As the shamisen sounds slowly guide you into the prelude, the white-faced, kimono-clad ladies of Tokyo’s Shimbashi district enter the spacious room, each stepping forward in her tabi, carefully heading to the stage. Their expressions are focused, their moves are precise and you can almost feel their tension — after all, they bear more weight on their heads than their wigs suggest; they carry the responsibility of continuing a nearly century-old tradition. Meet Shimbashi’s renowned geisha, the ladies behind Azuma Odori, one of Tokyo’s most respected historical performances.
© Photo by Kentaro Kumon
Held annually for an exclusive four-day limited period, Azuma Odori is a traditional performance that first took place in 1925 to commemorate the opening of Ginza’s Shinbashi Enbujo Theater, a place built to propagate the long-refined geisha culture. It is said that the performance initially began as a means to attract customers to Shimbashi, which at the time was a largely ignored and understated pleasure district — you see, most people were heading to the Kabukiza Theater just a few blocks away.
The new show imitated an open “ryotei” (Japanese-style high-end restaurant), which combines good sake, good food and good entertainment. As the years passed, the show became so popular that it not only transformed the district into a favorite entertainment locale but even inspired writers such as Yasunari Kawabata and Junichiro Tanizaki to write about it. Azuma Odori survived Japan’s most turbulent years and is to date continuing to entertain people while preserving the otherwise dying geisha culture in Japan.
And this May, the show is back even stronger by partnering with …continue reading