Friday, November 21, 2008

Geisha with Fan

Geisha with Fan, originally uploaded by Vintage Lulu.

I think I've been fascinated with geishas ever since I was a tiny kid. I had this awesome paper parasol that was full of holes which I patched up with chinese origami paper. I liked origami! I had a kimono with a golden dragon on the back and huge square sleeves that you could keep things in... I am fascinated with Japan. I always liked how they looked- the white white face and tiny red lips, the beautiful eyes, the amazing outfits. The ritual of it all...
The older I've gotten, the more I've learned about them. When I was younger I had no idea that they were 'courtesans', or even what a courtesan was. There's always a purpose behind assumed beauty, and so it is with geishas. When I was little I thought that all women in Japan must look like these amazing beauties, though ofcourse now I know differently.

Lately, after much resistance, I have been watching Firefly- the TV series about a spaceship crew who are kind of space pirates... it's set in the future but there's not any of the usual futuristical bits and bobs you might expect, and it feels more like a western than science fiction.
I bring it up because there's a character who is very much like a geisha on the ship- she's basically a whore, when it comes down to it, but it's all wrapped up in this courtesan structure, with rituals and prerequisites and ceremonies, just like a geisha. And it's kind of fascinating- sex is so passionate and base that it's amazing that whole rigid systems get set up around it like the geisha. Regulated and straightlaced and serious.


Sam said...

Hello. I just wanted to let you know, geisha isn't a courtesans, or prostitute. They are actually performing entertainers, who sings, plays musical instruments, dances for the clients over dinner or party.

Geisha starts out young, perhaps in older times they would start apprenticeship in their teens, and during that time, they are called "maiko". That's when they learn to sing, dance and play musical instruments, plus learning how to speak properly and walking/sitting postures.

Once they finish their apprenticeship, they become geisha. The common misconception about geisha being a 'courtesans' or a girl who is attached to nobles in intimate relations for money stem from the fact back in the old days (pre-industrial age, Edo period and prior), whorehouses and other shady entertainment venues dressed women in geisha-like fashion. I 'think' it was still common until the 1950's or so, when American forces were stationed in Japan, the idea of geisha being prostitutes spread from there to the outside world mostly.

However, they do take patrons who supports their favorite geisha in financial means, but mostly without being involved in an intimate or sexual relationship. It is mostly due to the fact geishas train from early age and it is what they do, if and once such idea that this geisha sleeps with clients or in relationship with a client(s) spreads, basically their career is over. Of course that doesn't mean they can't have boyfriends or in a relationship, but the idea is the same that some celebrities and so called 'idols' prefer to keep their relationship secret from their fans in order to keep fans from being disappointed or lose interest. Today's geisha world, it is mostly centered around in Kyoto, where there are a couple of different styles of geisha schools kind of competes, and if geisha of the opposing school is sleeping around with clients, it probably gets found out and becomes known. In old times, there were more geishas and more styles of geisha schools. Even back then, they took extra care with their relationships with clients. I think for the most part (I can't say all), flirting was as far as they had gone.

I can tell you, they aren't courtesans nor the ladies of the night. What you are describing is called Oiran. They were courtesans. Geisha culture evolved from Oiran without the courtesan or prostitution part, and concentrated on mastering arts to entertain.

By the way, I enjoy your blog. I've been following your zombie movie making on YouTube. Must've been so much work to make that movie. Take care!


P.S. By the way, if you ever decide to come to Japan, let me know. I can suggest some really nice places for you to go. I won't be in Japan, but since I was born and grew up there, least I know some good spots.

Eshniner Forest said...

Firefly sounds rad.

Maddy said...

I don't know a whole lot about geisha, but I did love the book "Memoirs of a Geisha".
And firefly was a good series :) Too bad they stopped it!

Jim B said...

I was a fan of Firefly and I suppose I still am. The roles of Kaylee and River Tam appealed to me the most. Inara was the romantic interest in the show but Kaylee was the honeybunny.

What Westerns and Scifi have in common is the Frontier. People live on the edge. There are often interesting character studies.

