A Tea Ceremony and Geisha Dance in Kyoto

It rained most of the time I was in Kyoto, which was too bad for seeing the temples, but perfect for attending a tea ceremony and a dance performance one afternoon. Kyoto is famous for temples and geisha, but all these traditional elements are fit into a large, modern city. So I took a bus downtown and then walked down an alley to get to the theater for the dance.

Lamps in the lobby

Lamps in the lobby

Doors to the theater

Doors to the theater

The theater presents shows seasonally, and I was lucky to be there for the spring show by the maiko (geisha in training) and geisha. Kabuki is performed by an all-male cast, and near as I could tell, this show was all women. The first half was a full play, and again I was struck by how stylized every movement was, as it had been at the kabuki show. There was no English translation or program provided here, though, so I couldn’t really follow the story, but it involved thwarted love and I’m pretty sure mass suicide at the end.

A sneak photo before the show

A sneak photo before the show

Beautiful screens

Beautiful screens

After a short intermission, they performed a series of dances, mostly in small groups, with some individuals coming forward for a few moves. All very graceful, small movements, all set to live music from stage right. It was like a ballet in its wordlessness and gracefulness, and it was beautiful to watch.

After the show

After the show

There are several ways to attend a tea ceremony in Kyoto. I went to the one recommended to me by my hostel; I was the only one who attended this session, so after a short introductory conversation with the host, I sat on the tatami floor for instruction. She explained what a few implements were–the whisk, the serving bowl, the scoop–then said, “Now I will begin,” and walked out of the room.

A simple layout

A simple layout

Everything for the next 15 minutes was silence, as she re-entered and performed the ceremony with precision and grace. She folded a red cloth a certain way and wiped the tea bowl with it, then refolded it and wiped the wooden tea scoop. Water from a small hot coals stove, tea whisked with a bamboo whisk. She bowed when serving me the tea, and I lifted my bowl in respect, turned the bowl a quarter turn, and then sipped.

Tea ceremony rooms

Tea ceremony rooms

After she served me the tea, she left the room briefly. When she came back in, she explained some of the symbolism behind it all and had me whisk green tea on my own. The four qualities necessary to any tea ceremony, she said, are respect, harmony, purity, and tranquility. Each quality follows from the other–harmony from respect, etc. I found the ceremony the perfect end to the afternoon, a quiet, lovely time to reflect.

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3 thoughts on “A Tea Ceremony and Geisha Dance in Kyoto

  1. So interesting. Thanks for sharing. When do you leave on your next journey? Where to first? Do you stay in touch with anyone from your last expedition? Will you meet up with any of them on your next? What a wonderful way to spend these years. Merry Christmas, Dana Calhoon

    • I’ll be leaving in the next month, probably starting in Ecuador, and from there, the South American continent!

      Facebook has been real handy for keeping in touch, and there are some friends I made on the road I still talk with from time to time, which is fun.

      Happy New Year, Dana!

  2. Once again, Lisa,

    Thank you so much for letting us join you in all of your learnings and experiences in cultures that for many of us are unknown.

    I appreciate how enthusiastic you are to go to cultural offerings, be they theater, tea, and everything in between!

    Happy 2014!

    In Peace,

    Irene

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