Sunday, April 5, 2009

Miyako Odori (The Cherry Blossom Dance)

Every day in Kyoto keeps getting better, and this is one that I’ll remember forever. Sometimes it’s the random acts of kindness I’ve experienced while traveling that are just as memorable as the cultural sites.

Each year in April for the past 137 years, all the maiko and geiko in Gion perform the Miyako Odori, the Cherry Blossom Dance. The performances are advertised in illustrated posters all over Gion (the geisha district). I first learned about Miyako Odori from my favorite book, Memoirs of a Geisha.

Gina and I got up early to wait in line for tickets, and not only scored great seats for the evening show, but met a kind, older gentleman who entertained us as we waited. He doesn’t speak English and we barely speak Japanese, but he chattered away while we attempted to grasp a word now and then. We found middle ground with numbers, and at one point, the three of us all loudly counted to 10 in Japanese while we waited for tickets.

We hoped to see him at the show tonight, but had no idea which performance he planned to attend. To our delight, he found us in the lobby of the theater after the tea ceremony portion of the evening, said hello and then disappeared.

I ran into him again later while browsing around the lobby, and he handed me two bags. He had purchased us gorgeous bound programs for the performance that included English explanations for the eight scenes to be performed. I couldn’t believe it! It was such an enormously kind gesture. Then he motioned for us to follow him, and he led us outside in the garden to a room that showcased some of the kimonos that the dancers/musicians wear for the show. All of them featured cherry blossoms in the various spring patterns.

The show was phenomenal! It’s my favorite experience from Kyoto. I never in a million years ever thought I’d be able to see a Miyako Odori performance. The scenery and costumes, which changed for each of the eight scenes were exquisite, and the audience oohed and ahhed several times during the show. The older woman next to me kept dabbing her eyes. We counted 63 performers over the course of the show.

Although Miyako Odori overshadowed all else, we had another sunny day of sightseeing, including Nijo Castle, built in 1603 with beautiful gardens (it has two moats), and the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), which is a temple that “floats” over a pond of koi amidst beautiful grounds and is second to Mt. Fuji as Japan’s most famous site.

We also tried skewered rice balls with a soy glaze and ground ginger, yummy udon noodles with browned tofu and what we like to call “bean paste bears” for dessert.

Tomorrow morning we’re taking a fan-making class, and then we’re headed off to Hakone.

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