Guest Author - Melanie Shintaku
You may have read the book “Memoirs of a Geisha” or even watched the movie but like most, still have to wait a long while to see a real Geisha, cos it is either you travel to Japan, to see them live or wait for the usual Halloween costumes.
Nevertheless there is that curiosity, which you would agree can’t kill the cat, for a sighting of these women of grace, beauty and keepers of Japanese traditional Art because they have captured our imagination.
Well if you are one of the fortunates, to have seen a real Geisha, then you are allowed to take that bow but the question is, what is a Geisha? Who are these women? why would they go through such rigorous long training, just to wear a white paste makeup, as well as those high wooden clogs everyday, not to talk of the constant pampering of the special Geisha hairdo, [which is by sleeping on special holed pillows] that can eventually make one bald, in truth who is a Geisha?
A lot of books have being written on the Geisha topic, either by Geishas themselves or Geisha enthusiasts, movies and plays have also being made, to showcase these keepers of Japanese Traditional Art and that is what a Geisha is, a person of Art as well as the perfect hostess.
Now this is where the many misconceptions of the Geisha arises, its largely due to the almost close relationship, she maintains with her clients, that is why Geishas were branded as prostitutes.
Also in the past, some prostitutes had self styled themselves as Geishas, to the new influx of foreigners to Japan, these were mostly Westerners who didn’t know the difference between these prostitutes and a Geisha.
Reasons for this was mainly because most Westerners at the time, didn’t really care for the difference, also the Traditional aspects of a Geisha, was totally alien and non-existent in the West.
The secluded world, of the Geisha also didn’t help, as it further increased the disinformation, that Geishas were prostitutes.
The “Gei” in Geisha, means "art" and Geishas are regarded, as keepers of Japanese art, they are highly educated, as well as skilled in the various classical arts of Japan, a trainee Geisha is called Maiko, she starts training at a young age, a Maiko’s lessons includes music, singing, dance, playing the traditional musical instruments, such as the “Shamisen” poetry, tea ceremony and even the art of conversation.
The art of skilled conversation, is a must for any Geisha trainee, it is a “big” worry indeed if a Geisha, isn’t capable of engaging her clients in good converse, coupled with the right dose of flattery, all these ensures that a Geisha’s client, feel good about themselves.
Geisha Art, flourished greatly in the past but sadly today, the numbers of Geisha practitioners in Japan have reduced. For such an important culture and Tradition, it is vital that this Art is preserved for future generations.
For more intricate details about the world of a Geisha, the book "Geisha: A Life" which is written by Mineko Iwasaki, would serve as a good pointer because it is a detailed first-hand account of Mineko Iwasaki’s life, as the most famous Geisha in Kyoto.
Another experienced expert, on the life of a Geisha is Liza Dalby, she is regarded as the first American Geisha, her book titled "Geisha" is all about her personal observations and experiences as a Geisha.