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.