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Geisha Essay, Research Paper

Many nations carry on with them customs and traditions that are not always accepted by other parts of the world. One custom that may not be nationally accepted is the artisan of the Japanese geisha. People generally do not accept what they do not know and therefore it is viewed that geisha were solely Japanese prostitutes rather than performers and entertainers. Geisha were known to be found in large industrialized cities in Japan such as Osaka and Kyoto where not only would Japanese men pay for their entertainment but also Americans, and other foreigners who were in town on business. (Geocities 1-2)

Though the artisan of these performers was usually referred to as beginning in the eighteenth and century, it’s roots were dated as far back as the eleventh century when two women created their own form of dance in which to entertain warriors. The literal translation for the word geisha means “Beauty person”. The earlier geisha chose this profession but as the demand grew more of them came from poorer families who sold them into the business. They were not profitable, though, to the house until they paid back their debts that the house used to pay for schooling and supplies. In most instances girls who were not automatically made geisha would work for the house for years at a time to redeem some of their debts and save the houses from having to pay for a maid. Their jobs consisted of cleaning, running errands, and waiting on the mother and other geisha of the household. (Geocities 1)

The girls bought were usually of a young age and pre-pubescent so that older sisters could teach them and mold them into perfection. The young girls also could not perform until they had shadowed an established geisha and was introduced by their sisters to men who were previously entertained by their house. (Geocities 1)

Though women were most commonly associated with this profession, during the early eighteenth century geisha were usually men who entertained, and it was not until later on in which women dominated the trade. With the women’s domination there was a high demand, and in it competition. Before being able to become paid entertainers geisha had to attend schools to better their etiquette. They also learned from older geisha who were called their “sisters” and they were trained in various aspects of the arts, performance, and in entertainment. The girls who underwent this training were referred to as “shikonis”. This was a name given to girls who were eventually going to make apprentice. (Geocities 1, Township 1)

Many geisha had to know how to read because when entertaining they might be asked to read an excerpt from a book or maybe a poem. They also learned to write calligraphy, which went along with their etiquette and demeanor. They were taught how to bow properly and to speak with perfection. (Gibson 66)

In the musical instruction that the geisha received they learned to play a three-stringed instrument called a Samisen. This instrument was shaped like a spatula and worked like a guitar. Samisen were generally equipped with either ivory or wood as the foundation and silk strings. At one point in time it was mandatory for the girls in training to learn to play this instrument. Accompanied by the Samisen the girls would often sing. The entertainment that was provided always varied and was dependant upon what the house was notarized for and what the men preferred. (Geocities 1)

Another trade that the girls had to learn was flower arranging and Sado. Sado was the art of serving tea. Tea was never considered to be an art form until it was focused on as the basis of entertainment at the Okiyas. Okiyas were the teahouses where geisha met their clients to entertain. Either tea or “sake” was served at the teahouse. Sake was the name for the alcohol that most of the men enjoyed while also being entertained by the women. Through all of their schooling and training shikonis were taken around by apprentice geisha who would introduce them in the streets to people of status. This made the shikonis well known in the town and accepted for whom they were with. It was good to become well known because the clients that geisha hoped to appeal to were wealthy businessmen or people in the area who had money. They also relied on escorting out of town businessmen to the theatre and around their town. (Geocities 1, Townships 1)

As it often went the same clients would go to the same geisha time after time and eventually most geisha would marry off or have a particular man who was known as a “Donna”. Donnas would pay the debted amount to a geisha’s house so that she could continue entertaining and profit. One particular reason it was important for geisha to find donnas was so that they could have all of the luxuries of the finest kimonos and adornments. Kimonos were a very imperative part of a geisha’s lifestyle because they signified the popularity and importance of who you were. (Township 1)

As beginners you would often receive hand me downs of the older sisters in the house who had bought or had been given new ones. It worked this way because just getting dressed in a kimono was an accomplishment in itself. Kimonos consisted of layers of weighty silk fabrics, which were not only difficult to put on, but also to function in. An underkimono was often worn too as a slip or extra support. In cases of weight disproportions there would not only be the heaviness of the kimonos but special padding that would shape and mold you to look more alluring. It often took a long time for young geisha to get dressed on their own. Some schools even specialized in teaching people how to properly adorn oneself in a kimono. (Dalby 104-105)

The shoes that were worn with the kimonos did not bear as much importance but were rather simple. They were a form of platformed flip-flops that went over a pair of socks. The name for these shoes were “geta clogs”. (Geocities 1)

Once a young shikonis was ready to entertain she was taken by a sister of the house to get her hair set in a certain style and learn details of how to apply her makeup. The hairstyle was known as the “split peach style” which is a bun that has been divided into two sections. This turning point was known as being made apprentice. Apprentice meant that you were able to entertain on your own and this was when it was accepted by the mother of your household that your presence was requested at a teahouse. Once a geisha has achieved apprentice status they were able to be making their own money, paying off their debts, searching for a donna, and buying new kimono. (Golden 162, Township 1)

The important part of buying new kimonos dealt with the colors of the collar. Men who sought after sexual pleasures would often look for geisha who owned kimonos with red collars. The red collar signified purity and virginity. If you were seen as wearing a red collar it was known that you were a virgin and no one had paid for the your services yet. Patrons who had seen the geisha out in the town or at their teahouse could purchase virginity. Once the virginity of a geisha was taken she would buy new kimonos with white collars. It was also known that a girl who had a white-collared kimono was no longer a virgin. (Township 1)

After the geisha had been entertaining for a while if a donna does had not come along the giesha could either retire or become the mother of their household. It was usually easier for a geisha to be married and have her donna buy her a teahouse of her own or a house where she can create an establishment to raise geisha. (Township 1)

The marriage of a geisha and a donna usually signified the end of their career as an entertainer but began the stability in the rest of their life. It was usually the duty of the geisha to entertain her donna above anyone else and this meant that she was “hands off” to others. (Geocities 1, Township 1-2)

The profession is not very well known today by most because late in the 1940’s the entertainment of geisha was outlawed and pretty much died out. There are only a few thousand known in Japan now and are located predominately in Osaka and Kyoto where this tradition took flight. (Gibson 66, Geocities 2)

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