Our Spring Festival Washi Tray!
What’s in a picture?
Our Spring Festival Washi Tray from Kyoto is one of our most popular designs, but have you ever wondered what this lovely illustration represents?
Today we’re going to take a look at the beautiful spring dances that are performed in Kyoto to coincide with hanami – the peak of the cherry blossom viewing in this beautiful ancient city.
The exquisite blue kimono covered in flowers
The spring dances are a unique art form, that have been perfected over generations of geiko (geisha) and apprentice maiko. They are performed in several of the five kagai (geisha districts).
When the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in the mid-19th century, Kyoto people were keen to hang onto their past, and the Miyako Odori was created – literally, the Capital City Dance. It has been performed at the Kaburenjo Theatre on Gion's Hanami-koji ('blossom viewing lane') nearly every year since 1873.
The geisha featured on our washi tray illustration is wearing the beautiful kimono that the geisha of Gion Kobu wear during their April performances of the Miyako Odori. Gion Kobu is the largest hanamachi in Kyoto: a hanamachi (花街, flower town) is the district where the geiko live and work. Geiko hanamachi are very traditional, and are governed by strict rules, and the Gion Kobu community is especially so.
The Miyako Odori spring dances are renowned for the beautiful Yuzen kimono and Nishijin-ori obi sashes, which are made by skilled textile artisans across the city. The geiko and maiko are elaborately made-up with white-painted faces and ornate hairstyles.
The performance opens with the famous song of ‘Yoiyasa’. The maiko come onstage exquisitely dressed in their flowered blue kimono. As they dance, they hold willow and cherry blossom fans. Nostalgic and familiar historic sights of Kyoto appear as backdrops to their dance, and the performance finishes with beautiful dances associated with the changing seasons: the cherry blossom hanami, the summertime, the bright leaves of autumn, and the deep snow of winter. For the final scene, spring returns again as all of the geiko and maiko gather onstage to dance as the cherry blossom blooms again.
Isn't it beautiful! Thank you to miyako-odori.jp for the video!
Geiko and Maiko
Geiko are the women of Kyoto who are trained in the traditional elegant Japanese arts of graceful dance and music.
Kyoto geisha prefer to be called geiko which means ‘arts child’, rather than geisha, which means ‘arts person’.
At the age of fifteen a young girl may train to become a geiko, and will be known as a maiko. She will live in a geiko house called an okiya, and her life will become strictly governed around the role of becoming a geiko.
Photo of Gion's Hanami-koji ('blossom viewing lane') and the huge red-walled teahouse called Ichiriki Chaya, from miyako-odori.jp
Once a maiko has learned the refined and graceful bearing of the geiko, she may begin training in the geiko arts, which include dance, the playing of the shamisen, and calligraphy. She will now accompany the geiko to Kyoto teahouses. It usually takes about five years of training to graduate from maiko to geiko – the young women are usually aged about twenty when they become geisha.
A Maiko plays a traditional game with Cathy!
The dances in the geiko communities are precisely performed. It is very hard work to achieve such polished perfection, and it is considered a very great honour to be chosen to dance in a prominent position on stage.
Nowadays, fewer girls are willing to comply with the strict training that is necessary to achieve the excellence in the arts that is essential to becoming a geiko. Because of this, the geiko dances are tremendously special.
Our Kyoto washi trays are perfect for this hanami season, especially the ones that feature geisha and cherry blossom! You can find them instore here!
And if you would like to discover the enchanting traditional store in Kyoto that is behind our washi trays, and the processes and history, you can read all about them here!
Our Geisha Washi Tray!
We hope you've enjoyed reading this article! For similar articles about Japanese culture, why not check out our previous blogs about Japanese culture such as Genji and the Changing Seasons here!
Thank you for reading,
Cathy and Yukki
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