Geisha is a precious icon of Japan, dressed in kimono and entertaining guests by traditional performing arts. Geisha appearing in movies produced outside Japan, such as "SAYURI (Memoirs of a Geisha)" are confused with prostitutes, however their appearances and roles differ greatly. So what is Geisha in Japan today?
Geisha is a “GEI” master
Geisha is a word that has several meanings, but a well-known one is women whose profession is to wear kimono and add excitement to a banquet by traditional Japanese dancing, playing, and singing.
Prostitutes such as "Oiran" are often confused with Geisha, however while prostitutes are in the business of sensual pleasures, Geisha is in that of traditional performing arts. They are different professions.
It is called Geisha in the Kanto region centered on Tokyo, but there are also areas such as Kyoto where it is called "Geiko". Since they all play the arts, traditional dance and music, the word "GEI" is commonly used which meaning is that they are masters of those arts.
The roles of Geisha can be classified into "Tachikata" and "Jikata". The Tachikata performs dancing, while the Jikata plays accompaniment music and plays songs, shamisen, and hayashi (drums, small drums, flutes, shinobue, etc.).
How to be Geisha
Let's take a look at the example of Kyoto to see how to be a Geisha, or a Geiko.
To become a Geiko, first practice to become a "Maiko". After completing her compulsory education, she moves her place of living to the "Okiya" around the age of 15-20, and lives with other Maiko, Geiko, and “Okami” who takes care of the place, the people, and the business as if they are family. There she begins to learn kimono dressing and daily manners, and practices dance, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and acquires the etiquettes and rules necessary for hospitality.
For the first time in about a year, she can go to “Ozashiki”, a tatami room at a teahouse or a Japanese ryotei restaurant, and perform the arts and entertain guests. If she is recognized as a skillful Maiko by Okami or the Geiko union, she goes through a ritual called "Hakama Gae", and becomes a Geiko. The Okiya also plays the role of an agent, and the Geiko goes to Ozashiki through the Okiya while keeping her register here.
Let's take a look at a Geiko's day. After waking up and getting dressed, she practices performing arts and visits the teahouses for greetings in the morning. In the afternoon, in addition to the practice of performing arts, she prepares for the Ozashiki with the white makeup and kimono. From around the evening, she is called to the teahouse's Ozashiki and/or ryotei restaurants, and shows dancing and entertains guests there.
Behind the gorgeous stage, she practices performing arts and continues to brush it up every day.
If you want to meet Geisha, go to Kyoto's Goka-gai
Currently, Geisha are rarely seen in the streets of modern Japan, but it is possible if you go to ”Hanamachi”, the area Geisha is around in the cities or the towns of hot springs. Especially the famous destination is the Goka-gai in Kyoto.
Goka-gai refers to the five hanamachi – Ponto-cho, Gion Kobu, Miyagawa-cho, Gion Higashi, and Kamishichiken in Kyoto City. You can find the harmony between the beautiful old townscape and the kimono ladies.
If you want to enjoy performing arts, the banquets at teahouses and ryotei restaurants are the place. However, those places do not accept the first-comer guests and the Geisha play is very expensive. You can find instead Geisha bars where Geisha shows up but does not play the arts.
Traditional beauty of Japan
When you think of Geisha, many people think of a woman in a gorgeous kimono. However, she is not only beautiful in appearance, but also excellent in performing arts after years of training. They are the traditional beauty of Japan.