A Random PSA About The People Who Actually Run Things - Part 1
For the second Day of Holidays I give to you all… a new essay on the people that run everything behind the scenes in the karyukai (and some very public too) as this question has come up more than once. However, this would end up being stupidly long if I kept it in one part, so it’ll be released in multiple parts.
Everyone looks in awe at the maiko and geiko and their refined skills, yet they would be nothing without the people who actually run the karyukai. Make no mistake, the maiko and geiko are the outside face of the karyukai, but they have limited power compared to those who support them from behind. Then again, what would a student be without a teacher? These are the people that guide the maiko and geiko to be the wonderful artists that we have come to admire.
The Okasan (お母さん)/Okamisan (女将さん)
Besides the instructors of the various art schools, these are the women responsible for what maiko and geiko are today. They are the okasan (sometimes called okamisan), the women who run the okiya and ochaya. “Okasan” means “mother” as she basically adopts all of her girls (symbolically) and raises them as her own while they are under her charge. “Okamisan” means “female proprietress” and is just as valid to use as okasan, although okasan is used much more often. Okamisan tends to be used when the woman is either learning to inherit the business or is very young whereas okasan is a sign of respect and can be used for any woman who runs an okiya or ochaya regardless of age.
The vast majority of these women were former geiko themselves, with most reaching the stage of natori, the highest level of dancer. Those who decide to open their own okiya usually name the establishment after something from their geiko career: part (or all) of a geimei, their real last names, or something unique. Either by being adopted by a family that owns an okiya or by opening her own she becomes a fundamental pillar of the community. Since she has decades of experience she will know how to get her girls to reach their full potential and has many established connections to help them succeed. It is incredibly rare that a customer would break off all relationship with a geiko if she were to retire but continue to work in the karyukai. That customer will likely become a patron of the new okasan’s ochaya or at least know to request her charges at the next ozashiki. Some women will simply operate an ochaya and not an okiya as this is a very tough job in and of itself.
The fundamental roles of the okasan are as follows:
-Have an incredible memory of hundreds (if not, thousands) of people to which she knows each person’s specific likes and dislikes and can best cater to them when they arrive for an ozashiki.
-Arrange everything to said customer’s tastes at an ozashiki. This includes which foods to order from which restaurants (to fit both taste and budget), which kinds of alcohol to serve, which girls to call, and to ensure that each ozashiki runs smoothly. Should any incident arise it is the okasan who must deal with it, such as an unruly guest or a slight mishap, and she must do so with both grace and sternness.
-Manage the financials of her business. Obviously to be successful she has to make more money than she spends, but she also needs to know when to spend money and when to save it. Should anything in the ochaya look cheap or not very expensive then it shows on the okasan and can taint her reputation. Everything must be the best for her guests, literally. This doesn’t mean that she has to spend more than everyone else, but to be savvy enough to be fashionable, chic, and meet the expectations of the exclusiveness of her venue.
-Manage the hired help. All ochaya have maids that will come in and clean to make sure that the places are spotless. Some of these maids will live on the premises while others will live in apartments nearby.
If an okasan also manages an okiya then she will also have to do the following:
-Teach the shikomi the mannerisms of a maiko and the Kyoto dialect (Kyo-ben). The vast majority of shikomi experience culture shock when they come into the karyukai, and it is the okasan who is in charge of making her presentable enough to take the test that will determine if she will become a maiko or not. The shikomi will be made to accompany the okasan and then the maiko and geiko everywhere and not only watch how everyone interacts, but will also help with the chores. She will also reprimand the shikomi if they step out of line or forget to use Kyo-ben. She is the single most influential person on a new shikomi, so if the girl doesn’t meet the standards of the community then it looks bad on her.
