martes, 14 de mayo de 2013


Historically in Japan, women had been known for being submissive and obedient, with no active involvement in political life, they didn’t had voice or even were available to know what’s was going on, except for the geishas (or geikos). This women who had been existed since 17th century had ruled the city of Kyoto, the society of geishas is one of a kind in Japan, it’s a completely women’s world, ruled by women without the intromission of men.

Geisha means “artist”, a Geisha is a woman that a man can hire to make him company at night and the most important, rarely involves sex. Although in some cases they sold their virginity to the highest bidder. Very young they learn traditional activities like singing, dancing, music, ceremonies, etc. These activities are the same with that they entertain the men who pay for their services. (TVE, 2008)

The geisha business is run by women only for men. Actually, they have their own structure. The highest level into geisha house (okiya) is occupied by the mother geisha. She is the one who provides all the necessity. In return geishas receive a modest salary because what they earn is for the mother geisha to maintain the expenses of the geisha’s education and financial support. They need five years to be prepared and to be considered like a geisha.

 First they start like a “shikomi”, during this phase they had to do housekeeping. Then they were converted in “minarai” who is an apprentice geisha. They learn watching to the others geishas. Also they must have a mentor who is a geisha; this girl is called onee-san and is responsible to bring the minarai girl at the ozashiki. Ozashiki is a banquet where the minarai observe how is the work. After learn watching and the tea practices they are called “maiko”. Now they learn everything about dancing but this stage can be largest because is not just dancing also they learn casual conversation, how play samisen (musical instrument), serving tea and more. Maiko must wait to be an experiment geisha because they abilities have to be impeccable. The okiyas are in a special district of Kyoto called hanamashi (TVE, 2008)

Now the appearance of maiko and the geisha is not the same. Maiko’s make up consist in a white base, red lipstick and little black line around the eyes. With the white base they cover so many superior parts such as face and neck but they also have un-makeup areas behind of neck. This action has an erotic meaning and creates the illusion of a mask. Also with the pass of time the makeup tends to be light more casual. (TVE, 2008)

The most traditional hairstyle is shimada hairstyle. But a maiko has five different hairstyles during her training: wareshinobu, ofuku, sakkou, katsuyama and yakko-shimada. The last two are for special occasions and the principal accessories are haircombs and hairpins. Also is important to mention that if the haircombs are large and so ornate the woman with this hairstyle is from a higher class but then small haircombs was more common because at the beginning they use their natural hair and was very important to have the perfect hair. Now the some girls use wigs and other still they own hair. (Graham-Diaz, 2003)

The characteristic way to wear is with a kimono. A good kimono is synonymous of elegance so a geisha with a beautiful kimono is considered as an elegant and with a high level. The kimonos are colorful and extravagant; also they are accompanied by an obi at the waist. The style and color depends on the event and the season of year. For example black is for special occasions like New Year, pink with flowers is for summer, orange is for autumn and green should be used in winter.  Actually, they are so expensive because are made of silk, painted and embroidering so they are finished in 3 year proximately. But a Geisha needs least two dozen. The other accessory is the Obi, a kind of silk belt with a support function for the back.  And like shoes they also have their own style. Footwear is a flat-soled sandal with a tabi (a kind of white sock), his sandals make the kimono is not contaminated. This type of dress is so heavy. Therefore they have to walk with short steps. (TVE, 2008)

“In her formal wear, a geisha showed the narrow white collar of her undergarment under a monochrome kimono with crest. A kimono fashion that had already developed in those days, with an elegant decorative pattern painted or embroidered only on the front panel of the skirt and sometimes at one shoulder of monochrome silk kimono…” (Seigle, 1993)


They exist since four hundred years ago, unchanging in a changing World; in the beginning were the favorites of the samurai and the lovers of the Shogun. Her lips have remained sealed in silence, while Japan slowly changed more than any other nation in the world. They encouraged their hero’s kamikazes and then became the brides of American soldiers. Geishas have survived in a world protected behind walls of secrecy and discretion.

