The Glitz and Glamour of the Miyako Odori

Kyoto as the Center for Japanese Arts and Culture

A lot of foreign travelers wonder why these kinds of cultural dances are usually held in Kyoto instead of the modern Japanese capital of Tokyo. What they don’t know is that Kyoto was the capital city of Japan for over a thousand years. Emperors, leaders of the army, wealthy businessmen, foreign merchants – these were the typical residents of ancient Kyoto.

It is also quite well-known that Japan was a very conservative country and wide-spread industrialization was seen only after the Second World War. Because of this, a good representation of Japan’s history, arts, and culture is perfectly preserved. What is even more impressive about this is that Kyoto remains to be the home to geisha and maiko, among the remaining symbols of Kyoto’s rich history.

The Iconic Beauty of Japanese Geiko and Maiko

The geisha and maiko are the remnants of Japan’s beautiful past which is preserved up until the modern times. These are traditional female entertainers who are impressively skilled in arts, classical music, traditional games, and dance. During the earlier times, these women are known to entertain the wealthy and the famous through their performances. They act as hostesses in certain ceremonies and celebrations.

Being a geisha should be a calling, as these women are “born” into the role. They have usually trained starting when they are young, where many of these girls are bonded to okiyas or geisha houses as children. Often, daughters of okiya mothers become heir to their geisha houses which is why they were brought up to become geisha.

Contrary to most belief, it is the maiko that appears more decorated, elaborate, colorful, and stylish. They are apprentices to the geisha and are usually the ones pouring the drink, performing, and assisting their geisha mentor. Usually, in a celebration or feast, the geisha play the music while the maiko performs the dance. It is the role of the geisha to teach their apprentice maiko. However, when requested the geisha can perform as they are known to be skilled artists, dancers, and musicians.

Through the years, there is a significant decline in the number of geisha in Japan. This may be due to the fact that there are not many girls that are interested in spending all their lives in the service of an Okiya. Because of this, the tradition of the geisha is slowly dying. It might be a good idea to experience the performances and the dances now than to regret if geishas become non-existent in the future.

Although their importance in modern society is not as momentous as it was hundreds of years ago, these women entertainers remain an important part of Japanese fashion, art, and culture. Today, training to becoming a geisha remains a sophisticated craft which takes years or even decades to complete.

What is the Miyako Odori of Kyoto?

It is widely known that Miyako Odori is held during the month of April and is held annually in Kyoto. Since it is held in April, many automatically assume that it is a way of celebrating the coming of spring. It is also believed to be a celebration of the beauty of Sakura Blossoms. However, there is more history of this event than many people would think. Many people wonder about the origins of the Miyako Odori and they are surprised that it is a fairly turn-of-the-century event.

For thousands of years, Kyoto was the center of Japan’s culture, history, governance, and commerce. It was only in the Meiji Restoration that the capital city was moved to Tokyo. Many powerful families who have lived in Kyoto for generations do not recognize the authenticity and power of the new capital. Because of this, they have formed an event as a means of quiet rebellion against the change.

They called this “The Dance of the Capital”, or Miyako Odori, which is a means of not only lifting the dispirited locals of Kyoto but also showing the beauty and splendor of the old capital. It was a show to mean that Kyoto can never be replaced. Since then until today, for almost 150 years, the quiet rebellion continues right at the heart of Kyoto. This is in hopes that one day, Kyoto will rise up to power and become its old, majestic self once again.

Miyako Odori Geisha Dance

This particular event is one of the largest geisha community events in all of Japan. It is a combined performance of the five geisha districts (or hanamachi) of Kyoto. The Miyako Odori dance has several themes and these include both political and social themes. It is divided up into eight acts telling different stories.

One act shows the beauty of the nature and surroundings of Kyoto, showing the beauty of sakura blossoms in the city. This is known as the sakura dance and is one of the main reasons why it is usually confused as a celebration of springtime. One act shows the splendor of the city as the center of Imperial governance – showing the majesty through costumes, accessories, and more. There is also an act showing the daily lives of people living in Kyoto showing that the city is home to people of different walks of life like foreign merchants, noblemen, entertainers, samurai clans, and more. All these are manifestations of the greatness of Kyoto which is actually what they are trying to present.

It is actually difficult to encounter a geisha on a normal day in Kyoto because they are usually just part of small celebrations and ceremonies. This is why visiting Kyoto at this time of year will give an almost unlimited geisha meet-and-greet experiences possible.

For foreigners that will be watching the show, it might be a good idea to take an English guide during the performance. Since the show is completely in Japanese, it is difficult to follow the narrative. The guide provides details, explanations, and even background for the acts and specific scenes. There are also some historical descriptions provided as well for easier understanding. The English guide will definitely make the experience more worthwhile, although it may be quite a bit distracting for some.

By Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan ( - image description page) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Overall, the show is a good place to learn about classical music, traditional dance, and historical costumes of ancient Japan. Like traveling back to the past, the performances give a glimpse of what Japan used to be like. It also gives a pretty clear insight of the history of the local geisha district and of Kyoto in general.

Miyako Odori Tea Ceremony

The Japanese are no stranger to drinking tea but in Kyoto, it has become so special that drinking it has become quite a ritual. These kinds of ceremonies are very formal and are known to be performed only for and by the noble. Oftentimes, a geisha is even invited to host a tea ceremony for an honored guest.

Tea ceremonies in Kyoto was a way for a host to show their lavish and refined tea rooms and teaware. At the time, tea drinking was a means of inviting guests over. This is why tea houses and zen gardens have become quite popular during this era. Today, there are a number of places in Kyoto where there are still real tea ceremonies. Usually, a simple traditional tea ceremony offers a bowl of rich tea made from powdered green tea (or matcha), then the individual will be offered a Japanese-style sweet called a manju. It is important to note that this kind of tea ceremony has been stripped-down or is of the most basic kind.

The tea ceremony that comes with the special class ticket in the Miyako Odori is still as impressive but not as spiritual as a traditional tea ceremony. This may be due to the fact that there are many people who are lined up for a rushed tea ceremony.  

Miyako Odori Travel Review

Everyone who went to the Miyako Odori truly enjoyed the enriching experience the performances provided. Although the performance is short at only an hour long, it was able to squeeze in all the important and impressive characteristics of age-old Kyoto.

People who travel to Kyoto in April just to watch the performances testify that it is worth every yen spent from the music, to the costume, and the stage decoration. It is a great way to learn about traditional Japanese music, performance, dance, clothing, and more. It is also a great way to familiarize one’s self with Japan’s history.  

On the other hand, what many people are quite disappointed about is the fact that the Tea ceremony is a bit rushed. Since there will be a ceremony held for every group, family, or individual who purchased the special class ticket, there is a long line of people waiting to experience the tea ceremony. There are also times that the ceremony is not hosted by a geisha – a truly disappointing truth. Despite that, the rush is truly understandable and the tea ceremony did not fail to awe just like the performances have done.

By Conveyor belt sushi [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

What to expect in the Miyako Odori of April 2018?

Miyako Odori 2018 Tickets

The Miyako Odori is known to be the celebration of spring which is why it is understandable that it is not just a one-time event. In fact, Miyako Odori performances are held on a daily basis from the first to the 30th of the month with about four performances every day held at different times. This means that there are about 120 performances throughout the entire month, making it difficult to miss the event even for first-time tourists.

The entire performance lasts about an hour and the performances are held at 30-minute intervals starting at 12:30 PM until 3:30 PM. The last performance of the day starts at 4:50 PM, 10 minutes after the third performance.

For travelers who wish to enjoy a performance of the Miyako Odori, it might be a good idea to check the three different classes of tickets available before purchasing. There are packages available allowing visitors to experience more than just the geisha performance, or dance.

The most affordable class costs about 2,000 JPY where viewers are given Japanese-styled seating on tatami mats. These are usually located on the second level of the theatre. The next class of tickets costs about 4,000 JPY. The difference is that this class offers Western-style seating, typical to those of modern theaters. Lastly, the most expensive ticket is at 4,500 JPY. This is a full-packaged class ticket because the individual can attend both the dance and the tea ceremony.

Miyako Odori 2018 Venue

Usually, the Miyako Odori is held at the Gion Koubu Kaburenojo, also known as Gion Shinji Kobu Kabukai, located in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto, Japan. This is a traditional Japanese theatre located in the historical city of Kyoto. The theatre is quite traditional but grand in its own way. It may look a bit similar to a temple but the theatre is much larger and simpler.

The main theatre can hold a hundred or so people, where there are Western-styled seating (chairs) on the stage level and tatami seating on the balcony level. The tatami seating is recommended for people who will experience the show for the first time as it gives a more traditional and full-on cultural experience. There are also performance halls within the theatre where each performance can seat only a handful of individuals.

However, in the recent years, the Miyako Odori was held at the Kyoto Art Theater (Shunjuza) of the Kyoto University of Art & Design. This was due to the fact that the historical building of Gion Theater was being maintained. The structure was updated for earthquake protection measures. The great news is that in the year 2018, the show may push through in its original venue, until further notice.

The theatre can be accessed via the Keihan Railway Shijo Station or the Hankyu Railway Kawaramachi station. There may also be shuttle services from the hotel that will take a group from their lodging to the theatre.