Geisha: Old Time
Geishas, or geikos, as said in the Kyoto dialect are traditional Japanese female entertainers who also acted as hostesses. Although at one point, male geisha were very popular (see Kabuki). Geisha are famous for their white face make up and red lips; their appearance is meant to suggest the perfect woman and unattainable beauty. Gei (art) and Sha (person/doer), translates as person of art or artisan.
Geisha can be more commonly found in Kyoto where modern geisha will live in Okiya houses and also serve at Ochaya tea houses.
Today, I’ll be focusing on geisha of the past, rather than modern day geisha.
Quick Background History
The early beginning of the female geisha culture began with female entertainers called saburuko, or wandering girls who often came from a poorer quality of life.
Some of the girls would entertain for sexual services, whereas those who had been lucky enough to have had an education, would be able to entertain at high class social gatherings.
Later, the Imperial court would move to Kyoto to settle down, and it would be in Kyoto that the conditions would be set for the blossoming of the Japanese geisha culture.
The First Steps of Becoming a Geisha
In traditional Japan, men were not bound to be faithful to there wives and the perfect wife would be one that looked after the household, and etc. For men, they didn’t go to their wives for pleasure, but to the courtesans to satisfy their sexual desires.
Then in 1617, the Shogunate (ruling government, hereditary military dictator) built pleasure quarters within Kyoto. Any areas outside these quarters would mean that prostitution was illegal. However, within the quarters yujo or women could be licensed and classified as entertainers.
The most prestigious of these groups were the oirans. The geisha here were also actresses, and would preform skits and dances, these forms of entertainment became known as Kabuki, this led to the future arrival of Kabuki theaters.
Different oirans had different services, while some would remain detached and only have conversations, skits, dances and light flirtation, others would be more sexual and casual.
Ranking of Geisha’s
There were many geisha districts and each were ranked depending on their superiority.
✿ glon kobu
These three districts are seen as the best districts and were often visited by high ranking politicians and powerful businessmen. Glon kobu is sometimes viewed as the highest ranking district by some people.
✿ glon higashi
These two districts are also highly respected but are a rank below.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the hot spring geisha, they will serve at ryokans (hot spings/inns) and are looked down on by the high ranked geisha. The hot spring geisha have been described as little more than common prostitutes.
Training to be a Geisha
To become a geisha takes time and patience. Some women will have begun their training at the tender age of 9, sometimes this may be because they are the daughters of geishas and will become the future heiresses, or the parents are affiliated with the geishas.
A woman can become a geisha straight away, but those who take upon the path of a Maiko – a trainee geisha – will find themselves on the page of prestige.
Maikos are paid half the wages of the geisha and are also known as ‘half jewels’. However, for women who are above the age of 21, becoming a maiko is too late.
A maiko will first begin their journey as a novice and will learn by watching. For a girl to become maiko, they must first find an onee-san, or older geisha who is willing to guide them and be their steward.
A maiko will be invited to an ozasjiki (banquet) but will note part. Instead, the maikos let their kimonos do the talking; their kimonos are often beautiful and brightly colored. A maiko can only charge up to 1/2 the full price.
When the maiko becomes an apprentice geisha, their onee-san will teach them the skills of their trade:
✿ Serving tea
✿ Playing shamisen
✿ Casual conversation skills
✿ Picking their profession