Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Geisha

  • A geisha is a traditional Japanese hostess trained to entertain men through dance, song and conversation. The best way to translate a word geisha into English would be “artist” or ” performing artist”. White makeup, a colorful kimono and beautiful hair is probably the world’s most popular image of a geisha. To become a professional geisha usually it takes years of training and learning.

    Geisha in history
    Geisha postcard from Meiji era


    In early history men were called geisha and the first recorded instance of a female calling herself geisha was a performer named Kikuya in 1750 in the Fukigawa region. These performers from Fukigawa were often considered to be courtesans and were relocated to Yoshiwara district. Geisha were subject to strict regulations to separate them from the prostitutes. To make a distinction between geisha and prostitutes Kemban was created: a geisha registration office. With the first Kemban created in 1779 in Yoshiwara and geisha officially recognised as a profession in Kyoto 1813, the geisha name was established.

    During Meiji restoration changes happened to the geisha profession as well. From 1886 geisha wages were set industry-wide , customer records needed to be kept of fees and visitations and taxations were applied to the entertainment industry. In 1895 the National Confederation of Geisha was created. It was very common for businessmen and politicians to visit geisha houses because geisha women were in that period in which they were the only women who were educated enough to communicate with a worldly, successful men. In 1926 came a new Emperor and a new era – Showa. Soon the WW2 came and many geisha women left their place of employment and went to help in the war. During American occupation the position of women was hard. In 1947 voting rights were given to all the women and after that period geisha were considered the only traditional remains of Japanese history.

    Geisha fashion


    Geisha fashion consists of few parts and details: hair ornaments, clothing and accessories, makeup and skin care. Hair ornaments are called kanzashi and today they are mostly worn by Japanese girls who wear kimonos to special events or festivals.

    Kimono or yukata is a summer traditional Japanese dress made of cotton. There are many formal and informal dresses. Informal ones are yukata, komon, tsukesage and formal are furisode, tomesode , iro muji etc.

    Is a geisha a prostitute?

    Many people probably have doubts and are confused when hearing the word “geisha”. Most people, especially from Western countries, would probably confuse a geisha with a prostitute. During American occupation many prostitutes called themselves geisha. That was probably done to make themselves more exotic and appealing to the men. But a real “geisha ” is NOT a prostitute. The original geishas were artistic dancers who had taken years of training and education to be able to become geisha. In the past some of the geisha actually had relations and maybe even intercourse with a customer but it was up to her.

    Life of a modern geisha

    Modern geisha life is a mixture of an old lifestyle and a new modern ways that every young person cannot escape. Of course, today a young geisha girl is a educated young woman who can sing, dance, act but also go on business trips with customers and occasionally go to a theater or some other public places. Even today some geisha girls are worried because there are no pensions for geisha and they are not permitted to marry. In extreme cases some even become single mothers. The number of Geisha in Japan at the beginning of 20th century was almost 80,000 , but now only 1,000 are left. We should be concerned about the fate of the geisha tradition in the future. A dinner with a geisha can cost almost 80,000 yen ( almost $ 780 ). Many men may prefer a less expensive way of entertainment like karaoke bars or hostess bars. But history and time are changing and people are changing too. Economy and country are closely connected. But also each country has a deep connection with its history, so we cannot separate them. One nation’s spirit cannot survive without history and tradition that is somehow losing out to modernity in these current times.

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