Kari Grohn's Home Page - Japan - Shirabyoshi




Shirabyoshi Dance
on a boat in Osawa-no-ike, oldest artificial pond in Japan, 
Daikakuji Temple, Kyoto (京都 大覚寺 大沢の池)

The shirabyoshi dance was called otoko mai (man’s dance), because dancers wore a white male kimono with a golden cap and a sword in a white sheath. The dance was popular and loved particularly by courtiers and nobles in the late Heian period. The name shirabyoshi meant white rhythm because of white make-up and rhythmic songs. Multi-skilled shirabyoshi mastered poetry, playing, singing, and dancing. 
Shirabyoshi dancer Gioh
The wicked selfishness of Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181), the head of the Heike clan, is shown through the story of young and beautiful Gioh whom Kiyomori heartlessly deserted. Gioh was an accomplished shirabyoshi dancer in the capital of Kyoto. At first Kiyomori loved Gioh and installed her in his mansion and also cared for her mother and younger sister. But their affection lasted for only three years till a younger and more talented dancer called Hotoke appeared. 
Initially Kiyomori rejected Hotoke when she attempted to visit and dance for him. But Gioh ingeniously persuaded Kiyomori to give a chance to this 16 years old phenomenon praised by shirabyoshi enthusiasts. As soon as the newcomer danced for Kiyomori he went crazy about her and sent Gioh away installing Hotoke in her place. When Hotoke grew glum Kiyomori invited Gioh to sing and entertain his new mistress. After Gioh had performed for her rival and former lover she passed some months in grief and humiliation and then decided to drown herself. But her mother told that the world is only a transient shelter and that we cannot expect life in paradise if we kill ourselves. Thus Gioh became a nun at the age of 21 followed by the pitiful mother and younger sister. 
But a few years later Hotoke unexpectedly knocked their door. Convinced of the uncertainty of her lot in life Hotoke felt that her turn to become abandoned would come soon. So she asked for forgiveness from Gioh and also wanted to shave her head and live as a nun with those three women. Since then the four nuns spent their lives peacefully and sought salvation together by offering flowers and incense before the sacred images every morning and evening.
Kiyomori died of obscure fever in 1181. The temperature was so high that snow in a big bowl turned boiling hot at once. Moaning with fever Kiyomori cursed Minamoto no Yoritomo, the leader of his enemy clan, the Genji, and ordered his men to offer Yoritomo’s head to his grave. But Yoritomo collected soldiers with the help of the Hojos and rose against the Heike at the very moment when Kiyomori was on his death bed. Unfortunately for the Heike their clan was destroyed by Yoritomo, but yet, fortunately for Kiyomori he had no time to see the tragic end of his people.