-Manage the financials of all maiko and geiko in her care. She will keep a running ledger of all costs they will incur (food, boarding, lessons, any other random cost) and how much income they make. She will deduct all costs from their income and keep it in trust for them. Most maiko and geiko never handle money within the karyukai as they will go to a store and ask for the cost to be billed to their affiliated okiya. Should a maiko or geiko need money for something they will request it from the okasan and she acts almost like a bank with their money. When a bill comes she pays it and makes notes. If a jimae geiko is the one on the ledgers then the okasan will only keep track of their engagements, how much they’ve made, and only deduct a fee to be affiliated with this specific ochaya or okiya.
-Choose outfits for the maiko and junior geiko in her care. The outfits must be of seasonally appropriate motifs, which are so accurate that you can tell the date that an image of a maiko was taken down to the week. The traditional Japanese calendar has 72 seasons and these must be followed. They also need to remember what combinations have been worn for what guests before as it would be a faux pas for a maiko or geiko to be seen wearing the same kimono twice in a row to see the same customer. This obviously means that the okasan must know where all of the kimono, obi, pocchiri, obijime, obiage, juban, and eri are at all times and can effortlessly choose the perfect outfits for her charges. She is in charge of the care of the outfits too, so if a kimono needs cleaning she’ll send it out to be cleaned.
-Act as a go-between if any negative situations were to arise. If the okasan of another ochaya had a bad experience with one of her maiko or geiko the okasan would pay a visit to the other okasan to apologize and try to mend the gap. This rarely happens, but when it does the okasan will protect her charges and will take the blame for their actions as if she were their onesan or real mother.
If she is the okasan of a long standing okiya she may even be on the council that actually decides things in each hanamachi. These include appointing a new head of a school of arts where maiko and geiko take their lessons, appointing new members of the kenban, and any new changes to any rules that are to be made to okiya or ochaya.
When it comes time for her to retire she has 1 of 4 options as to what to do with her business. She can either:
-Pass it on to her biological daughter -Pass it on to an adopted geiko (who then legally becomes her daughter) -Attempt to sell the business (however, this usually results in the last option) -Close the ochaya
The job isn’t for everyone and, if the new owner can’t handle the stress or the inheritance fees, then the ochaya will close. It’s a bit sad when this happens, so it makes you appreciate every time a new ochaya opens to continue the traditions of the karyūkai.
In cities outside of Kyoto it’s not uncommon for men to own an ochaya, and they are referred to as “Ojisan” (uncle).
On the 11th Day of Fun I present… a calendar! Every time there’s a new even going on there’s always questions about what it is and why it’s happening, so to save some time he’s a handy chart of who celebrates what and when. January Shin Aisatsu (新挨拶) - First greetings of the new year. All maiko and geiko dress in kuromontsuki and pay their respects to the local okiya and ochaya. Kamishichiken: January 4th Pontocho: January 4th Miyagawa Cho: January 5th Gion Higashi: January 6th Gion Kobu: January 7th
Shigyōshiki (始業式) - Commencement ceremony for the new year. The most popular maiko and geiko are given awards as are the most studious. Gion Kobu, Pontocho, Miyagawa Cho, Gion Higashi: January 7th Kamishichiken: January 9th
