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.
What a beautiful picture of a Maiko in her first year of training ^^ I hope you had fun! To clear some things up, Memoirs of a Geisha, both the book and the movie were terrible interpretations of the life of a Geisha. Having sex with patrons is not in the job description and honestly having sex in the regalia they wear is next to impossible, considering the fact that they need professional dressers to put the kimono and obi on. It is possible that many geisha turned to prostitution during 1929 because WW2 was looming over head creating a trend of “geesha girls”, girls dressed in kimono wearing white make up in order to lure soldiers and other patrons to get money. The Maiko have not been required to sell their “mizuage” since the time that Japan passed it’s anti-prostitution laws which in part ended the careers of Oiran (high class escorts who also practiced in the arts) The reason why this activity is poplar for business men is because after a long day of work and stress, who wouldn’t want to go drink with a beautiful woman dressed in fabulous clothes who dances, plays music, and plays games. It’s more of relaxation and getting away from it all, and these days it’s not just business men, but others who can enjoy the company of a Maiko or Geisha, though keep in mind many of the tea houses are extremely exclusive. When a young girl decides they want to pursue the life of a geisha, they start the process as early as middle school, this is to make arrangements with the okiya she will be joining and making sure she understands what the lifestyle entails. At 15 she will move in with the okiya and will work as a maid but will mainly train and learn to walk in a kimono properly for 6 months and will also start her classes to get ready for the exam. Girls may have been sold to okiya in the past but these days the life of a Geisha is one that a young girl chooses, and there is no abuse, otherwise the girls may drop out of the lifestyle, and that could kill the Geisha culture.
Maiko and geiko start off their careers living and training in an establishment called an okiya (lodging house), usually translated as geisha house. They follow an extremely rigorous regimen of constant classes and rehearsal, similar in intensity to that of a prima ballerina, concert pianist, or opera singer in the West. The proprietress of the okiya supports the geiko fully in her efforts to become a professional and then helps manage her career once she makes her debut. The young geiko lives in the okiya for a contracted period of time, usually five to seven years, during which time she repays the okiya for its investment. She then becomes independent and moves out on her own, though she continues to maintain an agency relationship with her sponsoring okiya.