Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, January 06, 2006


With the popularity of the new movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, I thought I'd post something about what a Geisha actually is and isn't. What follows is the Wikipedia article on Geisah. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Wikipedia site, where there are several links to follow if you're interested in more information.

The movie poster just stopped me in my tracks.

Geisha (芸者 "person of the arts") are traditional Japanese artist-entertainers. Geisha were very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, and are still in existence today, although their numbers are dwindling.

The geisha tradition evolved from the taikomochi or hōkan, similar to court jesters. The first geisha were all male; as women began to take the role they were known as onna geisha (女芸者), or "woman geisha." Geisha today are exclusively female.

Geisha were traditionally trained from young childhood. Young girls were often bought from poor families by geisha houses who took responsibility for raising and training them. During their childhood they worked first as maids, then as assistants to the house's senior geisha as part of their training and to contribute to the costs of their upkeep and education. This is part of a very long tradition of this form of training which still exists in Japan, where a student lives at the home of a master of some art, starting out doing general housework and observing and assisting the master, and eventually moving up to become a master in their own right (see also irezumi). This training often lasts for many years.

They began studying a wide range of arts from a young age too, including musical instruments (particularly the shamisen) and traditional forms of singing, traditional dance, tea ceremony, flower arranging (ikebana), poetry and literature. By watching and assisting senior geisha, they became skilled in the complex traditions surrounding selecting, matching, and wearing precious kimono, and in various games and the art of conversation, and also in dealing with clients.
Once a woman became an apprentice geisha (a maiko) she would begin to accompany senior geisha to the tea houses, parties and banquets that constitute a geisha's work environment. To some extent, this traditional method of training persists, though it is by necessity forshortened, since most geisha now begin their training in their late teens.

Geisha are not prostitutes. Although in the past the right to take their virginity (an event called a mizuage) was sold, they were not obliged to have sex with any customers, even the men who paid dearly for their virginity.

Modern geisha are no longer bought by or brought into geisha houses as children. Becoming a geisha is now entirely voluntary, and women who are not the children of geisha by necessity begin their training, which remains extremely long and difficult, at much older age. The practice of mizuage is a thing of the past.

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