Hatsu Ebisu (初ゑびす) - Maiko hand out lucky bamboo at the Ebisu Shrine. Gion Kobu and Miyagawa Cho: January 11th
Hatsuyori (初寄り) - Formal New Year’s greetings by maiko and geiko. All will be dressed in iromontsuki and pay their respects to the establishments in their neighbourhood Gion Kobu: January 13th
February Setsubun (節分) - Traditional start of the lunar new year celebrated on fixed days (February 2nd-4th). Maiko and geiko will perform at their local shrines and toss out packages of lucky beans after their performance
Gion Kobu, Pontocho, Miyagawa Cho, Gion Higashi: Yasaka Shrine Kamishichiken: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Miyagawa Cho: 5 Maiko in Kuromontsuki - February 2nd Pontocho: 2 Maiko - February 2nd
Gion Kobu: 3 Senior Maiko - February 3rd
Gion Higashi: 5 Maiko - February 3rd Kamishichiken: 4 Maiko, 2 Geiko - February 3rd
Obake (お化け) - Similar to Western Halloween, geiko dress up and perform skits for their customers. The costumes were originally meant to confuse spirits. All Hanamachi: February 2nd-4th
Baikasai (梅花祭) - The plum festival at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Maiko and geiko will hold a special outdoor tea ceremony. Kamishichiken: February 25th
March Hina Nagashi (雛流し) - Girls’ Day festival at Shimogamo Shrine. Three maiko will say a prayer and set small floating baskets onto the river. Miyagawa Cho: March 3rd
Higashiyama Hanatōro (東山花灯路) - Spring dedication dances by two maiko at Yasaka Shrine. Gion Kobu: March 13th Kamishichiken: March 14th Pontocho: March 15th Miyagawa Cho: March 20th Gion Higashi: March 21st
Oishi Ki (大石忌) - Maiko and geiko gather at the Ichiriki to pay tribute to Oishi, leader of the 47 Ronin, who plotted his revenge at the ochaya. Yachiyo Inoue will perform a special dance. Gion Kobu: March 20th
Kitano Odori (北野をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Kamishichiken at the Kamishichiken Kaburenjo. Runs March 25th to April 7th.
Gion Shirakawa Yoizakura (祇園白川酔桜) - Two maiko or a maiko and geiko are chosen to pose for photographs in front of the cherry blossoms along the Shirakawa River. Gion Kobu, Miyagawa Cho, and Gion Higashi: March 31st and April 1st
April Miyako Odori (都をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu. Runs April 1st to 30th at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo. In 2017 it will be at the Shunjuza and will run from April 1st to 23rd with no performances on April 10th or 17th due to renovations at the kaburenjo.
Kyō Odori (京をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Miyagawa Cho at the Miyagawa Kaburenjo. Runs April 1st to 20th.
Reitaisai Hono Būyo Matsuri (平安神宮例大祭奉納舞踊) - Dedication dances at the Heian Shrine on April 16th. Gion Kobu: 2 or 3 Maiko Pontocho: 2 Maiko Miyagawa Cho: 5 Maiko Gion Higashi: 4 Maiko
Oreimairi (お礼参り) - Giving thanks at a local shrine after the completion of an odori. Kamishichiken: April 8th Miyagawa Cho: April 21st
May Miyako Odori Shūryō Hōgoku Matsuri (都をどり終了奉告祭) - Maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu giving thanks for a successful odori. Gion Kobu: May 1st
Kamogawa Odori (鴨川をどり) - Annual spring dance by the maiko and geiko of Pontocho at the Pontocho Kaburenjo. Runs from May 1st to 24th.
Kanki Inari Shrine Blessing (観亀稲荷神社例祭) - Maiko and geiko pray for continued blessings and serve sake at the Kanki Inari Shrine. Gion Higashi: May 13th.
Oreimairi (お礼参り) - Pontocho maiko and geiko give thanks after the Kamogawa Odori on May 25th.
June Gion Hojoe Festival (祇園放生会) - Two maiko release fish into the Shirakawa River from the Tatsumi Bridge to show appreciation for all life. Gion Kobu: June 3rd
Miyako No Nigiwai (都の賑わい) - Joint performance of all five kagai on June 23rd and 24th.
July Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) - Massive festival where the gods who are enshrined at the Yasaka Shrine are brought out to celebrate with the people. Runs from July 1st to 24th and has various events during this period. Miyabi Kai (みやび会) - All maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu dress in identical yukata and pray at the Yasaka Shrine with their dance teachers for continued success. Gion Kobu: July 7th
Hanagasa Junko (花笠巡行) - Maiko and geiko attend a parade at the end of the Gion Matsuri where they will perform at the shrine upon the commencement of the parade. Gion Higashi Maiko and Pontocho Geiko: July 24th (Rotating Years) Gion Kobu Maiko and Miyagawa Cho Maiko: July 24th (Rotating Years)
Yukata Kai (ゆかた会) - Maiko and geiko perform with musical instruments or vocal accompaniments while wearing yukata. Miyagawa Cho: July 15th Gion Higashi: July 31st
August Hassaku (八朔) - Maiko and geiko pay respects to their teachers and local establishments. Gion Kobu maiko and geiko will dress in kuromontsuki while all other districts will wear casual komon or iromuji. All Kagai: August 1st
September Takasegawa Boat Festival (高瀬川舟まつり) - Two maiko participate in a blessing for the boats that traverse the Takasegawa Canal and perform a tea ceremony afterwards. Pontocho: September 22nd or 23rd
October Onshūkai (温習会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo from October 1st to 6th.
Zuiki Matsuri (ずいき祭) - Maiko and geiko stand outside of their okiya to watch the procession of the Zuiki Matsuri parade. Kamishichiken: October 4th
Mizuekai (みずゑ会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Miyagawa Cho at the Miyagawa Kaburenjo from October 6th to 9th.
Kotobukai (寿会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Kamishichiken at the Kamishichiken Kaburenjo from October 8th to 12th.
Jidai Matsuri (時代祭) - Maiko and geiko from two different kagai participate on a rotating basis in a festival that celebrates the 1,300 year history of the people and costumes of Japan. Rotating Kagai: October 22nd
Suimeikai (水明会) - Annual fall dance by the maiko and geiko of Pontocho at the Pontocho Kaburenjo from October 27th to 30th.
November Gion Odori (祇園をどり) - Annual dance by the maiko and geiko of Gion Higashi at the Gion Higashi Kaburenjo from November 1st to 10th.
Nishijin Obi and Kimono Festival (きもので集う園遊会) - Maiko and geiko hold an outdoor tea ceremony at the Kamigamo Shrine to celebrate the beautiful works of the Nishijin Weaving District. Kamishichiken: November 3rd
Kanikakunisai (かにかくに祭) - A geiko and three maiko will offer flowers in front of the monument inscribed with the poem “Kanikakuni” by Isamu Yoshi. Gion Kobu: November 8th
Gion Kouta Festival (祇園小唄祭) - Two maiko offer flowers and recite the Gion Kouta in front of a monument in Maruyama Park. All Kagai: November 23rd
December Kaomise Soken (顔見世素見) - Maiko and geiko view the first performances of the kabuki year at the Minamiza Theatre. All Kagai: December 1st to 5th (Rotating Schedule)
Kotohajime (事始め) - Maiko and geiko visit their dance teachers and offer them new year’s gifts while receiving a new fan. All Kagai: December 13th.
Okotosan (お事多うさん) - Maiko and geiko will go around to various ochaya and say “Okotosandesu!” at the entrance and are greeted by the okasan and given pink and white kusudama. Gion Kobu and Miyagawa Cho: December 30th
Okera Mairi (おけら詣り) - Maiko and geiko will light a special rope with the flame from the okerabi and bring it back to their homes for luck in the new year. Gion Kobu and Miyagawa Cho: December 31st
Edit: This list is now available in its own tab called “Calendar of Events”
alright, so this is a very very simple question... but since geisha are mysterious and lots of people have prejudice against them, i don't want to simply google this and find an answer that's not exactly correct. so here's the very simple question; what is it exactly that geisha do? why are people prejudiced against them? thank you so much! sorry i couldn't ask anything more interesting...
Your question is not boring at all! A lot of people wonder what a Geisha’s job intails and have prejudices or misconceptions against them, so it’s actually a great opportunity to refute them.
