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THE GEISHA | by Okinawa Soba (Rob)
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THE GEISHA

Yes, I know this is a long caption. It was put up in batches, and needs a good "once over" by a sympathetic editor. One of these days I will cut it in half. Until then, here you go...

 

 

GEISHA. Also correctly called "GEISHA GIRLS", "GEIKO" [down in Kyoto], and "SINGING GIRLS". GEIGI is another form, but I don't personally know anyone who uses this more obscure tag, and have not seen it used in the standard old references from the Meiji and Taisho eras. In any case, the generic term that covers all the variations is GEISHA.

 

MAIKO. In the old photo captions, Geisha-to-be understudies, were commonly called "DANCING GIRLS" (a close English translation of MAIKO). However, in Japanese speech and writing, they were often referred to as HANGYOKU (reference to costing half-as-much as a Geisha to hire for your party), and OSAHKU (the one who pours drinks). Of the three terms, one early Japanese writer on the world of the Geisha personally used the word OSHAKU more than he did MAIKO.

 

The post-WW2 squabble over the use of the term "GEISHA GIRLS" (as opposed to just plain "GEISHA") is discussed at the bottom of this flickr caption.

 

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WHAT FOLLOWS IS SOME STRAIGHT TALK ABOUT THE GEISHA, and include short sections on relevant topics such as MIZUAGE; why some people confuse Geisha with PROSTITUTES; a look at SEXUAL MORES and the LOVE LIFE of the Geisha; and her job as an ENTERTAINER in a wide variety of venues from WILD PARTIES HELD ON BOATS to DINNER SHOWS held in the BROTHEL DISTRICTS. And of course, the reason she is here on Flickr in the first place --- the Geisha's job as a PHOTOGRAPHER'S MODEL.

 

The life and labors of a GEISHA in old Meiji-era Japan was a far cry from the anachronistic, though still pretty and talented Geisha of the 21st Century. Way back during the Meiji-era time of these photos, she was truly an integral part of Japanese society who was called upon for numerous social functions and odd "media" related jobs that sometimes took her far from the "Geisha House" we usually associate her with. The Geisha were very busy girls !

 

First, a few words about the above photo, and then we'll get right to the REAL DEAL concerning these iconic symbols of "classic" old Japan.

 

THE ABOVE PHOTO is one of 260 hand-tinted, real albumen photographs tipped into the best editions of the 10-volume JAPAN -- DESCRIBED AND ILLUSTRATED BY THE JAPANESE (Published in Boston, USA in1897).

 

It was probably taken ca.1890-96 by K. OGAWA in his Tokyo studio.

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/3340015545/in/set-7215...

 

Although there were plenty of other Geisha photos in this publication, the above image was chosen by the Japanese themselves to illustrate the only short but important statement in the book that specifically defined what a Geisha really did with her professional time. (The full statement is transcribed further below in this caption). I have amplified those comments with confirming descriptions from other sources.

 

There is quite a bit about the Geisha already on-line. Some of it is very good. The below is just my particular take on it. Some of what I say below will jive with what you see elsewhere, and other statements I make might be at odds with what you know. Some discrepancies might be due to my focus on the realities of Geisha life 100 years ago, whereas you might be thinking strictly of Geisha who inhabit 21st Century Japan. There is lots of overlap between the two worlds, but there are also differences.

 

No doubt, my life in Japan, and former profession as a photographer there had something to to with driving me to make this Geisha statement on my photostream. I hope that something in both the content and links will be of some value to you.

 

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THE WORD GEISHA = GEI SHA 芸 者

 

[GEIKO is a Kyoto term for a GEISHA. Same thing. Six of one, Half a dozen of another]

 

The first character GEI 芸 is usually translated into English as Art, or the Arts.

 

The second character SHA 者 simply means Person, or Person who does.

 

Together they mean A person of the Arts. Therefore......ARTIST, or PERFORMING ARTIST.

 

Some translations say "ACCOMPLISHED PERSON"

 

That's simple enough.

 

BUT....

 

SCULPTORS, PAINTERS, AND POTTERS ARE ALSO "PEOPLE OF THE ARTS".... MAY WE CALL THEM "GEISHA", AS WELL ?

 

NO.

 

The two Chinese characters for GEISHA are specifically reserved for the women in this so-named Geisha profession who have been trained from childhood in the Performing Arts such as Music, Dance, Speaking, or Singing for the purpose of entertaining others in venues clearly defined for them.

