Japan has a very distinct culture, from the art of kabuki theatre to anime and manga; Japanese traditions have grown over time. One distinguishing facet of the Japanese culture is the “geisha. ” The practice of the “geisha” tradition is elegant, stunning, and sophisticated while it empowers women simultaneously. This environment enabled the development for Japanese women to gain a form of influence or power that did not exist to the majority of women throughout the world.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “geisha” as “a Japanese girl whose profession is to entertain men by dancing and singing; loosely, a Japanese rostitute” (n. ). This definition roughly refers to geishas as prostitutes over several incidents in time. For a while now, “geishas” have been viewed in a less than positive way by foreigners. Most Japanese citizens will never meet a “geisha” in their lifetimes. Nevertheless, “geishas” are considered to be a symbol of Japanese culture to many foreigners. The most well- known image of a “geisha” is a white face, red lips, elaborate hairstyles and kimono attired. In the Japanese culture, “geishas” are highly skilled artists. The arts that “geishas” are expected to learn include classical dance and music that each girl masters hroughout her life.
As time progressed into the 21st Century, the term “geisha” is still perceived as a glorified prostitute to outsiders of the modern Japanese culture, which still practices the art form. “Geishas” are misunderstood by Western society due to past Japanese prostitutes imitating “geishas,” the misleading information portrayed in the media, and the lack of understanding the culture. The “geisha” industry has thrived in Japan for nearly 350 years and the early origins of the first entertainers who resembled “geishas” are different than the modern “geishas” of today.
In the 1600s, “geishas” were court ntertainers an initially all men; however, female “geishas” began to outnumber males greatly by the 1880s, which led most people to assume that geishas were always females (Dalby, Liza Chirfield). This can be seen as the first time when the profession evolved from court entertainers to “geishas. ” During the Edo time period in Japan, there was a form of legal and illegal prostitution. There was a hierarchy of servants who waited tables, or sold sexual favors to commoners and then there were those who only sold their pleasures and entertained Japan’s elite.
The “ladies of the night” called “yujo”, were women ourtesans who pleasured their male clients and were licensed prostitutes. At the time, “geishas” were still emerging and they were seen as below the status of yujos, and they became entertainers to the high-status prostitutes. Their performances were highly sought after and soon overtook the ranks of yujos. Before there was a uniformed “geisha” there were several various kinds of “geishas” that specialized in different forms of entertainment.
There were some that were strictly entertainers, others that were tumblers, some only played their instruments at events, and the last was known as the “juro” meaning whore” (Dalby, Liza Chirfield). Over time these geishas began to merge into one group and become Japan’s most iconic image. Most foreign visitors that enter the world of the “geishas” or karyukai, which is translated as the “flower and willow world,” are curious, but unaware of the culture (Dalby, Liza). When attending “geisha” tea festivities many foreigners are puzzled by the experience because they are unfamiliar with Japanese etiquette.
Since some are unaccustomed to the culture most people do not know the “geisha” art form and their skills, requirements, history, and the process of becoming a “geisha. ” The National Geographic published a featured video the Real- Life Geishas and stated the following, “Revered by Japan and now by Hollywood, the Geisha is as mysterious as she is beautiful. Whatever a geisha is, it is more than a role. It’s an all- encompassing way of life” (Real-Life Geishas). This meant when deciding to become a “geisha,” one has to commit to a new way of living.
In the past, “geishas” started training at the early ages of five or six, but currently the training begins at the age of sixteen. Modern “geishas” still practice traditional instruments like the shamisen, shakuhachi (bamboo flute), as well as Japanese traditional song and dance, tea ceremony, literature, and poetry (Dalby, Liza). Despite the many stereotypes about “geishas” that exist in the West about what they actually do for a ng, the translation of “geisha” to English is an “artistic person,” not a prostitute (Real-Life Geishas).
The National Geographic mentions the job of a “geisha” is not in the art of seduction, rather it is an art, which has a special kind of allure- even seduction. The Western perspective of an evening with a “geisha” is that one would take her to bed for pleasure by the end of the night, but that is incorrect. Geishas” are there to tease, sweet-talk, and boost the male’s ego; never for sexual relations (Real-Life Geishas). Historically, married couples were rarely romantic because it was not seen as ideal.
Liza Dalby is an anthropologist that has a specialization in Japanese culture and published Geisha, which was a very successful book. Dalby addresses, “In contrast to Americans, Japanese married couples do very little entertaining as a couple” (xiii). Basically, Dalby is saying that it was expected of wives to be reserved, dull, and serious in contrast to “geishas” who were meant to be “sexy, rtistic, and witty”-remembering that “sexy” for the Japanese does not have the same meaning as it does to an American. This does not mean that being a “geisha” was better than being a wife or vice versa.
Where wives could not go out with their husbands and stay with the family, “geishas” were not allowed to work and get married. If a “geisha” were to marry she could no longer be a “geisha. ” If a person could enlighten themselves on the culture and lifestyles before visiting a different country unlike their own, there would be more understanding and awareness of the cultural differences. The question concerning hether a “geisha” is equivalent to a prostitute has been unclear since Japan’s loss after World War II.
