Updated: Nov 27, 2018
Geisha is a popular icon of Japan. We have seen Geisha in movies or in photographs but how much do we truly know about them?
The chalk-white faced ladies are often portrayed in a misunderstood image, especially in the West. Many have the wrong impression that Geisha is the courtesan of Japan when in actual fact, being a Geisha is an honorable and highly respected profession! A Geisha is a high-class performing artisan for very wealthy audience. They are very elegant and highly skilled in performing various forms of Japanese traditional art which includes singing and dancing.
Geisha is different from “Oiran”, which means sex workers. A Geisha's image might have been thought to be the same as a Kisaeng's, since they are also performers for the wealthy and nobles in Korea but they are courtesans as well. This misunderstanding might have also arise from post WWII whereby prostitutes introduced themselves as "Geisha Girls" to the American military men. In some cases, a Geisha do engage in minimal physical encounters such as an intentional slight brush against the client's hand or leg. But honestly almost all of them have no physical relationship with their clients!
Other than for the admiration of their beautiful performances, these elegant ladies are sought after for their company as well. They are thought of as highly intelligent and an interesting conversation partner thus, clients would ask for their advice on various matters. To be entitled to these services from a Geisha, only the very wealthy are able to spend a single night at a Geisha House, known as “Okiya” in Japanese. The extremely high price charged is to assure that the clientele are among the most powerful and wealthiest in Japan.
How to Become a Geisha
To become a Geisha is not an easy feat as one have to go through ceremonies and the whole training process is a long and costly one. One will start of as a "Maiko" (Aprrentice Geisha) at the age of 15-16 in Kyoto or 18 in Tokyo and they will train for 5 years before their debut. For women who are 21 and above, they cannot be “Maiko”. Thus, they are required to do at least a year of training before debuting as a Geisha.
Mizuage is a ceremony for a Maiko which signifies that she is of age to transit from a little girl to a woman and become a geisha. An auction will be held and the highest bidder will have the rights to take the virginity of the Maiko. After the deflowering process, the mizuage patron is not to have further relationships with her. The biddings will be used to promote the Maiko's debut as a Geisha. This practice is however, made illegal with other acts of prostitution in 1959.
A Geisha can take a "Danna" which is a long term patron who is a wealthy man that pays for all the expenses for her as a Geisha. A Geisha and her Danna may or may not be in love but intimacy is not an act to repay the Danna for his financial support. Their relationship also may not have to be a sexual one. A geisha is expected to be a single lady. If she wishes to marry, she must leave the profession.
With this new insight on Geisha, we are now one step closer to uncovering the numerous mysteries of Japan's culture! You can also watch "Memoirs of a Geisha" to understand more.