Japan is one of the most advanced countries of the world, technology is their obsession, the efforts of the nation to achieve effectively led to a rapid transformation. But for centuries the Japanese have a tradition that have been extremely protected: the geishas; geishas are guardians of ancient customs, delicate, with honorable past which endures in the present, living shrouded in secrecy and surrounded by rituals, moving into a land of legends , scented gardens and adorned temples.

Exotic and alluring, the geishas live in a world where refinement and elegance are everything, yet love is despised as an illusion, and a perfect appearance is what matters. Remote from everyday life belong to the domain geisha a select elite, are the ultimate expression of prestige and status. They have become symbols revered and celebrated for Japan.

Geishas are symbols of history and sensuality at the same time, but behind those smiles, painted faces and delicate, there is a difficult and complex lifestyle. The geisha house is the temple of this ancient art; for centuries have witnessed geisha traditions and deceptions in the love of the most powerful men in Japan.

From humble beginnings geishas were gradually gaining importance in time to stand in the forefront of Japanese society; in the begining of her days, they were lovers of the samurai Mens and in World War II they said goodbye to kamikazes. How has preserved the fragile position of the geisha world through 400 years of turbulent history? To understand the geishas we must know their past; the story begins 400 years back at the time of the Shogun, the geisha first appeared in early 1600, after a century of fighting between rivals and feudal lords, Japan became a united country under a military dictator or Shogun. The government was established in Edo, now Tokyo site of the under the rule of the Shogun, Japan completely isolated from the rest of the world for hundreds of years, the power of the Shogun was absolute.  (Smith, 1980)

One of the things that made ​​this government, which was very oppressive was cast to Christianity by example, and another was taken prostitution and that kind of stuffs and taking it to authorized restricted neighborhoods to control it. The pleasure quarters became places of sexual freedom, prostitutes or concubines entertained exclusively samurai warriors and merchants in lavish banquets, it was here first appeared geishas, ​​and surprisingly they were men, assumed the role of court jesters and animators who were attending parties when giving concubines entertained clients, banquets, playing music, dancing, telling jokes.  (Downer, 2002)

The prostitutes’ client list was reduced and desperate she established herself as the first female geisha; geisha women soon outnumbered men then began to attract the customers of prostitutes. Maybe at the beginning of this story a great revalidate existed between geisha and prostitutes in the neighborhoods of pleasure, prostitutes took advantage naturally and did everything way possible to control the activities of the geisha, but the fact that the sex was the domain of prostitutes was where the real money for a geisha lied.

In 1779 the activity of the geisha was recognized as a profession and got established a registry office called kenban for the control. The kenban prevented participation of geishas in prostitution. Right from the very beginning of the geisha profession was not supposed to exist a competition between prostitutes and concubines, and the government had this situation strictly controlled. Continuous government decrees appeared which stated that geisha were not prostitutes.  (Downer, 2002)

The rules of the kenban kept geishas under strict guard in their comings and goings of the banquets to prevent leads to prostitution; regulations simplified much aspects of geisha’s life, for a time only unattractive women were chosen to form them as geishas. Under this regulation the geishas were thriving and the simplicity of geisha’s appearance became very popular; geisha districts appeared across the country, while Japan remained closed to the outside world.

At this point in history the geisha were the epitome of style and enjoyed a reputation second to none, but the twentieth century would usher in a new modern age and with it a powerful threat to their survival. The Jazz Age had come to Japan, the showgirls dancing on stage and nightclubs opened their doors to an audience eager to know oriental latest Western fashion, the girls in the cafes were very fashionable company provided to men much more accessible to modern geisha and boldly, for the first time in its history the geisha faced a major threat.  (Cook, 1997)

The old capital of Kyoto three immersed in the past enjoyed a period of popularity; in its center was Gion, the geisha district. Unlike modern day geisha, geisha of the 30s did not perform that job voluntarily, but were forced since, had been sold by their families to the geisha house and become the property of the mother geisha . If a Geisha was trying to escape, the inhabitantscaptured her and sent back to his mother geisha. The custom known as mizuage (sell girl's virginity to the highest bidder, originated in the 30's) most geishas were not prepared for this traumatic test. (Echo) We have the idea that geisha are prepared for sex, nothing is further from the truth.

