Customs & Culture January 12, 2015 10:48 am

What Is A Geisha? Fun Facts


Customs & Culture January 12, 2015 10:48 am

What Is A Geisha? Fun Facts


Heavy Hitters: Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki

Geisha (also “geiko” or “geigi” in traditional dialect) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses, often at tea houses, and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance and games. Traditionally, Geisha began their training at a very young age. Some girls were bonded to geisha houses (okiya) as children. These girls were referred to as hangyoku and were as young as nine years old. This was not a common practice in reputable districts and disappeared in the 1950s with the outlawing of child labor. Daughters of geisha were often brought up as geisha themselves, usually as the successor or daughter-role to the okiya.

By 1800, being a geisha was considered a female occupation (though there are still a handful of male geisha working today). Eventually, the gaudy Oiran began to fall out of fashion, becoming less popular than the chic (“iki”) and modern geisha. By the 1830s, the evolving geisha style was emulated by fashionable women throughout society. There were many different classifications and ranks of geisha. Some women would have sex with their male customers, whereas others would entertain strictly with their art forms. Prostitution was legal up until the 1900s, so it was practiced in many quarters throughout Japan.

Maiko


Apprentice geisha are called maiko (舞子 or 舞妓), literally “dance child”). The white make-up and elaborate kimono and hair of a maiko is the popular image held of geisha. A woman entering the geisha community does not have to begin as a maiko, having the opportunity to begin her career as a full geisha. Either way, however, usually a year’s training is involved before debuting either as a maiko or as a geisha. A woman above 21 is considered too old to be a maiko and becomes a full geisha upon her initiation into the geisha community. However, those who do go through the maiko stage can enjoy more prestige later in their professional lives. The only modern maiko that can apprentice before the age of eighteen are in Kyoto. So on average, Tokyo hangyoku (who typically begin at 18) are slightly older than their Kyoto counterparts (who usually start at 15). Historically, geisha often began the earliest stages of their training at a very young age, sometimes as early as at 3 or 5 years. The early shikomi (servant) and minarai (watching apprentice) stages of geisha training lasted years, which is significantly longer than in contemporary times.

Appearance


A geisha’s appearance changes throughout her career, from the girlish, heavily made-up maiko, to the more sombre appearance of an older established geisha. Different hairstyles and hairpins signify different stages of a girl’s development and even a detail as minute as the length of one’s eyebrows is significant. Short eyebrows are for the young and long eyebrows display maturity.

Makeup: In modern times the traditional makeup of apprentice geisha is one of their most recognizable characteristics, though established geisha generally only wear full white face makeup characteristic of maiko during special performances. The traditional makeup of an apprentice geisha features a thick white base with red lipstick and red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows. Originally, the white base mask was made with lead; after the discovery that it poisoned the skin and caused terrible skin and back problems for the older geisha towards the end of the Meiji Era, it was replaced with rice powder. The application of makeup is hard to perfect and is time-consuming. Makeup is applied before dressing to avoid dirtying the kimono.
Dress: Geisha always wear kimono. Apprentice geisha wear highly colorful kimono with extravagant obi. The color, pattern, and style of kimono is dependent on the season and the event the geisha is attending.
Hair: The hairstyles of geisha have varied through history. In the past, it has been common for women to wear their hair down in some periods and up in others. During the 17th century, women began putting all their hair up again, and it is during this time that the traditional shimada hairstyle, a type chignon worn by most established geisha, developed. The hairstyles are decorated with elaborate hair-combs and hairpins (kanzashi). In the seventeenth century and after the Meiji Restoration period, hair-combs were large and conspicuous, generally more ornate for higher-class women. Following the Meiji Restoration and into the modern era, smaller and less conspicuous hair-combs became more popular.