Let me first explain what Geisha do as part of their job. Geisha are highly-skilled traditional Japanese entertainers and artists. They are trained in traditional Japanese dance, singing, several instruments (shamisen, several drums and flutes, some even play the koto and the kokyū), the tea ceremony, ikebana and calligraphy. They take lessons at a special Geisha-school in their district every day and continue to do so throughout their entire career, as they view art and performance as an ongoing process.
Geisha-in-training are called Maiko (dancing child) in western Japan and hangyoku (half jewel) in and around Tokyo. You sometimes also find the more general term oshaku. They dress much more colorful and flashy than their older Geisha sisters to highlight their youth and childishness. A girl becomes a Maiko after about 1 year of training as a Shikomi, most Maiko debut at age 15 or 16 directly after completing the mandatory 9 years of primary and middle school and are ages 15 to 21 (22 is the max), hangyoku usually debut after high school and are ages 18 to 25. After that, the girl stays a Maiko for about 5 years and then, after her completed apprenticeship, becomes a Geisha and is considered a fully-fledged artist. A woman usually becomes a Geisha at age 20 or 21. Geisha dress much more subdued than Maiko to symbolize that they are adult women and they are quite easy to tell apart once you know what you have to look out for. Geisha are called Geiko (”woman of art”) in western Japan.
Geisha entertain at ozashiki, Geisha-parties, at ochaya, tea houses or sometimes high-class traditional restaurants called ryootei. They will dance and perform music at the party and have discussions about art, music or current events with their clients. Depending on what kind of party you want it to be, Geisha can also perform drinking games and have the party become more lively. All in all, a Geisha does everything in her power to make sure that her clients have a great time.
Geisha live in designated Geisha-districts, called hanamachi or kagai (”Flower towns”). Before WWII even small towns had their own hanamachi and Geisha lived and worked everywhere across the country. The most famous Geisha were and still are from Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Niigata, Kanazawa, Nara and Atami.
Maiko and young Geisha live at okiya, Geisha-houses. The proprietress, the okaasan (mother) treats them like their own children and raises them to become independent and successful Geisha. She pays for their lessons and living expenses, which the girl has to pay back during her career. Once her debts are settled, she becomes independent and moves out of the okiya. An independent Geisha has to have her own collection of high-class, handmade kimono, obi and hair ornaments and are very succesful.
Historically, Geisha entertained mainly wealthy merchants and sometimes aristocrats and later on also politicians. During the Edo-Period, the merchant class was big and very wealthy and had the means to support them. At their height around 1900 over 80,000 of them worked in Japan. Today, Geisha still mostly entertain wealthy buisnesspeople. Their numbers are down to about 1,200, but have been slowly rising over the last 10 years after a rapid demise in the eighties and nineties.
A lot of people, especially in the west, still think that Geisha are high-class prostitutes. This has several reasons and I’m going to talk about the most important.
1. The most important reason for the misconception stems from the time right after WWII. During this time, Japan was occupied by American soldiers after they had lost the war to them. A lot of big cities were destroyed, many people had died during air raids or from starvation, the economy was in shambles and many men had died during the war or were still missing. It was a time of despair for most Japanese and many women were forced to become prostitutes to survive and often even support their whole family.
Most of the clients of these women were American soldiers, because they belonged to the few people who could still afford to pay a prostitute. Back then, Geisha were a symbol of Japan already, being popular postcard-models and appearing in a lot of fiction of the time, so most American soldiers knew a little bit about Geisha.
They could, however, only rarely tell a Geisha apart from an ordinary women wearing a kimono. Since kimono were still the everyday-wear of the time, they thought the women they were sleeping with were Geisha and the women soon realized that they could achieve higher prices when they presented themselves as Geisha to the soldiers and started acting the part.
When the occupation ended and the soldiers returned home, they told their friends and family that they had had a (sexual) relationship with a Geisha in Japan and that is an important reason as to why this misconception spread to fastly across the west.
