Japan 2 – Geisha – 12/2014

June 4, 2015

Whatever images might come up when we think of Japan, Toyotas, Nikon cameras, Sony TVs and Sushi, the beautiful and mysterious Geishas should be included. When Monika said she wanted to go to Japan to see the Snow Monkeys, I immediately imagined going to spa and having a nice massage by a Geisha. Well, that idea was quickly blown out of the water.

Japan 2 035The misconception of the Geisha image comes from the period of the Allied Occupation of Japan when “Geisha girls” were Japanese women who worked as prostitutes (not entertainers). They almost exclusively serviced American GIs stationed in the country who referred to them as “Geesha girls”, a mispronunciation. These women dressed in kimonos and imitated the look of a real Geisha. Many Americans unfamiliar with the Japanese culture could not tell the difference between legitimate geishas and these costumed performers. Shortly after their arrival in 1945, some occupying American GIs are said to have congregated in Ginza, a district of Cjuo in central Tokyo and shouted, “We want geesha girls! “We want geesha girls! Eventually, the term “geisha girl” became a general word for any female Japanese prostitute. This is largely responsible for the continuing misconception in the West that all geishas are engaged in prostitution.

Japan 2 034In fact, a Geisha (the correct name is actually “Geika”) is a highly respected traditional Japanese female entertainer who acts as a hostess and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, the traditional tea ceremony, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. She doesn’t do massages nor anything like it. A Geisha may gracefully flirt with her (often infatuated) guests but she will always remain in control of the hospitality. Over her years of apprenticeship as a Maiko she learns to adapt to different situations and personalities, mastering the art of the hostess. Modern Geishas still live in traditional okiya (Geisha houses) in areas called hanamachi or “flower towns”, particularly during their apprenticeship.

The Geishas’ dress, makeup and hairstyle are very complicated and highly stylized, and change as a Geisha moves through the stages of training, starting at a very early age. Simply applying the classic Geisha makeup can take over an hour before the multilayered kimonos are put on.

On the street, especially during festivals times like New Year, many young women either buy or rent beautiful kimonos and parade with their friends around the popular social centers but we actually saw women of all ages wearing kimonos on the Emperor’s birthday and a theater performance we attended.

To take the image to a personal level, Monika decided to become a Geisha, well, sort of. Of course, I had to become a Samurai too, well, sort of. They forgot to give me the sword. The professional makeover and outfitting took over an hour and the results were quite surprising. In the end, I seriously thought of renting Monika out but she couldn’t sing nor play cards in Japanese. Oh well. I was still hoping for a massage. That never happened either. We ate Sushi instead.

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