It’s rare to spot a real geisha, even in Kyoto. Walk around the Gion district at dusk, and you may be lucky enough to see one walking briskly to her appointment for the night, but to stop her for a photo would be uncouth.
We lucked out, arriving not in time to see the blossoms, but to watch the annual spring dance performance Miyako Odori, performed multiple times a day throughout April. During the one-hour show, silent actors' stories were sung in Japanese by a narrator. Her voice often shrill, sometimes aching, communicated the cycle of joy and sadness—seasons of life reflected in the scenes’ cycling from spring through summer, fall, winter, to return to spring. My attention perked most during the dances in between each scene, the most memorable being the prelude and finale. After the theatre lights dimmed, a parade of geishas, resplendent in bright blue kimonos accented by bright red obi belts, danced in on two pathways that led to the main stage. Gasps echoed throughout the dark theatre. Here they were—real geishas, expressionless, posing, then rearranging arms and legs, to pose again, according to the music played by musicians tucked behind the side stage.
While I wished I could understand the stories being sung, I grew more curious about the separate stories of the women moving in unison on stage, private worlds within a private world, the closest we could get to being front row, balcony seats. We could snap a photo only of the pre-performance tea.