The mystery of Geisha 芸者

The so capturing mystery of the timeless image of Geisha is even more striking when comparing seemingly same “profession” to the Western representation. However, it is a common mistake to think of Geisha as a simple Japanese equivalent to a courtesan. The word geisha 芸者 actually means literally “person of arts”, as primarily occupation of Geishas is skillful entertainment and performance of dance, music and poetry to the highest levels of society. In fact, the first Geiko (trained Geisha) were actually men performers during the flourishing era of entertainment in the mid-18th century.

The complete outfit of a Geisha, including hair style and accessories, has to follow strict rules and correspond exactly to the status of the Geisha…

As female Geishas have risen to popularity all over the country, a special registry has been created that issues official licenses, keep record of all Geishas in hanamichi (Geisha quarters) and regulates the dress code to separate Geishas from courtesans, and this registry — kenban — still exists nowadays.

Geisha is more than a profession, it is a life style and dedication from the earliest age to train and become artists and “influencers” in the society, to be admired and regarded as fashion icons. Unfortunately, many aspects of Geisha´s life were not so glamorous as one can imagine. Young girls were sold into the geisha life by their families until the mid-20th century and were often subject to the ritual of ‘mizu-age,’ whereby their virginity was sold to the highest bidder. Thankfully, such practices were eradicated after World War II, which in turn it also provoked a steady decline of the profession.

Geisha continue to fascinate people around the world with her mysterious image, precisely trained rituals, meticulous attention to detail in attires and of course with breathtaking artistic performances…

Amazingly, the profession of Geisha survived over the centuries until the modern times, still remaining alive and in demand, and nowadays one still can see Maiko (Geisha in training) and Geiko (experienced Geisha) on the streets of Kyoto or Tokyo, especially around hanamichi or in traditional tea houses and theaters. Compared to the most of other places with rich cultural history, Geishas are still very much original and not mere cheap imitations to attract tourists, so hopefully this piece of cultural treasure can be preserved in its better parts for many years to come.

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