 

ENTERTAINERS is probably a better translation of the word, but that, too, is far from sufficient, and is more likely to conjure up images of Stand-up comedians or Lounge Singers in a Las Vegas Night Club act. Besides, there is already a general Japanese word for TV Personalities and "entertainers" in this category : 芸 能 人 GEI NOH JIN. (Notice that the first part of that word also uses the same 芸 GEI character used in GEISHA).

 

Actually, there is no good English equivalent for 芸 者, as the Geisha is purely a Japanese phenomena. Not even their neighbors, Korea and China came up with the exact same thing. Thus, it is simply better to use the word Geisha, and simply know what the word entails when you are talking about her.

 

IMPORTANT QUESTION : Returning to something already touched on above, if "Geisha" literally means "Artist" (or "A Person of the Arts"), then what words(s) do the Japanese use for other "Artists" like painters, sculptors, potters, engravers, and etc ?

 

EASY ANSWER : There are many other words in Japanese to describe the various artistic disciplines and art related subjects (some that use the same written character GEI 芸 of GEISHA as a part of the word or words, and others that do not include GEI). This goes for the different Japanese words used for Artists who are painters, potters, engravers, sculptors, and etc.

 

Even in English, we know that a RECORDING ARTIST is not the same as an artist like PICASSO or MICHELANGELO. The Japanese language is the same, and they have everybody covered with the right words and titles for whatever the heck they do.

 

 

NOTE : FOR AN IMPORTANT DEFENSE OF THE TERM "GEISHA GIRLS" AS AN ALTERNATE TO THE TERM "GEISHA", PLEASE SEE MY COMMENT APPENDED TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS CAPTION !

 

 

 

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THE TRUE-LIFE JOB DESCRIPTION OF A MEIJI-ERA GEISHA

 

The GEISHA (along with their MAIKO understudies) were in a class of their own.

 

Beautiful, talented, intelligent, and quick-witted --- they were also, on occasion, full of passion for the men that pursued them.

 

Although it is understood that they were NOT prostitutes, what they did in the old days (and even what they do now) has always been a little bit fuzzier in most peoples minds. The most common [and partly accurate] perception is this :

 

The "Geisha Girl" sings and dances the night away while pouring drinks, serving endless plates of hors d'œuvres, lighting the customers tobacco, making witty small talk, raising eyebrows and heartbeats with coy looks and innuendo, and building the egos of the male clientele --- all at drunken dinner parties held in the secluded, private "restaurants" attached to the famous Geisha Houses of the larger towns and cities.

 

Yes. She did do that. But in most cases, the Geisha of Japan entertained men at TEA HOUSES (Ochaya) scattered all over the open country and in urban Geisha districts.

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2819980890/

 

In the larger cities, she was also called on to provide "pre-show" entertainment to guests in the "Yoshiwara" brothel districts, prior to the customer moving on to another room for his encounter with a chosen prostitute. (This is discussed farther down in the caption).

 

While being hired out to these various venues via strict protocol (and unless she was a free agent) she would live at an OKIYA --- a type of "boarding house" for Geisha and Maiko.

 

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okiya

 

But, there's more....

 

GEISHA ON PARADE

 

Geisha were also hired to "man the parade floats" and other stages set up for open-air, public performances during certain festivals. They would sing and dance, and also put on little skits and plays for the merry-making public crowds.

 

These exhibitions were held both in public park areas, as well as inside the walls of the "Yoshiwara" red-light districts.

 

And from the late-1870s to the early 1920s --- the time of the photographs found on this photostream --- there was also this very important aspect of a Geisha's employment....

 

GEISHA WERE MODELS FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS --- Both IN and OUT of Character.

 

I have mentioned in some of my captions that the Geisha also served as models for the photographers, donning all sorts of garb to portray all classes of women in Japan. Some comments from flickr users expressed surprise (and doubt) that they were also "models", and wondered if that was really so.

 

Yes. Before the advent of Movie Stars, Takarazuka Girls, and "Professional Models", that was really so. From roughly the 1870s until the early-1920s, Geisha pretty much owned the world of fashion and character modeling throughout the photo studios of Japan. Please read this caption (and observe the photo) very carefully :

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/3329199977/

 

But again, there's more. Here's another living witness from the past......

 

ANCHORS AWAY !!!