Arts


The dance of the geisha has evolved from the dance performed on the kabuki stage. The “wild and outrageous” dances transformed into a more subtle, stylized, and controlled form of dance. It is extremely disciplined, similar to t’ai chi. Every dance uses gestures to tell a story and only a connoisseur can understand the subdued symbolism. The dances are accompanied by traditional Japanese music. The primary instrument is the shamisen. The shamisen was introduced to the geisha culture in 1750 and has been mastered by female Japanese artists for years. This shamisen, originating in Okinawa, is a banjo-like three-stringed instrument that is played with a plectrum. It has a very distinct, melancholy sound that is often accompanied by flute. The instrument is described as “melancholy” because traditional shamisen music uses only minor thirds and sixths. All geisha must learn shamisen-playing, though it takes years to master. Along with the shamisen and the flute, geisha also learned to play a ko-tsuzumi, a small, hourglass-shaped shoulder drum, and a large floor taiko (drum). Some geisha would not only dance and play music, but would write beautiful, melancholy poems. Others painted pictures or composed music.

Today’s Geisha


Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi (花街 “flower towns”), particularly during their apprenticeship. Many experienced geisha are successful enough to choose to live independently. Before the twentieth century, geisha training began when a girl was around the age of four. Now, girls usually go to school until they are teenagers and then make the personal decision to train to become a geisha. Young women who wish to become geisha now most often begin their training after completing middle school, high school, or even college. Many women begin their careers in adulthood. Geisha still study traditional instruments: the shamisen, shakuhachi, and drums, as well as learning games, traditional songs, calligraphy, Japanese traditional dances (in the nihonbuyō style), tea ceremony, literature, and poetry. Women dancers drawing their art from butō (a classical Japanese dance) were trained by the Hanayagi school, whose top dancers performed internationally. Ichinohe Sachiko choreographed and performed traditional dances in Heian court costumes, characterized by the slow, formal, and elegant motions of this classical age of Japanese culture in which geisha are trained. By watching other geisha, and with the assistance of the owner of the geisha house, apprentices also become skilled dealing with clients and in the complex traditions surrounding selecting and wearing kimono, a floor length silk robe embroidered with intricate designs which is held together by a sash at the waist which is called an obi. In modern Japan, geisha and maiko are now a rare sight outside hanamachi. In the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan, but today, there are far fewer. The exact number is unknown to outsiders and is estimated to be from 1,000 to 2,000, mostly in the resort town of Atami. Most common are sightings of tourists who pay a fee to be dressed up as a maiko.

What is a Geisha?


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Categorised in: ,

This post was written by Mathew Ryan

Geisha (also “geiko” or “geigi” in traditional dialect) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses, often at tea houses, and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance and games. Traditionally, Geisha began their training at a very young age. Some girls were bonded to geisha houses (okiya) as children. These girls were referred to as hangyoku and were as young as nine years old. This was not a common practice in reputable districts and disappeared in the 1950s with the outlawing of child labor. Daughters of geisha were often brought up as geisha themselves, usually as the successor or daughter-role to the okiya.

By 1800, being a geisha was considered a female occupation (though there are still a handful of male geisha working today). Eventually, the gaudy Oiran began to fall out of fashion, becoming less popular than the chic (“iki”) and modern geisha. By the 1830s, the evolving geisha style was emulated by fashionable women throughout society. There were many different classifications and ranks of geisha. Some women would have sex with their male customers, whereas others would entertain strictly with their art forms. Prostitution was legal up until the 1900s, so it was practiced in many quarters throughout Japan.

Maiko


Apprentice geisha are called maiko (舞子 or 舞妓), literally “dance child”). The white make-up and elaborate kimono and hair of a maiko is the popular image held of geisha. A woman entering the geisha community does not have to begin as a maiko, having the opportunity to begin her career as a full geisha. Either way, however, usually a year’s training is involved before debuting either as a maiko or as a geisha. A woman above 21 is considered too old to be a maiko and becomes a full geisha upon her initiation into the geisha community. However, those who do go through the maiko stage can enjoy more prestige later in their professional lives. The only modern maiko that can apprentice before the age of eighteen are in Kyoto. So on average, Tokyo hangyoku (who typically begin at 18) are slightly older than their Kyoto counterparts (who usually start at 15). Historically, geisha often began the earliest stages of their training at a very young age, sometimes as early as at 3 or 5 years. The early shikomi (servant) and minarai (watching apprentice) stages of geisha training lasted years, which is significantly longer than in contemporary times.

