the tree from whose flower
this perfume comes
is unknowable /Basho/
– Let’ s begin with the actual meaning of „Geisha” 芸者 where „Gei” means „arts” and „sha” means „doer”. So the straight translation in English would be „a performing artist”. Though there’ s an opinion of geisha being prostitutes, it’ s far from the truth. To bring more customers there were prostitutes who have called themselves geisha but the difference is distinct. Geisha tied their obi(sash) in the back but prostitutes – in the front. Reason? A very simple one – she couldn’ t tie it herself if it was in the back but being a prostitute she needed to tie and untie it quite often.
– The geisha tradition evolved from the taiko-mouchi meaning „drum carrier” – similar to court jesters and the first geisha were male. They entertained guests in banquets while the latter were waiting to spend time with the courtesans.
– Geisha were trained from young childhood in a wide variety of arts – playing Japanese musical instruments(shamisen), traditional forms of singing and dancing, tea ceremony, poetry, flower arranging(ikebana). At first they worked as maids in a geisha house (okiya), then – as assistants(maiko) to the house’s senior geisha where they gained skills in the complex traditions of selecting and wearing kimono, different games and art of conversations with customers.
– The traditional geisha makeups included the heavy white foundation base that was originally made with lead(which was poisonous and, of course, not good for the geisha’s skin therefore within years was replaced with rice powder), with bright red lipstick and red&black decorative etchings around the eye area. Applying geisha makeup took much time and it had to be extremely precise. So…if you have enough free hours and patience, go ahead and give it a try! Just don’ t forget about crystallized sugar on lips in the end. To make them shine. After a geisha had been employed as one for approximately three years, she usually made her makeup less dramatic looking. This subdued style showed she was more mature and was allowed to show more of her natural beauty.
– Geisha wore kimono that were the key identity seperating them from any other women. One kimono could take around 2-3 years to complete(it was handmade) and the color, pattern, and style of it depended on the season and the event the geisha was attending. Geisha clothes weighed 10 kilograms(about 22 lbs). Tough cookies! Can’ t imagine so heavy dress but maybe jewelry would do. As for foot-wear, there were the flat-soled sandals zori outdoors and only tabi (white split-toed socks) indoors. In dreary weather geisha wore raised wooden clogs geta.
– Geisha hairdos had changed through the years and were held in place with wax, silk ribbons and inner bindings made of paper. A hairdo could weigh up to 3 kilograms(about 6.6 lbs). Not to mess up their hairdo, geisha slept on a wooden neck rest. Healthy? Probably. Easy? I wouldn’ t volunteer to do that.
– Everything about geisha left something to imagination. Less is more! When a geisha was serving tea and her kimono sleeve was pulled up enough to bare her wrist, it was a sign of sensuality.
– Male patrons of geisha were called danna meaning „husbands”. They were supposed to pay for the kimonos, accessories and training and the total cost could run in the equivalent of hundred of thousands of dollars. Danna often supported a geisha for decades but in return the geisha had to be devoted to him exclusively.
– Geisha followed a strict, almost samurai-like code of honor which prized discretion and forbade geisha from revealing anything about their private lives or the private lives of the their male customers.
– Geisha were allowed to get married but then they were expected to leave their profession. Geisha usually retired before they were forty but there were ones who continued working until they were in their eighties.
– In the 1920’ s there were as many as 80,000 geisha in business while today there are believed to only be up to 2000.
Image courtesy of Michael Chandler
Other images – from web
P.S: To answer the probable question of non Japanese women – yes, there is Australian-born Fiona Graham who is also known by her geisha name Sayuki. Sayuki decided to become a geisha as part of her studies in Anthropology in 2007 and was making a living as a geisha in Tokyo till 2011.