2. Another reason is the so called “double registration”. As I’ve said before, hanamachi used to exist all over Japan. The vast majority of Geisha lived a pretty good life: Although their schedule was extremely hectic and live was certainly not easy, they could achieve financial independency and fame and meet a lot of influential people and form conncetions through their work. Geisha can also work for their entire lives, if they want to do so. There is no retirement-age for Geisha, so they had a very secure job.
Geisha could also retire and start their own okiya or tea house or start working at a restaurant or a tea house as a server. They also often got married to rich and influential men.
However, not all Geisha had it so well. There were some small towns in which Geisha were struggling to survive, because the economic situation was so tough. The towns lacked enough wealthy merchants and visitors to support them. This was the reason why Geisha in some towns were forced to become registrated as both a Geisha and a prostitute to survive.
While these Geisha were still artists like the Geisha in bigger, more economically stable towns and cities, they also had to sleep with their clients to make extra money to survive.
A lot of these poor, small town were Onsen-towns, seaside-resorts that were unpopular and lacked a steady stream of visitors.
Although the vast majority of Geisha never sold sex and even the majority of Onsen-Geisha (Geisha working in said Onsen-towns) never did, this tarnished the reputation of Geisha.
Prostitution was outlawed in Japan in 1956, so doube-registration doesn’t exist anymore today.
3. The whole mizuage-issue. I’ll have to go deeper into history with that one. First of all, there are junior and senior Maiko. Junior Maiko wear the wareshinobu hairstyle and a predominately red collar, senior Maiko wear the ofuku hairstyle and a predominately white collar. Today, a girl is promoted from junior to senior at age 18, before WWII, when Maiko were still much younger, this happened around 15 or 16; generally when a girl was starting to look older and was deemed a young woman by her older Geisha-sisters.
When a junior Maiko becomes a senior Maiko she has her mizuage ceremony (”hoisting the water”). During this ceremony, the topknot of her wareshinobu hairstyle is symbolically cut open by friends and okiya-family-members. The okaasan and the girl hand out presents to ochaya she frequents, okiya she has relationships with and some close clients and she’ll start to wear the ofuku hairstyle and a whiter kimono-collar afterwards. It is a simple coming-of-age ceremony symbolizing that the Maiko is recognized as a young woman from then on. Historically, this also meant that a Maiko was now old enough to marry and proposals could be made, which she could accpet or decline at free will.
However, Oiran also had a ceremony of the same name. Oiran were high-class prostitutes in old Japan and are extinct today. They were also highly-skilled artists and trained in the arts of the nobility. They had a coming-of-age ceremony of the same name (why the name is the same as with Geisha is unknown, but it’s probably because the quarters of Oiran and Geisha were close by), that intailed the ritual deflowering of the young Oiran by a man who paid highly for being her first sexual partner. This ceremony was also performed by yuujo, ordinary prostitutes, and some double-registered Geisha.
This gets confused a lot, because these two ceremonies have the same names and is one of the most persistens misconceptions when it comes to Geisha. The novel and movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” also mixes this up and portray mizuage completely wrong, so I would highly advise you to not watch it, at least not until you’ve gathered some futher information.
4. Danna. Danna are people who sponsor one particular Geisha they are fond of and monthly pay her a privately agreed on amount of money to help her pay for her lessons and other living expenses. While danna are very rare today, back before WWII most Geisha had a danna, because there were so many poeple willing and able to sponsor Geisha back then and it would have been a sign of unpoularity if you didn’t have one.
People interested in becoming a Geisha’s danna can inquire via the proptriess of the teahouse they meet her at if she would be interested. If the Geisha shows interest, okaasan, Geisha, the proprietress of the ochaya and the possibe danna will get together and discuss the finances. If they come to an agreement, the Geisha will accept him as her danna. A Geisha can always end the relationship and pursue another, if she wishes to do so.
Being a danna has certain adavantages. Your inquiries to see the Geisha will always be handled first before anyone else’s and you can also “buy out” a Geisha’s time and spend it with her in a more private setting or just buy her some time off (Geisha have very little time off, especially during odori-season).
