Clouded in mystery, and often misunderstood by non-Japanese, the world of the Geisha has always been fascinating. Here are 6 facts you may not know about geishas.
Geisha are traditional and professional Japanese entertainers who act as hostesses during meals, banquets and other occasions. They are skilled in traditional Japanese arts, such as dance and music, as well as in repartee.
The geisha have always seemed very mysterious to outsiders, a seemingly secretive world.
We shed some light on the geisha culture with these six facts:
1. Maiko & Geiko
Maiko are apprentices in training to become geiko. The word maiko, literally translates as dancing child. Maiko are generally less than 21 years old, becoming geiko at 21.
The geiko wears wigs whereas the maiko have their hair styled naturally, usually with more ornaments in their hair.
Their make up is also different, the maiko would wear more pink blush, but the easiest way to tell is by their lips, junior maiko only paint the bottom lip red, senior maiko would paint a thin line on both lips, whilst a geiko paint all of their lips.
A big give away would be their collars, maiko usually have red and white collars with a decorative pattern, whereas geiko would have a plain white collar.
Their role is often misunderstood by those not of Japanese descent. Geisha are not prostitutes, in the past, the right to take the virginity of a Geisha (mizuage) was sold by the Geisha house.
In reality, it was more a sponsorship for the Maiko’s training, which was really expensive. Only the very wealthy could pay for this right.
After the mizuage, the geisha were not obliged to have sex with any customers, even the men who paid for their virginity. This practice ended in the 1950’s.
Geisha begin their study of music and dance when they are very young (age 4/6 traditionally, but now most likely 15) and continue it throughout their lives, they’re expected to train every day.
The word geisha literally translates to artist. They are expected to learn dancing, the shamisen (a three string instrument), the flute, ko-tsuzumi (a small drum) and a large floor taiko (drum).
Some geisha’s would also write beautiful poems or painted pictures, even composed music.
4. The Dance
The dances are accompanied by traditional Japanese music, and it has evolved from the dance performed on the kabuki stage.
It’s a more sublime, subtle, and controlled form of dance with extremely disciplined movements similar to t’ai chi.
There are a lot of hidden meanings, as every gesture tells a story. For instance holding the corner of a handkerchief in the mouth represents flirtatious behaviour.
Geisha are skilled conversationalists, they often spend part of their day reading up on current events and even researching guests that they plan to entertain – usually high profile individuals, politicians or businessmen – so that they can keep the conversation going.
It wasn’t uncommon for a kimono to cost a year’s salary, in addition to this, a geisha’s outfit will usually include, figured satin, silk damask, brocades, gold leaf, gold thread, silver, silver thread, jade, coral, tortoiseshell, diamond, amethyst, agate, paulownia wood (for the shoes), and fabrics such as pongee, ro, and sha. Their accessories are made of handmade paper, boxwood, silk and bamboo. The whole ensemble could weigh up to 20kg.