What is a Geisha?
A geisha is unique to Japanese culture. She is a female entertainer, trained from the age of 18 in singing, dancing, the tea ceremony and the art of conversation. She is something like an accomplished courtesan, but without the sexual favors. Contrary to popular belief, a geisha is not a prostitute; there are women who call themselves “geisha” and are indeed prostitutes, but that is not the role of a traditional geisha. Her primary role is to entertain through the arts.
History of the Geisha
The predecessor of the geisha are the Saburuko and the Shirabyoshi. The Saburuko emerged during the late Heian and early Kamakura period, from about 1185 to 1333. These women were dancers and singers, often of the lower class, who were more educated than most women of the period. Because of their talents, they were invited to entertain aristocrats at social gatherings. The Shirabyoshi emerged from the aristocratic classes when social order became disrupted due to armed conflicts. Like the Saburuko, they were highly educated women who entertained through dancing and poetry. Some of the Saburuko and Shirabyoshi did become concubines to aristocrats. The first geisha appeared in the mid-1700s as an entertainer, known for playing the shamisen and due to a strict set of rules, were not allowed to be intimate with clients. Thus, they became highly trained in music, conversation, singing and dancing.
Geisha v. Maiko
A maiko is an apprentice geisha. She must undergo training for a period of approximately five years before becoming a full geisha. While a maiko, she learns the arts, including dancing, singing, music, etc. A geisha is a full-fledged entertainer with clients. If a geisha decides to marry, she must quit her job as a geisha.
Clothing & Make-up
A maiko typically wears a very colorful kimono with long sleeves, an obi that is long and wide, traditional wooden shoes, and pronounced white make-up. Their faces are painted white, their eyes are outlined in black and crimson and their lips are painted red. A geisha is more subtle in her appearance, wearing a kimono that is usually a subtle solid color patterned at the bottom, with an obi that is not as elaborate as a maiko’s. A junior geisha or performing geisha will wear make-up much like the maiko, while the senior geisha will wear more natural colored make-up.
Geisha in Modern Japan
There are not many geisha in modern-day Japan due to declining popularity. One can find geishas in tourist spots like Kyoto, Tokyo and Hakone. For a price, tourists can be made up like a maiko or a geisha and is quite popular. Geisha do entertain both men, as well as women. The cost of a Geisha varies but usually starts at around 16000 yen and can go up to more than 40000 yen for two hours of entertainment.