Like that of Inara the role of geisha was more of an occupation than a personal commitment to her clients.

Jim B said...

To see some of the process that goes on in the creation of a scifi series check out The Genesis of Dr Who.

NusaCat said...

I was sad when they killed Firefly. And happy when they made the movie. And sad that it's all over.

Vy said...

The idea that geishas are courtesans comes from after WW II when the US invaded a poor and crashed Japan, where people were making a HUGE effort to go by and some women decided that it'd be easier to dress up in a kimono and borrow the exotic name geisha to sell sex. But being a geisha is so much more than sex, actually it involves a lot more study than many of us would want to endure in life. They have to be a very and truly complete artist and be able to converse about just ANYTHING with any type of person. And they usually would go from dinner to dinner, not even being able to be asked to have sex with any client. But they really were paid by the hour, that's the only resemblance to a whore. It's sad to see that people still mistake such an important part of Japanese culture for something that was basically made up by westerns.

Btw, Memoirs of a Geisha is a terrible book, it can't achieve anything it tries to. It doesn't portray Japanese culture, it sounds very fake and it fails to even being a good fictional story. The main character is so unbelievable, so dumb, it's impossible to believe such a stupid girl would become the best geisha of any time.

BeckyMae said...

Japan is wonderful...I was lucky enough to go to Kyoto which is famous for the 'geisha' culture...there is a temple there where they all go to dressed up inc local girls who are not geisha but they do it as a revereance to them. I agree it is quite fascinating...

The whole of Japan is wonderful in that they are really involved in their history and culture. Every monument and historical site had tonnes of Japanese school kids and families. Not like us where we kinda ignore it on a day to day basis...

If you want some pics I can email them to you if you like?

Take care, love your blog..xx Bexstar from Sydney...

Anonymous said...

Geisha are neither prostitutes nor courtesans. They are entertainers trained in the traditional Japanese arts like Nihonbuyo (dance), Kitsuke (the art of wearing Kimono), Shamisen playing (kind of lute), Chanoyu (tea ceremony), Ikebana (flower arrangement), singing and in the art of conversation. And NOT in sexual services.

When talking about Geisha and Maiko (apprentice Geisha), most people always think of Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, where there still are a few Geisha quarters like Gion, Miyagawacho, Pontocho, Kamishichiken. In Kyoto, a girl is trained five years before turning her collar (= becoming Geisha), in Tokyo a girl is only trained a half year.
There are so many rules Geisha and Maiko have to follow - their Kimono, hair accessoires, bags, shoes, etc match perfectly to each month, celebration and season. A Maiko has five, six different, very complicated hairstyles during her apprenticeship which are made of her own hair. The houses Maiko and Geisha live in are stricly prohibited for men - men are absolutely not allowed in there. The way to becoming a Geisha is very hard, many girls give up after just a few years. They have various classes everyday and in the evenings engagements. Their life is even harder than that of a manager.

There are so many good books and movies about Geisha (and Memories of a Geisha is *definitely* not one of them as it contains thousands of mistakes) - for example "Geisha - a life" written by the probably most famous Geisha ever, Mineko Iwasaki, "A Geisha's journey - my life as a Kyoto apprentice" by Miyagawacho Geisha Komomo, "Geisha" by the first western Geisha Liza Dalby. And about movies - watch "hanaikusa" at Youtube ( and the BBC documentary "becoming a Geisha" about the girl Yukina who dreams of becoming a Maiko (today she's Maiko Kikuyu and about to debut as a Geisha soon): .

But please *stop* thinking that Geisha are prostitutes or high class courtesans. They are NOT and have never been. And please *stop* thinking that "Memories of a Geisha" is realistic. It is not. Arthur Golden claims that he based the book on the life of Mineko Iwasaki (see above), but he changed it so much for the sake of a dramatic, unrealistic story, that Mineko Iwasaki was frown upon. Both the book and the movie detort the already damaged image of the Geisha so much that it's a shame.

So, if you like Geisha - read about them, get informed about them, but please, please *stop* believing the general opinion that they are nothing but courtesans.
I recommend you the links above and the website and forum for that.