Appearance


A geisha’s appearance changes throughout her career, from the girlish, heavily made-up maiko, to the more sombre appearance of an older established geisha. Different hairstyles and hairpins signify different stages of a girl’s development and even a detail as minute as the length of one’s eyebrows is significant. Short eyebrows are for the young and long eyebrows display maturity.

Makeup: In modern times the traditional makeup of apprentice geisha is one of their most recognizable characteristics, though established geisha generally only wear full white face makeup characteristic of maiko during special performances. The traditional makeup of an apprentice geisha features a thick white base with red lipstick and red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows. Originally, the white base mask was made with lead; after the discovery that it poisoned the skin and caused terrible skin and back problems for the older geisha towards the end of the Meiji Era, it was replaced with rice powder. The application of makeup is hard to perfect and is time-consuming. Makeup is applied before dressing to avoid dirtying the kimono.
Dress: Geisha always wear kimono. Apprentice geisha wear highly colorful kimono with extravagant obi. The color, pattern, and style of kimono is dependent on the season and the event the geisha is attending.
Hair: The hairstyles of geisha have varied through history. In the past, it has been common for women to wear their hair down in some periods and up in others. During the 17th century, women began putting all their hair up again, and it is during this time that the traditional shimada hairstyle, a type chignon worn by most established geisha, developed. The hairstyles are decorated with elaborate hair-combs and hairpins (kanzashi). In the seventeenth century and after the Meiji Restoration period, hair-combs were large and conspicuous, generally more ornate for higher-class women. Following the Meiji Restoration and into the modern era, smaller and less conspicuous hair-combs became more popular.

Arts


The dance of the geisha has evolved from the dance performed on the kabuki stage. The “wild and outrageous” dances transformed into a more subtle, stylized, and controlled form of dance. It is extremely disciplined, similar to t’ai chi. Every dance uses gestures to tell a story and only a connoisseur can understand the subdued symbolism. The dances are accompanied by traditional Japanese music. The primary instrument is the shamisen. The shamisen was introduced to the geisha culture in 1750 and has been mastered by female Japanese artists for years. This shamisen, originating in Okinawa, is a banjo-like three-stringed instrument that is played with a plectrum. It has a very distinct, melancholy sound that is often accompanied by flute. The instrument is described as “melancholy” because traditional shamisen music uses only minor thirds and sixths. All geisha must learn shamisen-playing, though it takes years to master. Along with the shamisen and the flute, geisha also learned to play a ko-tsuzumi, a small, hourglass-shaped shoulder drum, and a large floor taiko (drum). Some geisha would not only dance and play music, but would write beautiful, melancholy poems. Others painted pictures or composed music.

Today’s Geisha


Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi (花街 “flower towns”), particularly during their apprenticeship. Many experienced geisha are successful enough to choose to live independently. Before the twentieth century, geisha training began when a girl was around the age of four. Now, girls usually go to school until they are teenagers and then make the personal decision to train to become a geisha. Young women who wish to become geisha now most often begin their training after completing middle school, high school, or even college. Many women begin their careers in adulthood. Geisha still study traditional instruments: the shamisen, shakuhachi, and drums, as well as learning games, traditional songs, calligraphy, Japanese traditional dances (in the nihonbuyō style), tea ceremony, literature, and poetry. Women dancers drawing their art from butō (a classical Japanese dance) were trained by the Hanayagi school, whose top dancers performed internationally. Ichinohe Sachiko choreographed and performed traditional dances in Heian court costumes, characterized by the slow, formal, and elegant motions of this classical age of Japanese culture in which geisha are trained. By watching other geisha, and with the assistance of the owner of the geisha house, apprentices also become skilled dealing with clients and in the complex traditions surrounding selecting and wearing kimono, a floor length silk robe embroidered with intricate designs which is held together by a sash at the waist which is called an obi. In modern Japan, geisha and maiko are now a rare sight outside hanamachi. In the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan, but today, there are far fewer. The exact number is unknown to outsiders and is estimated to be from 1,000 to 2,000, mostly in the resort town of Atami. Most common are sightings of tourists who pay a fee to be dressed up as a maiko.

What is a Geisha?


Tags: , , , , ,

Categorised in: ,

This post was written by Mathew Ryan