 

Professional Photographer HERBERT PONTING, who spent many years in Japan during the last decade of the Meiji era, was highly enamored with the Geisha, and hired them to appear in many of his commercial photographs.

 

Ponting , who was well aware of how the west perceived the Geisha, wrote in both defense and praise of them in his 1910 book , LOTUS-LAND JAPAN. In addition to his extensive use of the Geisha as hired models, he was also careful to explain that not only were they the entertainers at the dinner parties and tea houses already mentioned above, but also in popular demand to.....

 

(1) accompany the DINNER BOATS as companions and entertainers as they plied the waterways of parks and rivers

 

www.flickr.com/search/?w=24443965@N08&q=Yakatabune&am...

 

and....

 

(2) take part in outdoor PICNIC events.

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2517606012/

 

 

Keeping the above in mind, we will now expand the duties of the Geisha even more ! Here is the interesting and concise "MANIFOLD DUTIES statement referred to at the beginning of this caption, written in 1897 by the Japanese themselves during the Meiji era, in order to clarify a few things for those foreigners who erroneously thought that "real Geisha only work in Geisha Houses" :

 

 

♥ ♥ ♥

 

THE GEISHA

 

"........A geisha receives from early childhood an elaborate training under severe discipline to fit her for the MANIFOLD DUTIES that await her. She is taught etiquette, grace, polite speech, playing on musical instruments, singing and dancing. She must learn GAMES, the SERVICE OF BANQUETS and WEDDINGS, and the art of dressing and making herself attractive. Her services are in demand at PUBLIC and PRIVATE ENTERTAINMENTS, and occasions of SOCIAL FESTIVITIES. She is purchased from her parents in early childhood under a contract by which for many years all she earns belongs to her employer........"

 

♥ ♥ ♥

 

 

".....MANIFOLD DUTIES...."

 

Note again that her "services were in demand". By arrangement with the many Geisha Houses, THIRD PARTY businesses and "event coordinators" could hire the Geisha Girls as greeters, companions, helpers, up-scale waitresses and servers, special receptionists, singers, dancers, and at festival times, leaders of the games and fun --- and yes, even as the popular and ubiquitous models for most of the photographic images portraying the various classes of Japanese women (from a Farmers wife to a mythical Goddess, if need be) in most of the classic photos from the Meiji era [1868-1912]. (See the above link to commentary that explains the increasing involvement of the Geisha as photographers models during the last half of the Meiji-era.)

 

Other books written later would further expand on the details of a Geisha's life, explaining in many ways how she was an indispensable part of Japanese life and culture, as interwoven with the flow of society as were the silken threads of her Kimono.

 

REVIEW :

 

The Geisha served.....

 

(1) .....the festival-going, picnicking, partying, and ceremony-attending PUBLIC --- both at indoor and outdoor venues at locations ranging from "RESTAURANT DINNER BOATS", to WEDDING RECEPTIONS, to staged events in the LOCAL PARKS.

 

(2) .....the rabble-rousing PRIVATE CUSTOMERS at parties held in banquet halls, tea houses, and the restaurants of the Geisha districts, and popular tourist locales.....

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2808600486/

 

(3) .....the PHOTOGRAPHERS who needed poised and pretty models who knew how to take direction as they posed in all manner of studio dress...and sometimes undress.

 

(4)....the looky-loo tourists who partied in the Yoshiwara Red-light districts, and the hordes of men who wanted some song and dance entertainment before hooking up with prostitutes ! The famous NECTARINE No.9 and the other ubiquitous brothels of Japan usually had contingents of Geisha under contract to do this non-sexual entertaining.

 

 

Unlike the largely "decorative, anachronistic" Geisha of today, the Geisha of the Meiji-era were an integral, broadly functioning part of the society that gave birth to their very existence.

 

 

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WHY WERE GEISHA SO OFTEN CONFUSED WITH PROSTITUTES ?

 

This problem is often complained about, but rarely (or never) explained.

 

The Okinawa Soba answer to this question is an important one, so log it in your brain. I am also writing this to help instill a bit of patience in the hearts of Geisha-lovers who might be tempted to quickly pounce with disdain on those who, lacking a more intimate knowledge of the subject, continue to confuse Geisha with prostitutes.

 

Although everyone familiar with Geisha realities understands that they practiced their arts and entertainments in designated TEA HOUSES and GEISHA DISTRICTS, it has been generally forgotten that one of the other main entertainment venues for the GEISHA was in the YOSHIWARA [or "Red Light" Districts] found in the major cities scattered throughout Japan.

