of the pleasure quarters (on the right).

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Miyako Odori: Prelude

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This year's Miyako Odori marked the 135th anniversary of Kyoto's most famous celebration of spring; the colorful spectacle of traditional beauty, draped in silk and framed by scenes of the old capital, painted like elegant hanging scrolls viewed through a delicate vale of pretty pink cherry blossoms. Afraid that the vibrant cultural treasures of the ancient empirial seat would fade and wither when the capital was relocated to Tokyo (during the Meiji Restoration), Kyoto's governors searched for a way to develope and promote the old capital. Inspired by the group performances of Kamenoko Odori in Ise Furuichi, they humbly requested the maiko and geiko of Gion, whose popularity and numbers were at a peak, to present a dance to the public as a side show to a special Expo they would hold at the Imperial Palace. The geiko of Gion had never perofrmed together as a group, but with the help and blessing of the Inoue school of dance, the first Miyako Odori was held in a single room with beautiful sliding doors in a house called Matsunoya (located in Gion Shinbashi). At that time, it was agreed that the dance of Gion Kobu, the most prestigious of Kyoto`s five geisha districts, be the Inoue style of Kyomai (Kyoto's traditional style of dance), and that no other schools of dance be involved.

Beneath the softly veiled light of crimson paper lanters bearing the "tsunagi dango" (linked dumpling) crest of Gion, a curtain rose to reveal a row of maiko and geiko, their faces painted like delicate white clouds in brilliant turqouis blue kimono, raising their hands to hit small drums or gracefully lifting their bamboo flutes to their lips. With a loud call of "Miyako Odori wa Yoiyasa," 20 "Geiko" and "Maiko," traditional Japanese entertainers and their apprentices, appeared one after the other, slowly stepping out onto the hanamichi ("flower paths", runways that line both sides of the theater leading to the stage.) Usually, there are many ways to distinguish a maiko from a geiko: sublte differences in the style of dress, hair, and even make-up, but during certain scenes of Miyako Odori, these distinctions nearly disappear. Regardless of their age or rank, maiko and geiko dance together, all in the extravagant furisode (long sleeved kimono) usually associated with maiko, have their own hair styled (as opposed to geiko wearing wigs) with ornate hair ornaments, and wear their obi tied af half length, a style usually reserved for soon-to-be maiko the month before their debut.

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Makiko, a popular young maiko, makes her entrance during the prelude to this year's Miyako Odori, "The Dances of the Old Captial". This year's program was entitled "Miyako Furyu Meisho Emaki," or Picture Scrolls of the Old Capital`s Famous Sights. Each scene of Miyako Odori has an independent story which is newly created every year, including the songs and dances.

The silver sliding doors on the stage represent the room of an ancient court noble's palace where the Inoue style of kyomai, traditional Kyoto dance, was performed during the Edo period. The theater, Gion Kaburenjo, was built especially for Miyako Odori with distinctive architectual features common in Japanese palaces. For this reason it has been designated as a tangible cultural asset of Japan.

Kotoha (left) , one of my favorite dancers. She has such expressive eyes, which is important in the Inoue school of dance. Heavily influenced by Noh theater, the dancers are meant to perform without any expression whatsoever, as if they were wearing a Noh theater mask. In traditional Japanese culture, the outward expression of any emotion was considered inappropriate. Many people confuse this with sadness on the part of the performers, but this is simply a lack of understanding of traditional Japanese culture.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Miyako Odori: Coming Soon!

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Remember Mamechika? Here she is, performing "Autumn Color Leaves at the Jojakkoji Temple in Sagano" with another geiko during the this year's Miyako Odori, Gion's famous "Dances of the Old Capitol" held each spring.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Beautiful Mountain School Sakura

A peak of the Kiso River through clouds of soft, white cherry blossoms at my Beautiful Mountain School. Whenever I visit this school, I realize how blessed I have been to be placed here. To think that I only have 3 more months in this beautiful valley, encompassed by rolling, green foothills and snowcapped mountains, a brilliantly blue-green river winding gracefully through it, following me wherever I go...

I wonder if my successor knows how lucky they`re about to be. There isin`t a day that goes by that I don`t thank God for placing me in Ena where Mt. Ontake greets me every morning and the snow-covered southern alps welcome me home.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Naosuzu (geiko) and Katsue(maiko)welcome a customer to the an outdoor tea ceremony beneath the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. Okoshiyasu is Kyoto dialect for welcome.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Smile! It`s Spring!

Katsuryu laughs with guests during her first Plum Blossom Festival. She has only just begun her first year as a maiko in Kamishichiken district, one of Kyoto's five hanamachi (flower towns, where geisha live and entertain).

We`re having all kinds of incredible adventures in Kyoto, and I`ve taken an insane amount of pictures to prove it! I`ll be back in Gifu this Sunday, so stay tuned for more maiko, geiko, and other Kyoto-riffic goodness!