The geisha and western “orientalism” Report (Assessment)
“Geisha” is a Japanese word that means an artist. Geisha refers to an artistic executor or an entertainer. A geisha performs various forms of art such as singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, serving food and drinks. women start their geisha training at a standard age of three years and three days, when they become apprentices, referred to as ‘maiko,’ to a retired geisha who teaches the young girls the art and the way of a geisha (Encyclopedia Britannica online 2010).
While on the other hand, “Orientalism” refers to the orient or east which is in disparity to the occident or west. On other words, orientalism brings into play the impression or representation of certain areas of the Eastern Cultures in the west.
Orientalism occurs when one comes across a particular culture or way of life in a foreign country and it interests the person so much that when he goes back to his country he replicates it using the foreign country as a reference point (Fujimoto 1917). In this particular case, we will explore the depiction of geisha girls who originated from Japan in the West.
History, Origins and Rise of Geisha
According to Gallaher (2003) and Rowley (2005), girls whose families were relocated after the struggles in the late 600’s became ‘saburuko,’ which stands for serving girls. These girls sold sexual services while those with a higher education entertained high-class societal meetings for a fee.
After the moving of the imperial court to Kyoto, Japanese Geisha took root as the court became home to the elite selected few who sort after pleasure leading to the thriving of female entertainers. The fact that men were not bound to be faithful to their wives or held responsible for their extra marital affairs made this business thrive as they went out to seek these women for pleasure in the specified ‘pleasure quarters’ while their wives were only home managers.
Lesley (2006) states that these ‘pleasure quarters’ build in the 16th century made prostitution lawful as long as the act itself was carried out in the ‘pleasure quarters,’ where women would be categorized and accredited. Surprisingly, the first geisha were men who entertained clients who were waiting to view the main popular and talented courtesans, termed as ‘oiran’.
De Mente (1966) states that the predecessors of the female geisha were teenage girls, named ‘odoriko,’ were dancing girls trained as dancers for hire. In 1678, well known entertainers were paid after performing their acts in the homes of upper-class samurai, though majority of them had already incorporated prostitution in their work. Older women took up the name geisha after the men as they were not teenagers anymore.
Some of them only worked as entertainers as compared to prostitution and worked in the same establishments as the men. According to Dalby (1998), World War II brought a significant deterioration to the geisha industry, the geisha women had to sort for other means of earning their daily bread like going to work in factories. “After this the geisha name lost its once prestigious meaning and prostitutes began referring to themselves as ‘geisha girls’ to American military men” Dalby 1998).
After the war the geisha industry boomed once again, though only very few women went back to the lifestyle as majority rejected the western influence and choose to stick to the tradition ways of the geisha. Thus it was the responsibility of these few women to enforce the traditional standards in the profession and also increase the rights of the geisha.
Misapprehension of geisha
Ever since, the entertainment industry in Japan had been vibrant and it is from this where the geisha come in as their name suggests, “to entertain”. This has however been misunderstood the world over as the term geisha is used to refer to many different things and aspects. In some western countries, geishas are thought of as high-class prostitutes or escorts who trade sexual favors for money.
However, in some Japanese cities the lower class geisha do in fact trade sexual favors and activities for money. The biggest fallacy however in this industry is that geisha have sex with their customers, but the truth of the matter is that the present day geisha keep their specialist jobs away from their private lives. According to Mineko & Rande 2003, geisha are not passive and acquiescent; they are some of the most financially and emotionally stable women in Japan as they have been since time in memorial.
This is to say that geishas use their art forms, music, dance and conversation to enchant their clients and they do not resort to sexual activities. “Geisha tend to be single women with lovers and boyfriends whom they personally pick, who support them financially” (De Mente 1966).
Another misconception about Geisha is that they are sold into this lifestyle. This is a myth, however actually poor families sold their daughters into prostitution; the fact is that poor families preferred the life of a geisha for their daughters as opposed to prostitution. They offered services such as cooking and cleaning at the same time while training to become geisha in the future.
This geisha life was highly preferred as it was seen as prestigious and elegant, though this misconception painted the geisha as being a victim of society while it was a choice. Modern geisha are required to have finished school, have written consent from their care providers and have fascination in art before commencing training. Another misconception is that the life of a geisha is easy.
This is wrong considering the rigorous training undertaken by these women that is difficult and it needs a person with a strong personality and strong willed. Apart from the training, these women have to attend various classes as well perform the chores assigned to them in exchange for bedding, tuition and food (Hanlon 2010).
“Geisha are not liberated females” this conception is wrong. According to Wieder (2002), the geisha organization was established to encourage the autonomy and economic personal satisfaction of women. This was the main agenda and it was achieved well in Japan where there were few ways for women to achieve such kind of liberalization.
Dalby (1998) notes that women manage everything when it comes to the geisha society; these women are some of the most lucrative businesswomen in Japan. If the women skills in this business were abolished then the whole industry would collapse. This clearly shows that women who go into the geisha business are iterated or are seeking to liberate themselves.
The misapprehension that geisha are found everywhere in Japan is wrong. Geisha are not found everywhere in Japan they are found in some cities while they are not in other cities. They are not common in all areas of Japan as they are somewhat a secret society and in order to locate one, a person must use contacts.
It is not easy to locate geisha in Japan as you have to approach someone who will make the connection between the client and the geisha, this shows us that the geisha are found in specific areas and they are contacted by specific people who link then to their clients. There are restaurants in Japan that offer this service but one must part with a huge amount of money to access them. Geishas are very secretive and they keep their secretive nature even when attending to clients as the discussions they hold are confidential.
Finally, there is this misapprehension that geisha are all the same. Arguably, this is not true even though the geisha have been trained to act the same with their clients. Makeup is the most common thing they all have in general but then the age, ranks and experience can be observed in the differences in their makeup, makeup is used to differentiate the geisha. The colors of the ‘kimonos’ can also be used to differentiate the age; young geishas have colorful ‘kimonos’ while the older ones have solid color on their ‘kimono’ (Hanlon 2010).
Geisha have been around since the 1600 and the fact that entertainment is a booming business in Japan, they are highly favored to continue their secretive society of high social status women who make a living by using arts and conversation to enchant their clients. It is a profession just like any other and it aims to liberalize women intellectually, physically, emotionally and financially.
The geisha way of life even though not so popular presently, it has remained intact and still follows the traditional rules. The western culture has been influenced by this traditionalist way of life such that some of their clothes and makeup have been influenced by the geisha women. Most of the western cultures refer and equate geisha to prostitutes while in essence they are not. Despite the western influence, geisha have been able to stick around and keep their traditions alive.
Dalby, L. (1998). Geisha. Berkeley: University of California.
De Mente, B. (1966). Some Prefer Geisha. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company.
Fujimoto, T. (1917). The Story of the Geisha Girl. London: T. Werner Laure Ltd.
Gallagher, J. (2003). Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance, and Art. London: PRC.
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2010). Geisha. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Web.
Hanlon, R. L. (2010). Misconceptions about Japan’s Geisha women. Helium. Web.
Lesley, D. (2006). The City Geisha and Their Role in Modern Japan: Anomaly or artistes”, in Martha Feldman and Bonnie Gordon, eds, The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mineko, I. & Rande B. (2003). Geisha, A Life. New York: Washington Square.
Rowley, G. G. (2005). Autobiography of a Geisha. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Wieder, T. (2002). Remaking a memoir. Boston Phoenix. Web.
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Introduction “Geisha” is a Japanese word that means an artist. Geisha refers to an artistic executor or an entertainer. A geisha performs various forms of art such as singing, dancing, […]