 

To say that a good portion of the hi-class "real world" Geisha of old Japan were inseparable from their non-sexual working association with Brothels might be hard to take for some modern "Geisha purists", but the fact remains that houses of prostitution is where fame and fortune awaited many of these talented women.

 

Even in Kyoto, there were some Geisha attached to Brothels whose talent and reputations exceeded that of the "Gion Girls" and their lively sisters along the banks of the Kamo River.

 

WHY WERE GEISHA WORKING AT BROTHELS AND "YOSHIWARA" DISTRICTS ?

 

Geisha were hired by Brothels to provide entertainment for waiting guests, as well as to be in attendance at various festivals and outdoor venues within the walls of the Yoshiwara. Geisha could be seen walking around, and riding in jinrikisha as they went to-and-fro about their business.

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2517606012/

 

Many visitors --- both the curious looky-loos and the real "Johns" --- sometimes made false assumptions about the women they saw, based on lack of knowledge about the broader female society that existed within the walls of these pleasure districts.

 

Both Japanese and foreign men who traveled from city and country-side to "get laid" would often partake of entertainment provided by Geisha --- usually some song and dance while eating dinner or a light snack --- prior to heading off to the rooms where the prostitutes awaited them.

 

Even the famous brothels --- usually seen in the old photos with prostitutes lining the balconies --- had large contingents of Geisha working for them to provide guest entertainment.

 

The fact that numerous Geisha worked inside these brothels in a non-sexual capacity, and were generally seen in their comings-and-goings throughout the Yoshiwara, would obviously lead to misunderstandings on the part of some guests --- especially the FOREIGN men --- who were not always clear about the distinctions of the various women they saw.

 

Over time, both writings and rumors proffered by some of these guests led to general confusion amongst the uninformed, who were not (and are still not) able to separate the two in their minds.

 

It might have greatly helped to quell the confusion if the Geisha held their dinners and other entertainments only outside of the Yoshiwara areas (prior to sending their customers on their way by 'rickshaw to the "other side of town"), but such was not the case; the "Red Light Districts" --- just like the dedicated "Geisha Districts" --- were filled with Geisha at all hours of the day and night.

 

Again, the hard-working Geisha inside the Yoshiwara districts --- many of whom the less-than-knowledgeable patrons could not tell apart from the working Prostitutes --- wound up getting lumped together in stories about Japan, told by transient tourists and sailors to anyone who would listen upon their return home.

 

So, now you know. Understanding this will help you "Geisha Lovers" (who bristle at the ignorance shown by those who think the Geisha are prostitutes) to summon up a bit of patience as you kindly correct and explain the difference between the two very different professions.

 

 

 

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"MIZUAGE", SEX, and RELATED ISSUES

 

Depending on who you talk to, or what book you read, questions involving possible sexual aspects of graduating from Maiko to the rank of Geisha (or Geiko) --- a ceremony or rite-of-passage called mizuage --- cannot be avoided in any full discussion of the Geisha.

 

Some modern-day Geisha are adamant that the term mizuage, when applied to the world of the Geisha, is a non-sexual term of ceremony or graduation when a Maiko attains the rank of Geisha. Geisha taking this position today say that only the Oiran (high class prostitutes) used the term mizuage for the ritual deflowering --- that is, the auctioning off of a younger girl's virginity to the highest bidder --- when describing the initiation of their young Kamuro understudies into the actual business of prostitution.

 

Those who adamantly take this position are correct, but only as far as it applies to the world of Maiko and Geisha of today.

 

(NOTE: Oiran and Tayuu are still around today, but have been "de-fanged" of their prostitution activities, and exist only to parade around as "cultural shells" of a bye-gone era. However, taking away their true sexual purpose as prostitutes, while still calling them Oiran and Tayuu is about as nonsensical as calling a guy a SAMURAI when he's just posing in some old armor and swinging a plastic sword around.)

 

Keep in mind that, "Today" and "Yesterday" are two different worlds, and when reading the documentary narratives of the Meiji era of 100 years ago or more, one cannot escape the fact that Maiko attached to most (and possibly all) Geisha Houses during the pre-WW2 Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa eras did experience a sexual initiation into the rank and world of the Geisha.