Japan went to war with the United States in 1941 and the country called patriotism of geishas, ​​they supported their war heroes, gave publicity to the new crews 4 The Japanese had no doubt they would win, Emperor Hirohito was considered as a divinity, under its mandate Japan could not fail, the Harbor attack did nothing but confirm. While much of the population was forced to work in the armament factories, the geisha business went on as usual, many of his clients had important positions in the army.

But after three years of fighting Japan resources reached the limit, geisha houses closed. With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan was totally devastated, their cities and economies were in ruins, the wealthy Japanese were now bankrupt. Then the geisha who had been authentic models of patriotism changed their allegiances, the geisha districts resumed their activities with the approval of Douglas MacArthur.  (Michel, 1980)

Geishas have a strong sense of survival, knew their livelihood, their future depended on them to be much more charming than before, for example quickly learned English.
Geishas are so versatile that even today exist within a world of technological and scientific progress where, it seems that the ancient Japanese culture has no place in a globalized world as connected and with the Western world, however, geishas are that small beacon of hope for the oldest traditions, keeping alive an ancient culture that although Japan has undergone major changes and setbacks in its history were not extinct, as perhaps has already happened in other towns who have lost their cultures to make way for a new and globalized Western culture.
Japan is a unique country at the time to preserve their culture and combine with the modern needs of its citizens, and geisha are infallible test that can be mixed and preserved old with the new, modern.


For most of westerners it is very difficult to understand why Japanese men pay so much money only for women's company that doesn't involved sex. In Japanese society women didn't used to socialize with men, the marriages were arranged. So a trained geisha was the perfect company for men.

One of the most important geisha's attribute was discretion: For many years (until nowadays) their lips are sealed, in so many ways there still are, a proper geisha is not known for gossiping. Politicians discussed schemes and secret plots in front of geisha girls without fearing that there will be a leakage. The only occasion when a geisha girl exposed her client was the Uno affair, which involved Japan's former Prime Minister Uno (New York Times June 10, 1989).

Geisha's witty conversation and verbal skills and discretion made them for many years the only women able to speak like an equal with men, members of the government discussed matters of state in geisha's houses, and not only Japanese politicians, VIP politicians of Singapore as well, even European royalty. (John, D. 2006)

Geisha's had an active participation in the Meiji restoration, and supply information to samurai's in the nineteenth century. The "Meiji" geisha proved that those who had helped the imperial cause were feted as heroes (John D, 2006), In the begging of the 20th century was a large demand on geisha's and poor families sale their daughters (it is registries more than 80 thousand geishas), but many geisha's was choice prefer to be a geisha because it not only gave education to these young girls, it also give them the access to influential and wealthy men, with whom later married. A Geisha was the perfect wife.

They prove to be heroes again after the Second World War in the United States intervention in Japan, geishas were the key to attend American military men, although many prostitutes dressed like geishas give them the wrong reputation in America.

With the economic crisis in Japan the next years the demand of geishas decreased, so they did. Now there less than thousand geishas in Kyoto, they still are influential with powerful men, and more than never being a geisha is considered national proud for preserve the ancient traditions and costumes. 

lunes, 13 de mayo de 2013

Real Life Geishas

The History & Art of Geisha - What is a Geisha?


Cook, T. (1997). Viajes por Japon . Barcelona: Granica.

Downer, L. (2002). Women of the pleasure quarters: the secret history of the geisha . New York : Crown publishing group.

H, S. (1980). Learning from Shogun: Japanese historyv and western fantasy. California: California: Program in Asia Studies University of California.

Michel, H. (1980). La segunda guerra mundial: Tomo dos, la victoria de los aliados. Paris: Pueblos y Akal civlizaciones.

Graham-Diaz, N. (july de 2003). inmortalgeisha. Obteined from

Seigle, C. S. (1993). Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan. Hawaii Press.

Gallagher, J. (2003) Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance, and Art, New York: Sterling Publishing Co.
Iwasaki, Mineko and Rande Brown. (2003) Geisha: A Life, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Lee, Khoon Choy (1995) Japan: Between Myth and Reality. World Scientific Publishing.
John, D (2006) Kyoto: a cultural and literary history. Oxford University Press, Incorporated.