In 1957, Japan outlawed prostitution, by that time “geishas” were acknowledged as a legal profession because it was deemed an important practice of the Japanese culture (Dalby, Liza Chirfield). Once it was approved that “geishas” became a legal profession, this was the third shift of the term. In “Geisha and Sex,” Liza Dalby explains the aftermath of the banning of prostitution in Japan. Apparently after WWII, Japan was faced with the loss of the war and the “geisha” profession was in disarray and fell part.
As a result, Japanese prostitutes, now illegal, started to dress as “geishas” to attract American clients that remained in Japan after the war, leading to their current misconception. She further explains that “geishas” began to form together once again in the 1960s during Japan’s economic boom (Dalby, Liza). Although once the “geishas” reemerged there were some minor repercussions about the profession. Dalby responds from her research on the subject: People want to know if sexual favors are part of the job of being a geisha. The best answer is they are and they aren’t.
Geisha regularly have affairs with married men, and can form other sexual liaisons at their own discretion. They do not marry, but they often have children by a patron, or a lover. That said, geisha are paid for their company, not for sex. They derive their actual livelihood from singing, dancing, and chatting with men at banquets. Nowadays, a geisha’s sex life is her private affair. (Dalby, Liza) Essentially, Dalby is explaining that due to the term’s history it cannot be looked over; however, a “geisha” was not paid for sexual services, but for her sit and chat with her customers.
If more people were able to cknowledge that a geisha is paid solely for her company, there would most likely be a change in how they perceived. Another misinterpretation of “geishas” can be found in the 2005 movie release of Memoirs of a Geisha. This movie was based off the book written by Arthur Golden, who visited Japan to study more on the flower and willow world of the “geishas”. He has sold more than 44 million copies in thirty three different languages. A famous “geisha” of Kyoto’s Gion district, Mineko Iwasaki, now retired, allowed Golden to research and question her experience about being a “geisha.
However, once the novel as published she was not pleased with the results: I spent seven to eight hours a day for two weeks talking to him, but he did not get anything right,” Iwasaki told U. S. News. ” He has made a mockery of Japanese culture. ” She says geishas are more artisans than courtesans–more focused on the arts of music and dance and conversation, which they study for years, than those of the futon. She adds that she was promised anonymity but was named in the book’s acknowledgments, and now people think she is the model for Golden’s main character, Sayuri, a young rural girl sold into a geisha house.
For me, ersonally, this is a libel,” Iwasaki says. (Galloway, Joseph L) Basically, Golden’s response to her complaint was that she disliked the book because it probably it was too closely related to her own personal experiences. The act of him brushing off the troubled Iwasaki indicated he did not respect how the hidden world of “geishas” was depicted. This explains that he only wanted to publish a romantic novel; not a respectable story on the lives of “geishas. ” In modern times, more “geishas” are learning to protect themselves from people who may harass them.
It seems that some tourists do not understand the anners of respecting a “geisha” when she is walking down the street to her next teahouse venue. In “Japanese Geisha to Be Trained in a New Art: Self-defense,” Julian Ryan reports that the Higashiyama Police Station is training the “geishas” in the art of self-defense. Many tourists have misunderstanding of what modern “geishas” do for a living and often grab them thinking they are women who do more than entertaining men at night. Due to this misconception, it is offensive to the “geishas” and residents when foreigners, intentionally or unintentionally, disrespect these women.
Visitors who are unaware of these radition risks a “geisha’s” safety in her workplace (The Telegraph). This may be happening due to the portrayal of “geishas” in the media. One example is during the month of October in America, Halloween is a holiday that allows people to wear costumes of their favorite characters, people, or whatever they choose. Retailers sell costumes that range from boys and girls to women and men. Most of the costumes for women are sexy; miniskirts, tight fitting clothing, high heels, fishnet stockings, etc. These costumes often take an innocent children’s cartoon costume and sexualize the concept.
Included in the sexy Halloween costumes, “geishas” make their appearance on the market. The costume depicts a woman wearing a scantly short kimono, high heels, exposing her skin and assets to the world. This is why Americans associate a “geisha” with distaste because they are displayed as sexual beings created by American stores. For hundreds of years, “geishas” have been a staple image in Japan. They are known worldwide, but their image has been distorted through history. In other words, the misuse of the word was caused because of the past behavior of non-“geishas,” American misconceptions, and the lack of understanding.
It is not problematic to see why most people seem to often confuse a “geisha” and prostitute, though it must be clarified that they are not the same. It takes the willpower for a woman or a girl to devote her whole life to becoming a “geisha. ” She practices daily to hone her skills and be respected among her peers and society. To be a “geisha” is to be dedicated, skilled, and hardworking to better herself in her profession as a traditional artist. She has to carry herself with dignity and it is because of that “geishas” are respected and will continuously be on a higher level than a prostitute can ever hope to accomplish.