The Extraordinary Culture & Life of Geisha and Fascinating Facts about their Lifestyle!

I’ve recently remembered a book I have read not so long ago – Memoirs Of A Geisha, by Arthur Golden – and I realised how mesmerized I was about their culture, traditions and lifestyle.

I thought about the fact that many people are familiar with the “Geisha” term, but not many know the exact true meaning of it. For example, the most common mistake regarding this term is comparing Geisha with prostitutes. In fact, the people who believe this couldn’t be more wrong.

Geisha were most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and are still in existence today, this a story about their life

Geisha were most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and are still in existence today

The truth is that Geisha are professional entertainers who work in traditional Japanese teahouses called Ochaya.

The word itself translates from Japanese as “art person” or “artist”. According to jurgita.com, Geishas entertain teahouse costumers by performing various arts like singing, dancing, playing instruments and tea ceremonies.

Traditionally, Geisha began their training at a very young age.

Traditionally, Geisha began their training at a very young age.

In Kyoto region – home of traditional Japanese arts ranging from the tea ceremony and textiles to flower arranging and culinary perfection – they are called “Geiko”.

The ancient imperial city of Kyoto is home of these lovely women and if you want to learn more about their culture, you have to visit it.

Two maiko performing a dance in Gion, the traditional quarter of Kyoto, A Life of a Geisha

Two maiko performing a dance in Gion, the traditional quarter of Kyoto

Although it is rare to see a true Geisha teetering along the streets on her traditional high wooden shoes (also known as Geta sandals) the allure of their lifestyle has never changed.

To this day they are as enticingly puzzling as they were when this part of Japanese culture began, according to environmentalgrafitti.com.

Typical nape make-up on a Maiko (Note the red collar), A Life of a Geisha

Typical nape make-up on a Maiko (Note the red collar), A Life of a Geisha

However, nowadays the number of Geisha has been declining. First of all because of their training, which is long and hard and secondly, Geisha have become an elite group and have therefore become very expensive.

It’s not easy to become a Geisha

A geiko, maiko and shikomi from Odamoto

A geiko, maiko and shikomi from Odamoto

Geishas are one of the most fascinating women in history and they have to work really hard to deserve this title. In the begging, they are only Maiko – term which translates as “dancing child”, but sometimes is referred as “dancing girl” as well. They are apprentice Geisha.

According to jurgita.com, they have to undergo a lengthy training in all the arts a real Geisha has to master like music, dancing, playing traditional instruments and singing.

A geiko entertaining a guest in Gion, A Life of a Geisha

A geiko entertaining a guest in Gion, A Life of a Geisha

The training usually takes around 5 years and after that they become Geisha. Nowadays a girl can become Maiko at the age of 16. Maiko as well as learning artistic pursuits must learn the social graces and old style Kyoto dialect before becoming a Geisha.

Captivating facts you never knew about Geisha

1.    The first Geisha were actually men.  They were known as Honko and would dance for their clients in bars, restaurants, and the Geisha staple, tea-rooms.

Mature geisha (center) ordinarily wear subdued clothing, makeup, and hair, contrasting with the more colorful clothing, heavy makeup, and elaborate hair of maiko (apprentices; left and right)., A Life of a Geisha

Mature geisha (center) ordinarily wear subdued clothing, makeup, and hair, contrasting with the more colorful clothing, heavy makeup, and elaborate hair of maiko (apprentices; left and right).

2.    Geisha white face make-up used to be made with lead. The fact that it was poisonous wasn’t discovered until the Meiji era.

3.    A part of the training for a Geisha is to be as anonymous as possible. Apparently, it adds an air of mystery to the Geisha.

Geisha lips - Simple, but elegant, and always the same.

Geisha lips – Simple, but elegant, and always the same.

4.    Geisha were trained to sleep with their necks on small supports (takamakura), instead of pillows, so they could keep their hairstyle perfect. To reinforce this habit, their mentors would pour rice around the base of the support. If the geisha’s head rolled off the support while she slept, rice would stick to the pomade in her hair.

5.    When a Geisha is serving tea and her Kimono sleeve is pulled up enough to bare her wrist, it is a sign of seduction/sensuality. It seems that it is used to entice or slightly tease because it allows the client/s to view bare skin, however small an amount it may be.

Geisha from Miyagawacho

Geisha from Miyagawacho

6.    Everything about a Geisha leaves something to the imagination, which is a huge aspect of the culture itself.

7.    Having a traditional geisha hairstyle can cause balding on the top of the head. Luckily, the use of wigs is common.

Geisha hairstyles portray a sensual mystery and sexy femininity to women.

Geisha hairstyles portray a sensual mystery and sexy femininity to women.

8.    Kimonos are handmade and Geisha usually get Kimono’s designed just for them. Kimono print and fabric changes with the seasons but are always made of silk. They also spend about 2 hours just to do their makeup, hair, and put on the Kimono, according to environmentalgraffiti.com.

9.    Geisha work in their Okiya (where they live after entering this world) with their Okasan (house mother) and “sisters” (other Geisha). However, although they get paid for housekeeping and through their clients, most of the money they make goes to the Okiya. The money is used to keep the Okiya in business and for maintenance as well as other things.

Geisha photography by Frantisek Staud

Geisha photography by Frantisek Staud

10.    They are not allowed to be in a relationship for as long as they choose to be a Geisha. If they wed, they must retire from the profession.

11.    Ex-geisha Mineko Iwasaki received death threats after it was revealed that she had told “secret” information to Arthur Golden when he was researching his book “Memoirs of a Geisha”.

Photos courtesy of wikipedia

You can view more images here

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2 thoughts on “The Extraordinary Culture & Life of Geisha and Fascinating Facts about their Lifestyle!

  1. Pingback: The beginning… « Geisha – My Educational Journey

  2. “8. Kimonos are handmade and Geisha usually get Kimono’s designed just for them. ”

    There should not be an apostrophe in the second “Kimonos”.

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