This is a very interesting post to write as it elicits mixed feelings.
Part of living in a different culture is that never ending quest to understand, learn and to grow while trying not to use your own cultural biases to judge. After all, perception is reality.
As I have often joked with friends back home, living in Japan is like living on Mars. It is just so fascinatingly different.
The Japanese think differently than North Americans, and different than Canadians. How can it not be the case? Canada is a country of every culture (Asian, European, African) where Japan is comprised of 98.5% Japanese and non-existent immigration. Canada is a country with only a few hundred years of history while Japan is one of the world’s oldest societies, with 3,000 years of history and a clear isolationist bent where foreigners were killed on sight until the late 1800s. Canadians are individuals, in a society where they cut their lives out of the unconquered wilderness with an understanding that merit leads to fortune while Japan is about the group good, where the notion of paying a high performer more than others in the team is at odds with their values.
At a very fundamental level, culture, history, education and values, Japan is different than most other countries in the world and the Geisha is one of those cases.
Prior to leaving for Kyoto, we watched Memoirs of a Geisha and I could not help but find it disturbing on many levels. Obviously the selling of young girls into a brothel and a Geisha house was disturbing as were many of the scenes, but this type of abuse is unfortunately, common around the world.
The uniquely Japanese part that was disturbing was the whole notion of the Geisha. Reading broadly, the information was varied. Prostitution is disputed and the truth hard to determine; in this post it is clearly stated it does not happen yet another quote says that in 1929 3/4 of geisha were prostitutes. While there is an elegance to the appearance of a Geisha, the information on “what a Geisha is” left us wondering about the profession … Noble undertaking or a veneer hiding a seedy underside of sex for sale?
Nothing made us wonder more than this question: what does it mean that this profession is funded by older business men, where the Geisha’s sole purpose is to entertain them every evening? I find the feminism assertions hard to swallow and cannot think that it is good for marriages.
It is with those questions in mind that we did something that is not common for a gaijin.
We booked a dinner in a wonderful restaurant with a room by the garden, a Geisha and an English interpreter to learn.
We were not disappointed.