It is also a status symbol and a great way to show off one’s wealth and influence. One has to consider that, during the Edo-Period and even for a long time afterwards, Geisha and the arts they performed were seen as modern entertainment, just like we see movies, shows or pop-music today, so Geisha were very popular, famous and interesting for a lot of people. It was after WWII that people started to see Geisha as symbols of old Japan. Being the danna of a talented Geisha who would entertain oneself and one’s friends was a major status symbol.
There are two things that made westeners suspicious about this: Firstly, before WWII, pretty much all danna were male. This is a fact, because men held almost all economic power back then and were the only ones with the means to support Geisha. Westeners of that time had an extremely conservative and moralistic view of sexuality and many considered themelves to be superior to the “dirty and immoral” Japanese people, so they immediately thought that Geisha had sexual relationships with their danna and that they were bascially waiting to be “bought” by a man. (Today, a large and increasing part of Geisha’s customers are female.)
Secondly, some Geisha DID have romantic relationships with their danna. Mineko Iwasaki, Japan’s most famous Geisha of the 20th century described this very well in her book “Geisha of Gion”: “You can’t put talented, beautiful, elegant women together with rich and powerful men and expect nothing to happen. Romantic entaglements happen all the time, some leading to marriage and others to heartache.”
Of course some Geisha fell in love with their clients and vice versa. This was accepted and even encouraged in the hanamachi, as these relationships might lead to the birth of a girl who could also become a Geisha one day.
So if a customer and a Geisha had romantic interest for each other, the man, if he had the financial means, naturally would try to become the Geisha’s danna. By being her danna he could spend more time with her and support the woman he loved in her career, so this was completely logical.
However, the majority of Geisha and danna didn’t have any sexual or romantic relationship. If they did, it was based on mutual attraction for each other and was not forced in any way. Both parties could always end the relationship at any time and enter another, if they wanted to.
The fact that Geisha are very private and don’t talk a lot about their profession adds to the “suspiciousness” in the eyes of a lot of people.
In fact, Geisha are so “mysterious” because they are supposed so remain exclusive. A lot of their regular clients book them because the are so exclusive and they can be sure that nothing that happens or is said at an ozashiki ever leaves the room. If Geisha became accessible to everyone, they would lose a lot of customers.
Geisha today are torn between doing publicity-work, being more accessible and understandable to the “common” people and getting new applicants, while still keeping an aura of exclusivity.
I hope I could answer all of your questions! If you have more, feel free to ask them! Have a nice day!
And thus begins the newest series about reviewing books on the karyukai. All of the books shown on here are personally owned by myself, so please know that you’ll be getting a review from someone who has read it (likely many times) and not just, “I heard about it from so and so”.
Since this is the first one I thought I’d start with the basic karyukai staple: Geisha: A Living Tradition by Kyoko Aihara (IBSN 1-84442-302-6) Date of Publication: 1999 Language: English, Polish, French, and many more Format: Hardcover and Softcover Availability: Can still be bought new or used from most major book suppliers and is easily found online Price: Around $10-15 Errors: 1
I call this a staple as it is the book that anyone interested in the karyukai should own at some point, if not, as their first book into this complex system. It provides all basic information with fantastic explanations of all terms coupled with beautiful photography. Some images may seem a bit out-dated (car phones, since cell phones weren’t widespread back then), but the main information never gets old. It goes through the misedashi and erikae processes, shows the full calendar of maiko kanzashi, gives insight into their daily lives, and shows how they work in a world that’s constantly changing around them.
Some of the early reviews posted online were meant to tank an excellent book by people who are quite toxic in the community, so ignore the old reviews and read the newer reviews from people who actually bought it.
