As part of a PR campaign to entice people to a new theater to showcase the Japanese avant-garde dance Butoh in Kyoto, JapanVisitor was invited to an invitation-only performance.
The theater is a small "kura" (storehouse) just north of Sanjo in central Kyoto. It is one of the few buildings that survived the 1864 Hamaguri Gate Rebellion, and the ensuing fire set by fleeing rebels that destroyed most of Kyoto from Gosho south to Gojo.
The building is not visible from the street, the only sign of what awaits within a traditional "kabukimon" wooden gate. Once you open the gate, a stone path leads to the storehouse.
After slipping off our shoes, placing them in a rack lined with 16 other shoes, we received a pamphlet (English for gaijin, Japanese for those who appeared to be Japanese), and entered the small first floor room.
A few of the eight people in the room appeared to know each other and were chatting in hushed tones.
Near the entrance was a steep wooden staircase to the second floor. Upstairs was the dressing room and space for musicians, two young women who played the shamisen.
Shortly before the performance was scheduled to begin, the shuffling of feet and "tink tink tink" of pebbles falling on the floorboards above us began to sound. In accompaniment, the shamisen duo started to warm up.
Then Ima Tenko（今貂子）, whose name means "Now Japanese Marten [sable] Girl," descended the steps, slowly, tantalizingly.
Covered in white paint from head to toe and wearing tattered robes, she appeared to be a maiko risen from a newly dug grave. Her hair was black and wild and pulled up and barely contained on the top of head. Her teeth were dyed black.
To music and lighting, she writhed, jumped, and danced in front of us for 50 minutes, her sweat splattering the floor. Her lips would curl subtly as she paused to stare into the eyes of the onlookers from a distance of 2-3 feet (one meter); it was as though you were staring death in the face. Other than this, her facial expression rarely varied.
After a brief trip back up the steps in mid-performance, Ima returned to the first floor in a different robe, which she discarded after a bit. Clad only in a red loin cloth, Ima glistened as rivulets of sweat streaked down her taut white-painted torso and legs.
Following the performance, Ima and the two shamisen players came down to speak to us, hear our thoughts, and socialize (she passed out her business cards). Her teeth had been scrubbed of the black makeup.
Ticketing and Reservations Entry costs ¥3,000. Student discount ¥500 off. Reservations please: only eight places per performance. This performance contains nudity.
Just north of the intersection of Koromonotana and Sanjo streets, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8202 Kyoto Subway: Five-minute walk from Karasuma line or Tozai line; Karasuma Oike station, Exit #6. Hankyu Train: Ten-minute walk from Kyoto line, Karasuma station, Exit #22.
Hiroshi Mimura and Yuji Kohara
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