 

AGAIN : The experts are right when they say that "Mizuage" as a sexual initiation (or rite-of-passage) for Maiko is no longer practiced. However, those who say "it never happened in the past except in the case of prostitutes" are completely wrong.

 

Although the old books and testimony of history are clear that many different ceremonies accompanied what was called Mizuage, they are also clear that sexual initiation was a part of it --- obviously this was true for the world of prostitution, but also held true in the world of the Geisha. Here is a modern comment derived from someone well-respected when discussing these matters :

 

".....During the Edo period, courtesans' [prostitutes] undergoing mizuage were sponsored by a patron who had the right of taking their virginity. This practice became illegal in 1959. All maikos had to go through this ceremony in order to become a full fledged geisha. Once the mizuage patron's function was served (of deflowering the young maiko) he was to have no further [sexual] relations with the girl.

 

Mizuage was not considered by geisha to be an act of prostitution. The ceremonial deflowering of the Geisha [-to-be] is not only a rite of passage, but a commercial transaction. The money acquired for a maiko’s mizuage was a great sum and it was used to promote her debut as a geisha......"

 

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geisha

 

Liza Dalby is quoted in more detail here : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizuage

 

Referring to comments already made concerning the sexual deflowering of a Maiko, it should be obvious that the phrase "no longer practiced" clearly says that it was practiced.

 

Further, concerning the use and understanding of the word mizuage, what might have been the exact customs of the Geiko working in the Gion or Pontocho districts of Kyoto, might not have been the custom of the Geisha in Tokyo, Yokohama, or elsewhere in Japan. This remains a gray area of study with both regional differences and pre-and-post WW2 differences not completely addressed.

 

Unfortunately, no matter how orderly the "mizuage at the time of graduation" might sound, there were Geisha House owners who allowed high-paying customers to "initiate" the Maiko almost as soon as they arrived (!), long before any graduation to the rank of Geisha. That's just the way is was.

 

Read this caption about the experience of the Geisha TERUHA --- who was sexually deflowered as a 13-year-old Maiko --- as a representative experience that must be considered in any discussion of mizuage, and the child-Maiko's initiation into the Willow World of adult male patrons.

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/4446588770/

 

By the way, the "Federal" age of consent in Japan remains as 13 even in the 21st Century. The "No, it's age 18" thing that Japan recently put up in the 1990s is actually a "misdirection law" or "facade regulation" to show Western countries that Japan is "civilized".... and which all 13 to 17 year old girls easily get around with enjo kosai dating, and any other number of maneuvers...none of which are pursued or prosecuted by the authorities.

 

About once a year, the Japanese police will arrest a 16 or 17 year old "Soap Land" prostitute to prove to Western nations that Japan is cracking down hard on vice...upon which they return to their normal duties of patrolling and protecting the red-light districts...including the protection of the girl they arrested who has also returned to her profession in the "Soap Land", Cabaret", "Ryokan" and etc.

 

 

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FROM MISTRESS TO MARRIAGE

 

To be a Maiko or Geisha meant you must be "single" --- that is to say, not legally married. But the Geisha were human beings, and their "sisterhood" reflected the world at large when it came to matters of love and romance. The difference was how the Geisha were allowed to handle these "affairs of the heart" while still working within the rules of their profession.

 

Amongst them were those who fell passionately in love with a customer or patron --- whether he be married or single --- and she would become his mistress or lover on the side. That some (or even many) Geisha entered into these "dedicated and monogamous sexual relationships" with "patrons" who provided certain remuneration to their Geisha mistresses or lovers seems beyond dispute.

 

NOTE : While the above paragraph seems to state the understood "ideal" of "honorable Geisha-hood", a pre-WW2 Japanese writer on the subject felt that truly monogamous Geisha were a rare thing, and that the "norm" for Geisha was to juggle a few good patrons at the same time --- at least as many as could be effectually alternated without them bumping into each other. Keep in mind that this was one writers opinion, and there are no personal anecdotes or "Geisha paramour statistics" to back up these suppositions. If such really was the norm, just how many of a Geisha's "personal harem" were for "Love", and how many were for "Money" is something I will leave up to your imagination. In any case, even if a Geisha was discretely rotating a few men at one time, she was still not considered a prostitute. If it was today, American teenagers would probably call her a slut.

 

No doubt there were gold-diggers, too, and lesbians as well. And who's not to say that many of them were just like many Japanese girls of today --- totally lacking a libido of any kind.

