Published: October 5th 2008August 16th 2008
Okay, I know that I wasn't going to post anymore Osaka or Kyoto blogs, but this is one that I couldn't omit....
Four wonderful, adventurous, and exciting years have passed while I have lived in Japan, and although I was constantly trying different things and visiting new places, there was one thing that took me forever to do.... become a maiko!!!!! After studying and observing Japanese culture for so long I have always wondered what I would look like dressed as a maiko-san
-in-training), and so on August 16th (my second last day in Japan), I finally decided to visit a studio in Gion.
I arrived at 9am and spent the next hour or so choosing my kimono
, getting my make-up done, and having a wig pinned to my head. The white powdery make-up was thick, the kimono was tied so tight it was hard to breath, the wig felt like it weighed more than my head, and with temperatures reaching 35 C, it was anything but comfortable!! However, that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it, and have created yet another amazing memory of Japan to carry home with me. :)
So... enjoy the
pics (I certainly had a blast posing for them)! Background info on the traditions of a Geisha: (Borrowed from Casey's Blog because I could not have put these descriptions into better words.)
When foreigners think of Japan, the term geisha
is synonymous with sumo
. We envision the black hair pulled neatly into a bun, the ghostly white faces with bright red lips, the colorful kimonos, and their geta
clomping along the cobblestone streets of Kyoto. This romantic vision of geisha
is only partially true.
The first geisha (or in Kansai dialect geiko
) appeared early in the 18th century when Japan experienced little civil unrest and cut off ties with the rest of the world, allowing leisure activities to flourish. In the mid 17th century in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo ‘pleasure’ districts took form. Japanese men would flock here in search of the most beautiful courtesan to call their own. Quick sex was not hard to find, and soon men were looking for more. In the early 18th century the first geisha appeared- and they were men! They came to parties to perform for the guests. Soon women geisha took to the stage.
Geisha literally translates to “arts person” and their job was to go to different parties to play instruments, sing, dance and socialize with the men. Geisha provided pleasure through intellectual stimulation. Apparently in the long run intelligence does triumph over beauty. Sex was not a requirement for geisha, instead it was the allure and build up of NOT getting the girl that attracted men to these untouchable women. You always want what you can’t have.
Women spend years in training to perfect these sought-after skills. As young girls they begin their training and as they get older, they move through the ranks to become a full-blow geisha: Shikomi
- At this stage the women are young girls required to do all the housework at the Okiya
(geisha house). They also attend school to learn skills needed to be geisha, such as dancing, singing, and learning to play an instrument. Minarai
- Relieved from their house duties, at this stage the women are allowed to attend parties, yet are not supposed to talk to any of the customers. They wear very elaborate kimonos that are supposed to do the talking for them. Maiko
- This is by
far and away the most recognizable stage of a geisha’s life, and often what foreigners mistake as geisha. As a geisha apprentice, the maiko will receive an 'oneesan'
, or older sister who is already a geisha. The maiko will follow around the geisha and learn all the tricks of the trade. This stage can last between 6 months to 5 years. Once they graduate from this stage, they are finally geisha. Geisha
: you are now the top dog, the life of the party, the prime minister of the entertainment world, and desired by all.
When maiko are dressed to the T, they have on the white make-up, depending on which stage they are at have their lips painted differently, and like with sumo, depending on their ranking are allowed to wear various hairstyles. The kimonos are much brighter than actual geisha, and their obis are tied in much more intricate bows. Geisha on the other hand, are not as flashy as their women in training, which symbolizes maturity. When women become geisha, it is said that their refined skills will attract the men instead of their elaborate appearance.
Sorry to burst bubbles out there, geisha were not
exactly your medieval Japanese sluts. Which if one thinks about how much time it takes to dress and undress a geisha, logistically geisha as a quick lay would be anything but quick. There were prostitutes who looked like geisha, but were easily identifiable not to be geisha because they would wear their obi bows in the front. Even whores had rankings- everything is ranked in Japan! Like described in Memoirs of a Geisha, sex was a part of the geisha world but definitely not in their main job description.
Today geisha are still part of Japanese culture, but with a population dwindling to 1,000-2,000 from 80,000 in their heyday, geisha are fading quickly. With the slow economy, traditional old Japanese customs losing popularity over new and cheaper forms of entertainment ie hostess bars and karaoke, and the lack of women wanting to invest time in a difficult job with mediocre pay, the existence of the geisha may soon become just a memory of old Japan. Often times now tourists come to Kyoto’s Gion Quarter and think they have run into a real maiko, only to find out that it is a foreigner dressed up as one for fun (like
This poor girl was brought in by her mom and absolutely hated having her picture taken. It didn't help that it was 34 C and we were wearing 4 layers!
me!). But, when you do get the chance to see a geisha or maiko wandering the streets of Gion, or happen to see one through a window performing at a party, it is quite an unforgettable treat.
There are more photos below