Red lips and white skin… Quiet, passive and demure, yet sensual and seductive. What is it about the traditional geisha that captures our hearts so? Is it the way her eyes are cast downwards, making everyone she passes by want to catch a glimpse of them all the more? Is it her silent sensuality, which makes not only men but also women fascinated? The Japanese have had geisha for many, many years and kept it a great secret to the outside world for almost as long. However, as with most secrets, big or small, the elusive world of Japan’s geisha has been talked about more often in recent years.
Take, for example, the novel by Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha. After reading the story, were you not entranced by the culture and beauty of it all? Yet within the novel, we also learned how difficult life as a courtesan (another word to describe geisha) was, especially when the business of being a geisha was at its prime. Although it’s rare to see a true geisha teetering along the streets in her traditional high, wooden shoes (also known as geta sandals), the allure of the lifestyle has never changed. To this day, they are as enticingly puzzling as they were when this aspect of Japanese culture began.
Image: Vintage Lulu
Here’s a video of Lucy from I Love Lucy doing her best geisha dance routine.
Facts on the Lifestyle of Geisha
11) One thing you should know about geisha is that the first geisha were actually men. Yes, it’s true! The male geisha were known as “honko” and would dance for their clients in bars, restaurants, and the geisha staple, tearooms.
Image: D. Sharon Pruitt
10) Geisha actually means “person of the arts”. Many people believe that geisha were and are prostitutes, but this is actually quite far from their true occupation. If you type “definition of Geisha” into Google, the first definition to come up says, “A Japanese woman trained to entertain men with conversation and singing and dancing.” These women were taught to provide delight to others, and although many became courtesans, they weren’t really considered prostitutes.
As a matter of fact, geisha were for a long time forced to undergo the ceremony known as “mizuage”, which is a coming-of-age ceremony. During this period, it was popular to sell a maiko’s (geisha in training’s) virginity to the highest bidder. It was viewed as being honorable, as well.
9) A part of the training for geisha involves learning to be as anonymous as possible. Apparently, it adds an air of mystery to the geisha – which in our view it does.
8) When a geisha is serving tea and her kimono sleeve is pulled up enough to bare her wrist, it is a sign of seduction or sensuality. It seems that this is used to entice or slightly tease, because it allows the client to view bare skin, however small an amount there may be.
Image: Daniel Bachler
7) Everything about a geisha seems to leave something to the imagination, which is a big aspect of the culture. They are the way they are because they are not blatant. A little goes a long way. Unfortunately, many modern-day women (unless they are modern-day geisha or women who simply don’t feel comfortable showing too much skin) don’t understand this concept and continue to bare more and more skin, leaving nothing to the imagination.
Image: Utagawa Kuniyoshi
6) Kimonos are handmade, and geisha usually get kimonos designed just for them. Kimono prints and fabrics change with the seasons, but they are always made of silk. Geisha also spend about two hours just doing their makeup, hair, and putting on the kimono!
Image: Paul Mannix
5) Geisha work in their “okiya” (where they live after entering this fascinating world) with their “okasan” (house mother) and “sisters” (other geisha). However, although they get paid for housekeeping and through their clients, most of the money they make goes to the okiya. The money is used to keep the okiya in business and for maintenance (as well as for other purposes).
Image: Unknown artist
4) A young geisha (or geisha in training) is still called a maiko in Kyoto, but in Tokyo they are now referred to as “hangyoku”. The hangyoku are said to wear kimonos that are longer as well as more fashionable and flowery than those worn by the maiko of Kyoto.
3) Geisha is pronounced “geesha”! So get it right next time you’re talking about these Japanese beauties.
Image: Conveyor Belt Sushi
2) Not only are geisha not prostitutes, they are also not allowed to be in a relationship for as long as they choose to be a geisha. If they wed, they must retire from the profession.