 

Perhaps (unfortunately) it is the stories of those Geisha who did enter into "private, sexual relationships" --- some developed while still teenagers --- that has led to confusion about mizuage in specific, and the generally persistent but entirely mistaken notion that the Geisha was some kind of prostitute.

 

Suffice it to say, the Geisha were not prostitutes --- either then, or now.

 

As just mentioned, the Geisha were all unmarried. However, they were also free to marry, though marriage brought an automatic end to their career as a Geisha. Like all human beings everywhere, some had happy marriages, some were only tolerable, and other ended in divorce. The famous Geisha TERUHA was married and divorced a few times, as well as having lived in a lesbian relationship for a while. She also had a daughter.

 

www.flickr.com/search/?q=Teruha&w=24443965@N08&m=...

 

Okinawa Soba has a friend who married a true Geisha. They are now happily married with a cute n' spunky little daughter who's a karate nut.

 

In any case, the Geishas everyday lives and the jobs they worked at were usually far from the romantic, and often highly-charged, sexualized images attached to them by romantic writers from the West.

 

In general, the Geisha were a hard-working lot who --- looking back on those times --- deserve far more respect for their contributions to Japan than most of the sleezy Politicians, Bankers, and Bureaucrats who formed a part of their regular customers and patrons.

 

Keep in mind that MOST of the female subjects depicted on the classic "UKIYOE" woodblock prints of old Japan were PROSTITUTES from the YOSHIWARA ("Red Light Districts"), and not Geisha.

 

 

 

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FREE AGENTS

 

There were independent Geisha --- usually from among the more famous or popular girls who had "paid their dues" --- who lived outside the dictates of a "Geisha House Mama", and plied their trade as "free lancers".

 

 

BABES AND BOOBS

 

Please note that many of the Geisha who appear half naked in my "BABES & BOOBS" set were the NEXT DAY probably busy at any number of venues --- attending a wedding (as servers, helpers, and entertainers), at a public festival (dancing, singing, escorting guests, or playing games with the visitors -- both young and old), or entertaining VIPs at a private banquet or ceremonial reception.

 

The occasional use of prostitutes by Yokohama photographers to appear as topless models in studio shots seems to have been during the first half of the Meiji-era. By the 1880s, the transition to using Geisha and Maiko as models had already begun in earnest, and most of the "nudes" seen today from the "Yokohama Albums" and the ubiquitous "penny postcards" are really Geisha, and not prostitutes.

 

 

www.flickr.com/search/?s=int&w=24443965@N08&q=Nud...

 

 

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THE GEISHA OF TODAY --- "EMPTY SHELLS" or "LIVING ENCYCLOPEDIAS" ?

 

I have often expressed an opinion of modern-day Geisha being nothing more than "empty shells" of days gone by. However, I having seen the error of my ways, I duly REPENT.....sort of.

 

While it is a FACT that the Geisha of 100 years ago and more were a "necessary", integral, ubiquitous working part of broad swaths of Japanese society --- and that the Geisha of today are NOT "integral --- it is only fair to acknowledge the value of modern-day Geisha as "living encyclopedias" of an age gone by.

 

The modern Geisha keep alive the songs, musical heritage, classic conversational banter, games, stunts, and especially the immaculate hair, makeup, and beautiful kimono kitsuke seen in the old Studio Photos of the Meiji era. Their dedication to preserving this once-ubiquitous part of Japan's social life clearly sets these modern-day girls and women apart.

 

And positive changes make the doing-it-by-choice 21st Century Geisha more appealing as a cultural institution than their original "sisters" who were sold into the business as children.

 

Stripped of need to draw on the sale of little girls to maintain their ranks, and of the custom of selling off the virginity of the 13-year-old Maiko to local bankers and bureaucrats, they are now above reproach in that regard, and their "decorative presence" for shutter-bugs and anachromaniacs has been nicely cleansed of such distasteful "culture".

 

On the other hand, their place in society no longer has the broad reach and involvement in the everyday life of Japan as it once did, and they have found themselves reduced in many ways to a niche, cultural decoration....not unlike the once-ubiquitous and socially functional Kimono that, for most of the young women across Japan, now comes out only on special occasions.

 

That being said, the Geisha must be recognized as "decorations with substance" --- a "cultural anachronism" that, even in their smaller numbers, still defines a large part of the world's romantic image of Japan.

