Discover the history and secrets of geishas

Découvrez l’histoire et les secrets des geishas

Geishas are part of Japanese culture and fascinate Westerners. Their history and their rituals are very rich and deserve to be better known. Here is some secrets of geishas as well as their origin.


A demanding profession

The role of the geisha is to be a hostess, especially in tea houses. She must master several arts, including singing, dancing and music. From a young age, geishas are introduced to the traditional arts and learn to serve tea respecting the rites. They don't just work in tea houses. Their services are also in demand at banquets and receptions. The world of geishas has been wrongly associated with that of prostitution.

Indeed, geishas are considered refined hostesses. Originally, it was possible to buy their virginity at an event called mizuage. However, the event did not necessarily involve sex. Geishas specialize in dancing and are distinguished from other geishas.

The geisha must be endowed with many talents to welcome and entertain. She must also have a talent for conversation as she is called upon to discuss Japanese literature and poetry with guests. She also knows how to play several musical instruments, such as the Japanese flute, okawa and taiko. She also practices calligraphy and knows ikebana. Its main function is to master all aspects of the tea ceremony.

Different talents

When attending banquets or restaurant parties, geishas are not serving everyone. Customers must know how to behave according to the codes established with the geishas and must demonstrate their ability to pay. Customers pay geisha fees. If they are late in paying, the restaurant management itself is responsible for compensating the geishas.

Dancing geishas can show off their skills at dance festivals. They also give kabuki theater performances there. Geishas do not receive a salary for these demonstrations. Rather, it is a prestige brand and an opportunity to make yourself known.

Initially, learning takes a long time to master all of these disciplines. Candidates receive different names depending on the stage they are at. When they start at a young age, they are shikomis, at the service of geishas for whom they perform household chores. They observe their superiors in order to learn the basics of their future profession.

When they begin their artistic training, the girls are called minarais. They begin to work in tea houses, where they are familiar with the ceremony. Each girl is then taken under the protection of a geisha who teaches her all the facets of her art. After an examination and a special ceremony, the apprentice ends up being received as a geisha.

The city of the Gaishas

When the profession is created, the geishas live in neighborhoods assigned to them. They are mostly found in Kyoto, which is traditionally the city of geishas. This is where they first appeared. They are linked to a okiya, or a geisha house, where they do not necessarily live. Today, geishas can still live in an okiya, just as they can live in their own accommodation.

Tokyo is another important city for geishas. It presents a dance festival in which they participate. The majority of the city's geishas live independently, with the okiya to which they are attached serving only as a link between them and their clients.

If the geisha lives in an okiya, the okiya provides her with accommodation and kimonos for the practice of her art while she pays part of her salary in return. If she lives independently, she has to buy the kimonos herself, but she keeps all of her earnings.

The geisha needs a protector who will help her have a better income and obtain more commitments. This is a rich man who gives her gifts while still paying her for his services. This protector is called the danna. A ceremony consecrates their association. Originally, this relationship implicitly involved sex.

Geishas are not supposed to have romantic relationships with their clients. Those who get married must give up the profession.

During the first centuries of practicing the profession, the future geisha was sold by a poor family to be trained. Today, the profession is practiced on a voluntary basis. It is no longer necessary to enter a geisha house from childhood. Even if the apprenticeship remains long, the young candidates are now better treated by their superiors since the profession attracts less than in the past.

The history of geishas

Geishas began to appear with the opening of teahouses in pleasure districts in Japan in 1712. Geishas inherited their art from taikomochi, entertainers who could be associated with European buffoons. It is first of all men who are responsible for enlivening the teahouses with songs and music.

It was in 1750 that women were integrated into the profession, and they soon became more numerous and in greater demand than men. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, geishas were all women. The craft was formalized in 1779 and the law differentiates between prostitutes and geishas. Laws have often been changed and pleasure districts have sometimes been closed, but the profession has remained anchored in Japanese mores.

The confusion between geishas and prostitutes is that the two practices took place in the same neighborhoods, known as the pleasure districts. You could even meet the two in tea houses. The distinction has also been difficult for Westerners to understand because of the special relationship between the geisha and her wealthy protector. It is mainly about patronage, since geishas are artists who need funding.

Even today, the help of a patron is often essential for the geisha. It is estimated that a quality geisha kimono can cost anywhere from $ 30,000 to $ 80,000. If you add the costs of makeup, accessories and training, it becomes easy to understand that the geisha has no choice but to resort to a protector.

During the Second World War, the practice of the profession of geisha was interrupted. Women were to participate in the war effort. They worked in factories while the men were in combat. After the war, the profession could be practiced again. The number of geishas decreased during this time. The numbers increased somewhat in the twenty-first century. Today, there are only around 200 geishas left in this profession in Japan.

Some secrets of geishas

The world of geishas conceals several secrets linked to the practice of the profession since its origins. For example, the kimono worn by geishas has a special meaning. When the geisha pulls up the sleeve of her kimono a little more, it is for the sake of seduction.

The makeup of the geisha also has a symbolic meaning. The purpose of makeup is, among other things, to preserve the artist's anonymity while making her mysterious. The geisha must not completely make up her neck and let the color of her skin show a little. The lips are completely dyed. The face should be all white. The eyeshadow is applied over a layer of oil. Make-up is made from rice powder.

Geishas often get help from a makeup artist or their supervisor when new to the profession. The operation requires a lot of precision. It is necessary, among other things, to make up the lips, the cheeks and the contour of the eyes in pink and red.

Special attention should also be paid to the hairstyle of geishas. It must last a week. A specialized hairdresser takes care of it. Once the hairstyle is finished, the geishas sleep on a neck rest to keep it in place. The hairstyle is a traditional bun. The bun is different depending on the level of learning that candidates for the profession have reached. Older geishas have their own distinctive bun.

Even though the practice has modernized, geishas still have to obey certain binding rules. Thus, they do not have the right to communicate by computer or by telephone. They should speak orally to the people they make contact with or communicate with by writing letters.

The geisha often receives confidences from her clients. It is of course bound by professional secrecy. The fact that she often deals with large and wealthy clients makes maintaining secrecy essential. Some did, however, publish their memoirs after they retired, sharing a few embarrassing details about the lives of high-profile figures.



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