Dancing the Kanazawa Odori in the Castle Town of the Kaga Domain (Video)

Guide to Japan

Elegant dances by traditional geiko performers have been passed down in the Ishikawa Prefecture city of Kanazawa since the Edo period (1603–1868). Learn the background to their dancing and view it in all its elegant beauty in our video.

Kanazawa Geiko, Inheritors of Artistic Traditions

“The heavens sing” is a local expression that embodies just how popular the Japanese musical drama nō is in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, where even gardeners and carpenters can be heard singing snatches of the classical music as they work high up in a tree or on a roof. The artistic traditions instilled over the centuries by the lords of Kaga, as Kanazawa was known in feudal times, live on today in many forms.

In particular, the geiko of Kanazawa—the local name for the entertainers commonly known as geisha—are renowned for their mastery of traditional arts, their graceful demeanor in kimono, and their omotenashi, the attentive hospitality with which they see to their guests’ every need.

The geiko of Kanazawa are charming dancers.

Visitors strolling through the three teahouse districts of Kanazawa can hear the sound of hand-drums or shamisen in the air.More than for drinking or dining, patrons at the teahouses in the three chayagai, or teahouse districts, of Kanazawa are there to enjoy the artistic performances of the geiko. After pouring rounds of drinks and making lively conversation, the women perform their singing and dancing, enthralling the audience with their graceful movements to the sounds of shamisen music. The geiko put their hearts into their performance, and etiquette dictates that guests should refrain from drinking or conversing during that time.

The zashiki Japanese-style room is the stage for geiko performing their art.

For four days every September, the geiko from the three chayagai put on a dance performance called the Kanazawa Odori. This event showcases their highly developed artistic skills, and aficionados from all over Japan gather to see them perform at the Hōgaku Hall of the Ishikawa Ongakudō theater.

Performing subayashi, a form of traditional music passed down in Kanazawa.

Each of the three chayagai has a distinct dancing style, but when the Kanazawa Odori comes around, the geiko from the three districts blend their styles into a harmonious performance. This yearly event is an opportunity for them to try dancing in ways that produce new insights and help them to further polish their art. In that spirit, they present audiences with a truly grand spectacle.

The last number on the program, “Kanazawa Fūga,” performed by geiko from the three chaya districts of Higashi, Nishi, and Kazuemachi all dancing together, is the grand finale. “Kanazawa Fūga,” set to words composed by the award-winning Japanese author Muramatsu Tomomi, includes many exciting hand-drum passages. In a bright and lively atmosphere, the dancers fill the stage and bring the Kanazawa Odori to a close.

The Kanazawa Odori is the highlight of the autumn season.

(Originally written in Japanese. Created in cooperation with Kanazawa Cable Television.  Banner photo: Geiko performing the Kanazawa Odori.  All photos © Kanazawa Cable Television.)

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