Monday, February 1, 2010
Geisha have been a part of Japanese culture for hundreds of years. The term ‘geisha’ can be broken down into two parts: ‘gei’ means ‘art’ and ’sha’ means ‘doer’ or ‘performer’. Now, as in generations past, geisha are professional hostesses, who entertain their customers through the use of their skills in many traditional Japanese arts.
Today, some girls begin their training while they are teenagers. They learn all the traditional skills of tea ceremony, calligraphy, flower arranging, singing, traditional dancing, and playing traditional musical instruments. They also learn the art of conversation, manners and hospitality. Once they begin their apprenticeship, they are known as ‘maiko’. Maiko means ‘dance child’. Some women begin their geisha training at age 20 or more. When their training is over, they are full fledged geisha. They do not go through the five steps that the younger girls do. Once they are finished with their training, many geisha still love in geisha houses, called okiya, although some make enough to live independently.
Geisha are supposed to remain single. Once they marry, they must retire from this profession. They may pursue relationships with men they meet as clients, but these are not very common and when they do occur, they are chosen very carefully. A geisha’s reputation is all important.
Many people outside of Japan have the wrong impression that geisha are prostitutes. They have never been involved in this practice. Women who were practicing this profession in the past often made themselves up to look like geisha, which caused the confusion. During the occupation of Japan after World War II, the American GIs called these women “Geesha girls.” It has been very difficult to separate the two in the minds of the world.
Historically, daughters of geisha would also be brought up in the profession. They began their training as young girls. They would be bonded to a geisha house. They would train for up to seven years before becoming a full geisha in a ceremony known as erikae (turning of the collar). Maiko would have a red collar. In this ceremony, the red would be changed to white.
It takes many hours for a geisha to prepare. Makeup must be carefully applied. The style will change depending on the age of the geisha. A thick white foundation is applied first. The lips are bright red and the eyes are accented with red and black. The makeup will become more subdued as the geisha gets older, letting her natural beauty shine through.
The kimono is carefully put on next. It may have as many as 12 to 15 layers. Apprentices have their obi, or sash, tied elaborately in the back. Full fledged geisha have a simpler knot in their obi. The colors, patterns and style of the kimono will depend on the status of the geisha and the season of the year. Kimono take up to three years to make due to the elaborate painting and embroidery needed to decorate the layers of fabric.
Most geisha wear elaborate wigs done in the styles of the geisha. In times past, setting the hair took a long time and were maintained with hair combs and pins. They would sleep with their necks on small supports known as takamakura instead of pillows so their hair would not get mussed.