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BellaOnline's Japanese Culture Editor


Geisha - Misconceptions Of a flower world

Guest Author - Melanie Shintaku

Soulful sounds of the Shamisen, melodies from the flute, a Maiko sways to the beat of the Ko-tsuzumi, a Geisha engages in light conversation, the table is set with mouthwatering delicacies, wine never leaving the cup nor the lips, this is the flowery world of a Geisha.

There are many misconceptions about who a Geisha truly is, this is largely due to its elite and very private world, in the past some prostitutes had self- styled themselves as Geishas but in truth, a Geisha is a professional female entertainer, skilled in the various Japanese traditional art, such as music, dance, calligraphy and poetry, they’re also skilled conversationists, to put it short, Geishas are the perfect hostess.

Geisha origins can be traced back to the Tokugawa era but weird enough the very first Geishas were actually men, who entertained customers waiting to see the popular Oiran [professional courtesans] Oiran were higher in status to Geishas as they could sing & dance, they were also renowned poets as well as skilled calligraphers, we can say that the Geisha was modeled from the Oiran.

Traditionally, training for a Geisha starts early, in the past young girls from 3 to 5yrs were bonded to geisha houses. Today, they are allowed to go to school and training starts from 15 or even 18yrs. Trainee Geishas are called Maiko which means Half jewel she’s bonded to the Okiya who’d be responsible for her training, feeding, clothing & tools of trade.
This is an expensive investment for the Okiya, more so for a Maiko because even on completing her training and becomimg a full Geisha, she can't start out on her own until she pays back every penny.

Though welcomed, Maikos are never really given invites to Ozashiki [traditional Japanese banquets] so to get her foot in the door, she would need the aid of the Oneesan, who is her mentor as well as a full Geisha, to take her to “her” invited outings, where she’s to observe and learn the intricacies of the trade.
These outings are beneficial to a Maiko, as she gets a first hand view of how and what it is to be a Geisha, how to handle clients, make conversation, serve the teas or play the Shamisen [banjo like string instrument]. From these outings, a Maiko will earn a third of the usual fee for a Geisha, as well as get the opportunity to prospect for future clients. Oneesan is very important as she's the one, who helps a Maiko select her professional name.

After successfully completing her training, a Maiko celebrates her coming of age with a ceremony called Mizuage, in the past this ceremony entails that a Maiko would loose her virginity to a Danna [patron] who inturn would sponsor her Mizuage. Today, a Maiko doesn’t have to do this.

The most striking thing about any Geisha is their dressing, the white base makeup made of rice powder, gives them that dreamy porcelain doll look, as well as creates the illusion of a mask, they also apply red lipstick with a red & black accent around their eyes and eyebrows. Make up is time consuming and not easy, so its always done before dressing, so as not to stain their kimonos. There’s also the elaborate and intricate hair styles, for Geishas to maintain this perfect hairstyle, they must use small supports as pillows for the night, which slowly makes a Geisha go bald.
Unlike established the Geisha, a Maiko’s dressing is more showy and flamboyant, they wear brighter colored kimonos and their Darari-no-obi [Sash] almost always reaches the ground, they also wear high wooden clogs called Okobo.

Geishas take their art very seriously and must practice everyday, for every single gesture in a dance tells a story. Unlike the past, the modern Geisha of today now have computer skills, speak English, give international tours and even do some modeling.

Geishas can flirt with clients but there must be no paid sexual relations involved, they can have personal relationships too and so long as they remain single, they can be a Geisha for as long as they like.

Geisha fees are measured in incense sticks called Senkōdai a Geisha dinner costs 80,000 yen ($785) it takes place in a Ochaya [tea house] food is ordered in and tab for the evening, which includes everything from the Geisha’s fees to taxi cab fare, is charged to the client’s account.
Since its based on trust, new clients must be vouched by a guarantor but today, with the downturn of the economy, any tourist who can afford it, can have a Geiko dinner and depending on his wallet, can have as many Geishas attending to his needs.

There are many Hanamachi [Geisha districts] where one can see a Geisha, such as Tokyo, Kanazawa and most especially Kyoto, which has five districts. Also for just a $100 or $350 and within 90mins, there are several shops in Kyoto that transform one into a Geisha.

Geishas are one of the most financially capable, powerful and strong group of women in Japan, despite the modern transformations, Geishas are still very much a part of Japanese culture today and in the future.
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Content copyright © 2015 by Melanie Shintaku. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Melanie Shintaku. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.


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