We’ve talked before about geisha as one of Japan’s distinctly female professions, so this time we’re going to share with you a few fun facts about the geisha and their floating world.
How many of these things did you know about geisha?
1. In their heyday, geisha were fashion trend-setters and were even used to promote beauty products.
▼ Yukioe woodblock print of a geisha (early 1800s).
Geisha were subjects of woodblock prints, kabuki plays and they became role models for Japanese women. Many people even collected geisha photo cards.
2. Geisha have traveled abroad to perform for audiences around the world.
3. Geisha also entertain women.
▼ Geisha perform in the Miyagawa-cho district in Kyoto.
Contrary to popular belief, geisha are not just for men! They also entertain female clients who revere them as models of feminine grace. In addition, they perform publicly at designated times during the year.
4. Geisha are treated like celebrities in Japan
It’s unusual even for Japanese people to get a chance to see geisha or be entertained by one in private unless they are a politician or business executive.
5. Young girls who decide to become geisha at a young age will opt out of high school so they can begin their training.
They then become apprentices in boarding houses called okiya where they continue their education.
6. The younger the woman, the more red she wears.
Have you ever wondered why geisha paint their faces white? The traditional colors used for make up are black, white and red, all of which provide a striking contrast to the colors in their kimono.
However, Peter Macintosh who teaches geisha culture at Kansai University in Japan adds: “They started wearing white make up so their faces would reflect in the candle light.”
7. Geisha are mostly dressed by males called otokoshi.
While geisha (also called maiko or geiko in Kyoto) apply their own make-up, otokoshi have the skilled task of dressing them.
8. Their brooches can cost up to US$40,000 each.
Decorative obi (belt) ornaments, called pochhiri are often studded with precious or semi-precious jewels and start from US$5,000.
9. Geisha can never completely relax, even at home.
▼ Ditto when bowling.
The pressure and expectation to be models of proper manners never abates. “If I want to just lie on my side and watch TV I can’t because I am always supposed to sit up straight,” says a geisha in the documentary ‘Real Geisha Real Women.’ “If I go up to my room, my younger sister is there. She would remind me that as her senior, I am setting a bad example.”
10. Ryotei or ochaya (members-only tea houses) are exclusive venues where geisha perform.
▼ A sign indicating an ochaya in Kyoto.
These restaurants and tea houses are places where VIPs can go to make deals and know they are in complete privacy.
Photos: Courtesy Peter Macintosh, edited by RocketNews24