 

Although the Geisha have now withdrawn behind the walls of the Okiya and Ochaya [Tea Houses] and specialized venues where the bulk of their entertaining now goes on, their talents in that smaller sphere --- provided for a smaller range of clientele --- are no less than what they were 100 years ago.

 

Just for fun, here's an example of the many odd "games" passed down by the Geisha from at least the 19th century (and probably earlier) this little maneuver done by two Geisha is illustrative of the discipline and care given to maintaining and passing on traditions. Please look at the OLD PHOTO first (and my goofy caption), and then click to see the 21st CENTURY VIDEO of the same eclectic moves : www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/4326647910/

 

Again, no matter how anachronistic these girls might be, they remain as pretty and talented as ever --- a favorite subject for never-ending hordes of camera-toting tourists and locals hoping to catch a glimpse of them, and fodder for any number of books that try to "explain them" to the world.

 

I seriously doubt that they will ever disappear from the varied landscape that makes Japan the unique place that it is...and in that sense, the Geisha will always be --- even more so now than in the past --- the Immortal Geisha of a dream inside a fantasy, all wrapped in a mystery...

 

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

 

NOTE : While the TECHNICAL descendants of the Geisha continue to ply their trade in Kyoto and other cities large and small, the PRACTICAL descendants scattered throughout Japan are now called BAR GIRLS or HOSTESSES who work in what are generally called "Snack" and "Lounge" bars --- multi-story buildings and entire districts given over to their trade.

 

In one sense, you could call these Snack Bar Gals the "Poor Man's Geisha" because they are accessible to anybody with at least ¥2,000 to spare. At least that's what poor salarymen tell themselves, and then end up spending at least ¥10,000.... !

 

At the higher-class Lounges, Bar Girls in Kimono entertain Company Presidents, Gangsters, and Politicians (sometimes there is no difference between these three) and it is not uncommon for these customers to drop at least ¥50,000 a night to chat these women...hoping to score big-time, or gain a mistress along the way.

 

I have made a more light-hearted comment about these modern Bar Girls / Hostesses at this old photo of a couple of Geisha having a beer during their day off in a park :

 

www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2328678706/

 

 

 

 

I hope the above photo and straightforward caption was helpful.

 

 

 

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APPENDIX I : WHAT ABOUT "GEISHA GIRLS" ???

 

 

A Defense of the Compound Term "...GEISHA GIRLS..."

 

Several modern-day Websites and hard-copy sources that deal with (and attempt to correct) the eternally false perception that the GEISHA are a particular breed of Japanese prostitutes, usually say something like the following :

 

".....The term "Geisha Girl" or "Geisha Girls" should never be used in reference to the true Geisha --- either in the singular, or as a class description --- as that term carries a connotation of prostitution, and refers to the class of prostitutes who, during the American Occupation of Japan following WW2, dressed in varied approximations of the true Geisha (and even called themselves Geisha) in order to lure young servicemen who only had nominal and exotic expectations based pre-existing false perceptions passed down by the ignorant and misinformed...."

 

In fact, the Wikipedia has this to say :

 

"....."Geisha girls"

 

"Geisha girls" were Japanese women who worked as prostitutes during the period of the Allied Occupation of Japan. They almost exclusively serviced American GIs stationed in the country, who incorrectly referred to them as "Geesha girls." The term is a mispronunciation of the word geisha. The mispronunciation persists among some Westerners.

 

Adding to the confusion is the fact that these women dressed in kimono and imitated the look of geisha. Americans unfamiliar with the Japanese culture could not tell the difference between legitimate geisha and these costumed prostitutes. Shortly after their arrival in 1945, occupying American GIs are said to have congregated on the Ginza and shouted in unison, "We want geesha girls!"

 

Eventually, the term "geisha girl" became a general word for any female Japanese prostitute or worker in the mizu shobai ["water business"] and included bar hostesses and streetwalkers.

 

Geisha girls are speculated by researchers to be largely responsible for the continuing misconception in the West that all geisha engaged in prostitution....."

 

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geisha

 

To be honest, such pronouncements do sound very authoritative, and seem to settle the matter that the use of the term "Geisha Girls" --- when referring to actual Geisha --- is a complete no-no, such use simply reflecting the ignorance of the user.

 

Due to such indoctrination of today's lover of all things Geisha. Okinawa Soba understands that this is how the term is general regarded today, and due to this sensitivity, I respect those do not want themselves or others to use the term "Geisha Girls" when referring to modern-day Geisha.

