Term Paper: Geisha From Japan

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Geisha From Japan

The image of a "geisha" for the country where the art of geisha was born and developed is the equivalent of the Eiffel Tour symbol for France, the Statue of Liberty for the United States of America or the Tower Bridge for UK. Unlike these symbols for the afore mentioned countries, the concept of geisha remains hidden under countless layers of fiction makeup.

The beautiful girls with their white faces, spectacular hairstyles and colourful kimonos represent all a westerner knows about a geisha. Learning about geisha is like learning a foreign language: after finding out about a few rules and new meanings, one thinks one caught the essence of that new knowledge, but by going deeper into its subtleties one discovers the complexity and difficulty of that concept by learning about the particularities that make the whole easier to apprehend. and, of course, just like when learning a foreign language, there will be mysteries and meanings that will remain for ever hidden from the stranger who ventured into a completely different world of expression.

A general translation of the word geisha means "people of the art," artists by extension. But here is where all similarities end. During the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), when the concept began to take shape, there were only men who plaid the role of a geisha, but it soon became a territory of the ladies. Their western counterparts could be considered the courtesans, but comparison resists only when it comes to their mastery of several arts and their roles to entertain, especially men who paid high prices for such kinds of entertainment. There could also be a third and last trait that sustains a comparison between a geisha and a courtesan and that resides in the will to leave, as soon as there was a chance, a life of entertaining by practicing the arts they were trained their entire lives for, at private exclusivist parties or in some wealthy men's houses.

Most of them were not willing to lead such a life for the rest of their lives.

The parallelism between prostitution and the life of geisha comes from the pecuniary aspect of the way girls at very young ages were acquired by the establishments where the geishas were to be trained and to live. The okiyas were paying for young girls they were buying from their parents or from so called "traders" and this practice along with the "mizu-age," a passage rite, from the stage of a trainee (maiko) to a fully formed geisha that consisted in the trade of a maiko's virginity to the highest bidder made the whole concept of geisha have strong common roots with the concept of prostitution. On the other hand, a geisha inherited and passed along ancient customs, rituals, costumes and private practices that gave it other common roots to the concept of a secret order, like the masonry, for example. These are two arguments conducting to a first conclusion that shows the geisha in a light that has many facets and although embraces some common traits from different areas, cannot be considered their homologue in the Japanese world.

Two famous geishas of modern times Japan, Iwasaki Mineko and Tsuya-Kiku were among the first real geisha characters that brought the secluded, very exclusivist life of their peers come into the light and be opened to the eyes of the world, especially that outside Japan. The Second World War would have inevitably helped pulling some curtains off that secret stage of the so called floating world. The two before mentioned geishas that will bring more fame upon the concept of their art were sold by their poor parents at early stages of theirs lives and they were trained into geisha by the okiya that bought them. Mineko Iwasaki led her life is Kyoto where she still lives today, in retirement, one of the two most influential centres of the geishas. The district she lived in as geisha was Gion, a famous district that along with the district of Pontocho were once making history as the teahouses where the geishas performed where the places where the revolutionaries that were to overthrow the Tokugawa system were gathering and planning the revolution. Thus, the geishas plaid and active role and made history not only by entertaining men but also as a helping hand in changing one system into another. The Meiji era was delivered into the world and maybe it were some geishas whose names remained hidden who assisted at its birth.

Since their beginning, but especially during the Meiji era, the geishas were very important for the relaxation times of influential men in Japan. The first minister of Japan, Ito simply expressed the importance of these art performers: "I have no wish to live in a splendid house and have no urge to heap up wealth. What I like best is a geisha companion to entertain me after work." (Downer, 2003)

To attain such a degree of refinement and level of performing art close to perfection, a geisha spent most of her childhood and teenage years inside an okiya. During her first years there, a young girl aspiring to become an exquisite woman meant to entertain powerful wealthy men, would do all kinds of household chores only to be able to be around the maikos and the geishas. These female children were known as "tamago"(meaning eggs) and usually, at the age of puberty, they were starting the real training into the art of entertaining, by learning the art of singing, dancing, making conversation, and other arts. One would wonder where the art of love making fit among these arts a young girl was taught. Lesley Downer explains how this particular art was envisaged in the Japanese civilization in her book Madam Sadayakko: "On the contrary the arts of love were highly developed. While our forefathers suffered agonies of guilt as they plunged into the fleshpots of New York's Broadway or the London Haymarket, the Japanese had never until very recently encountered Christian ethics. Far from being a sin they considered sex a game, the most enjoyable possible form of recreation. And as with any game adepts devoted themselves to refining their expertise." (Downer, 2003).

Like any valuable art performer, the geishas never ceased to improve their skills in any of the arts they performed. They were aware of the crucial importance of the temporal variable, just as the whole culture they emerged from. Time and practice were the key words for the geisha who wanted to get as high as possible and keep her place as long as possible.

The common image of what a stranger thinks is of a geisha, that of a young female whose face is covered in white, with red lower lip and with a sophisticated hairstyle and exquisite and colourful kimono, is in fact the way an apprentice, a maiko appeared. When considered ready, the maikos were passing to the stage of geisha by performing a ritual called "erikae," meaning "turning the collar." Before modern times, the maikos were also passing through "mizu-age" ceremony, that meant she was deflowered by the men who paid the best price for the privilege. In the case of Ko-yakko, the first man who enjoyed her sexually speaking was Ito, the first prime minister of Japan. And it was a source of great pride for her and her offspring. According to Downer, this was an experience less traumatizing for her than it usually was for numerous other maikos. The highest bidder was much older man they have never met in their lives and love was had nothing to do with the matter. They were lucky if their first lover was accustomed with the art of love making to a young virgin. There were probably few of them who were lucky enough to have a first sexual encounter that was less traumatising as possible. but, their entire lives they were trained to please strangers. Therefore, mentally they were as ready as possible to face this kind of experience.

They will develop into one of the most exquisite, refined, elaborate and mysterious performers and entertainers. The paradox of the refinement lies in the very simplicity of their appearance, movements, sounds and other ways of art expression they were able to perform. As aforementioned, a geisha's clothes became simpler, less colourful than those of a maiko. Her makeup was more discreet and her whole appearance became more sombre. It is amazing and almost impossible to understand how the mere image of a bare neck and nothing else from the female body could be a turn on. There is, of course, the art of moving, talking, dancing singing and so on that brings a neck to life for the men who enjoy being entertained by these performers called geishas. They are trained at using their bodies as the art makers and the art objects at the same time and will work on improving their skills their whole geisha lives. Their life style is very… [END OF PREVIEW]

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