Gion is a district of Kyoto, Japan, originally developed in the middle Ages, in front of Yasaka Shrine. The district was built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine. It eventually evolved to become
one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.
There are currently five active hanamachi in Kyoto (in Kyoto these are generally referred to as kagai instead of “hanamachi”), sometimes referred to as gokagai (5 hanamachi); there were previously six, but Shimabara is now defunct, remaining as a tourist attraction.
“Annual dance stage by Maiko and Geiko”
All the Kyoto hanamachi stage public dances annually, featuring both maiko and geiko. These also feature an optional tea ceremony (tea and wagashi sweets served by maiko) before the performance.
These are performed for several weeks, mostly in the spring – four hanamachi hold them in the spring, one (Gion Higashi) holds their show in the autumn.
Different districts started public performances in different years; the oldest are Gion Kōbu and Pontocho, whose performances started at the Kyoto exhibition of 1872, while others (Kamishichiken, Miyagawachō) started performing in the 1950s.
There are many performances, with tickets. The best-known is Miyako odori, by Gion Kōbu, which is one of the
two oldest and has the most performances.
The dances (name of performance and explanation) are as follows (listed in order of performance through the year):
Kitano odori, name of area – see Kitano Tenman-gū) – Kamishichiken (since 1953), spring, varying dates, currently last week of March and first week of April
Miyako odori – Gion Kōbu (since 1872), all of April
Kyo odori, Kyo(to), capital) – Miyagawa-chō (since the 1950s), first 2 weeks of April Kamogawa odori, Kamo River) – Ponto-chō (since 1872), most of May Gion odori, Gion) – Gion Higashi, early November
There was also previously:
Aoyagi odori, Green willow, willow in leaf) – Shimabara (from 1873 to 1880; ceased in 1881)
There is also a combined show of all five districts, which is called “Five Geisha District Combined Public Performance” gokagai gōdō kōen), or more formally “Kyoto’s five geisha districts combined traditional theater special public performance”, Kyōto gokagai gōdō dentō geinō tokubetsu kōen).
This takes place during the daytime on two days (Saturday and Sunday) on a weekend in late June (typically last or second-to-last weekend) at a large venue, and tickets are significantly more expensive than those for individual districts.
Connected with this event, in the evening on these two days there are evening performances with kaiseki meals, either a combined event, or separate ones per district. This is known as the “Five Geisha Districts Evening”,
gokagai no yūbe), and is quite expensive (as is usual for kaiseki), and very limited availability; this has been held since 1994.
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