 

However.....the WIKIPEDIA and all the rest who toe this line are more confused than the poor G.I.s they are writing about.

 

Okinawa_Soba now goes on public record to inform all who read this that the so-called "scholarship" that produced (and still does produce) such post-WW2 anecdotal folk histories and condemnation of the term "Geisha Girls" is --- generally speaking --- simply the result of these writers placing their trust in other post-WW2 writers on the subject who were also copying others like them ad infinitum --- none of whom ever took a serious look at (or gained an understanding of) the myriad pre-WW2 19th Century and early 20th Century uses of the term "Geisha Girls".

 

The sad result is that these amateur "scholars" and historical "spin doctors" have ruined the perfectly historical, valid, and acceptable use of the term GEISHA GIRLS.

 

First of all, the reason the American G.I.s used the term "Geisha Girls" was because that was a perfectly acceptable word for the true Geisha in the world they, their parents, and their grand-parents lived in. The fact that US Army Private Zeke from Battle Creek couldn't tell the difference between a real Geisha and a prostitute in a Kimono had nothing to do with the already well-established use of the term "Geisha Girls".

 

Similarly, in the days after WW2, the term "Geisha Girl" no more (and no less) carried the connotation of "Prostitute" than did the term "Geisha". Geisha Girl and Geisha were equally acceptable terms for an actual Geisha even after WW2 (just as they were before WW2), and both terms were equally afflicted with the general confusion and long-running misunderstanding of what a Geisha really was.

 

The artificial division between the two terms is a late Western construct devised by a few well-meaning souls who wanted to protect the realm of the true Geisha, though while doing so remained (1) in complete ignorance of the original equality of the terms, and (2) not understanding that the young men of the Occupation Forces generally labored under the old and false assumption handed down to them that the Geisha were some kind of prostitute.

 

During the 19th and early 20th Centuries --- the period of time during which the Geisha images on my photostream were taken, and during which time the Geisha were effusively written about and explained to the adoring world by both the Japanese, and foreigners in the know --- the terms "Geisha" and "Geisha Girls" were used interchangeably with respect and approval across all forms of media. Books, Magazines, Newspapers, Periodicals, Photo captions, Stereoview captions, Commercial Products from that time can all be found using the terms "Geisha Girl" or "Geisha Girls" when describing the true Geisha, and not prostitutes.

 

Even in the Japanese language, the root of "Geisha Girl" can be found in the earlier appellation of Onna Geisha (女芸者) --- "Woman Geisha" or "Girl Geisha", used to differentiate them from the male Geisha (or court entertainers).

 

Here is one example of thousands, and this by a Japanese writer also conversant in English : www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/3329199977/

 

If you are going to allow your modern-day use (or condemnation of) the historically-correct, bona fide term "Geisha Girls" to be dictated to you by a few lazy-assed American G.I.s and some prostitutes who wore Kimonos instead of skirts --- along with late-20th Century, high-sounding, copy-cat "scholars" who never cracked open a book older than 1945 --- then please go right ahead. Language and usage does change and Okinawa Soba will not stand in the way of it, even if the change is, regrettably, brought about by ignorance, as is the case here. You can't unscramble scrambled eggs.

 

In the meantime, and in temporary deference to those who have (unfortunately) adjusted to the uncalled-for change in English usage, I will not call the modern Geisha of Japan "Geisha Girls here in my Flickr captions.

 

However, as concerns the Geisha in the old photos I post on this photostream, Okinawa_Soba will continue my absolutely correct, historical, affectionate, occasional and respectful use of the term "Geisha Girls" to refer to true Geisha of the pre-WW2 Meiji and Taisho eras throughout my photo titles and captions. And not only that, you can, too !

 

Outside of flickr, I will continue to call the modern Geisha of Japan Geisha Girls if I want to, and am fully prepared to answer on the spot those impassioned souls who, in their own ignorance, wrongly accuse me of being ignorant for calling a Geisha a Geisha Girl !

 

NOTE: I still call a “Female Cabin Attendant” a Stewardess, and don't object when, in the 21st Century, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards the Oscar for Best Actress.

 

 

 

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Now,excuse me while I return to writing my normally wacky titles and goofy captions that spoof our oft-misguided perceptions of old Japan. www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2531017485/

 

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Uploaded on August 27, 2008