My best friend was visiting me last week and we got ridiculously lucky and scored tickets to the Kitano Odori the same day we went to check out the famous monthly temple flea market at Tenmangu Shrine, just by walking up to the ticket window and asking.
It was my first geisha dance ever and it did not disappoint! I'm also lucky enough to be going to the Miyako Odori in a couple of weeks, but it was wonderful to see my first dance with my best friend and in such an intimate theater.
This year the play portion (Act 1) is The Enchanted Flower, which you can also see on the front of the program, and tells the story of a young farmer who decides to go off to Kyoto to earn fame and fortune. He leaves behind his best friend, a girl who is in love with him and very sad to see him go.
He gets to the capital and immediately tries to chase after some lovely Kyoto geiko, who are doing a dance, and they deftly avoid him and laugh at him as they leave. He declares the "hana" (flowers) of the capital sure are stuck up (they have high "hana", noses) and a short while later meets a woman, who is the Spirit of the Enchanted Flower and her two attendants. She offers him the flower and tells him that every time he plucks one of its three petals, he can make a wish.
He wishes for a giant house, and gets it. He then wishes for lots of money, and gets that too. But he realizes after a while he doesn't really want it, or the beauties who are now fawning all over him, and tells the Spirit he wants his third and final wish to be to return to the simple farmer he was before. The Spirit gets angry with him and she and her attendants beat him up until he passes out.
He wakes up on the street in Kyoto, and is found by his faithful love, the girl from his village. She asks him if he wants to return home with her, and he says yes. She says, "Even if you're not famous?" and he agrees. "Even if you're not rich?" and he agrees. He now understands how precious she is and how much happier he is with his simple life.
Act 2 is the group and individual dances on different topics, including a very funny one that features a friendly guy who likes booze and traveling all over the world, getting drunk, spending money, waking up and not knowing where he is, making friends, getting drunk, and doing it all over again. That one stood out because when the backdrop came into view it was two giant traditional fan shapes but with Big Ben painted in one and New York painted in the other!
My personal favorite was one with the geiko singing about azuki, sweet red beans: their outfits were simple cream and red ones and each geiko had one of those special uchiwa fans with their name written on it.
The Finale is the group performance of everyone in the district. Two of the older geiko had a solo off on the side during this, which was two dancers basically messing with each other: poking each other and then pretending they hadn't done anything, etc. Very entertaining!
My friend and I agreed after the show: of all the geiko and maiko there was one in particular who grabbed your eye and held it. We both, without saying anything to the other until after the show, found ourselves watching her far more than the rest when she was onstage in a group, but neither of us could tell you exactly why. She was 20s-early 30s and one of the tallest women on the stage. Very pretty, of course, but they all are!
Anyway, I didn't have a chance to wear kimono because the trip back to our hotel, getting changed, and getting back out there would have taken way too long. But there were many lovely ladies in the audience in kimono (mostly komon and iromuji), one gentleman in kimono, and two maiko with female escorts sent by two different houses (one had a hana-bishi on her darari and I didn't have a chance to see the other's crest as we all walked out after the show). It surprised me a little that the maiko sat in the general audience, but everyone was very respectful of them and no one spoke to them before and after the show.
All in all, it was truly amazing getting to see the Kitano Odori and marvel at the dancing and kimono up close, and it will without a doubt be one of my favorite memories of my time in Japan.
For anyone in the area, they're doing two performances daily until April 7.
The Kitano Odori, danced in the Hanayagi style, is put on by the Kamishichiken geisha district, who traditionally have strong ties to the famous Nishijin textile weavers in the area so the kimono and obi are a big part of the show.