When it comes to errors I could only find one, and it’s a printing error, not one by the author. The descriptions of the images on pages 100 and 101 are swapped so, when reading those pages just keep that in mind. There’s also an image in the back that talks about maiko seen outside with tourists that possibly should have been re-worded as the image is one of the author doing a maiko henshin (and being mistaken for a real maiko) ^^
There really is no better foundation book to have in your collection and I highly recommend it to anyone, whether they’re starting out or already immersed and the price is within anyone’s budget
The questions surrounding what arts that maiko and geiko practice comes up regularly, and instead of just posting them onto one of the tabs I’d rather lay it out in a post here first.
The “Gei” (芸) in Geisha(芸者)/Geiko(芸妓)/Geigi(芸妓) means “Art” and there are many branches and types of art that one can master. For this part we’ll be looking at the direct performing arts that everyone knows the geisha are renowned for: music and dance.
Dance - Mai (舞) All traditional Japanese dance styles have their roots in Shinto ceremonies that date back at least two millennia. There are two main styles to traditional dance practiced today:
-Noh (能): Originally arrived in Japan from China in the 8th century and developed into the style we know today in the 13th century by Kan’ami (assisted by his son Zeami). Derived from the classical court style dances, it features small, precise movements to tell a story. It can be seen as “boring” or “obscure” if you’re not sure what to look for as you need to understand the movements to appreciate them to the fullest. This isn’t to say that it isn’t beautiful to behold without prior knowledge as it is quite enchanting! Gion Kobu’s Inoue school is part of the Noh tradition.
-Kabuki (歌舞伎): Derived directly from Shinto ceremonies, it was created in 1603 by Izumo No Okuni, a shrine priestess who created her own style of dance and performed it on the dry riverbed of the Kamo River. She became so famous that she was invited to perform in front of the emperor! After seeing how popular the style of dance had become rival dance groups sprung up around her and established the kabuki that we know today. The style is known for its dramatic and often “wild” movements that are meant to be appreciated by the common people. Pontocho’s Onoe, Miyagawa Cho’s Wakayagi, Kamishichiken’s Hanayagi, and Gion Higashi’s Fujima schools are part of the Kabuki tradition.
Music - Raku (楽) What would dance be without music? Music, like dance, can be broken down into two types: voice/song and instruments.
Singing - Uta (歌): Maiko and geiko learn traditional ballads that are performed alongside dance. There are two types: Kouta (小唄) which means “short songs/ballads” and Nagauta (長唄) which means “long songs/ballad.” They are learned by listening to an instructor and then repeating and/or transcribing the words and melody together. There’s no “set” way of reading or learning a song like there is for Western music, so it takes a large amount of practice to perform any uta properly (although there are a few methods that do exist).
Instruments - Gakki (楽器) There are many instruments practiced in the karyukai, but I’ll only go over the most common ones that are seen and heard on a regular basis.
-Shamisen (三味線): A three stringed instrument that is played with a plectrum. It is the most common instrument in the karyukai as it developed as an instrument that the common people used. Most uta were created to be played with a shamisen. It resembles a simplified guitar and is played in a similar fashion.
-Tsuzumi (鼓): The all encompassing word for drums, but specifically dual sided drums that are roped together. There are three main types learned by maiko and geiko:
-Kotsuzumi (小鼓): Literally “Small Drum,” or sometimes known as the “regular” tsuzumi, it is held onto one’s shoulder and played by striking the drum with the free hand.
-Ōtsuzumi (大鼓): Literally “Large Drum,” it is a larger size of the tsuzumi and features one end that is larger than the other. It produces a much deeper sound when struck.
-Taiko (太鼓): Literally “Great Drum,” they’re not the gigantic ones that are often seen at summer festivals, but rather closer in size to an otsuzumi. The taiko sits on a stand while the musician strikes it with rods known as bachi (桴). It is the closest equivalent to Western style drums.
-Fue (笛): The all encompassing word for flute, which in traditional Japanese style is usually made from bamboo. There are two types of fue that include:
-Shakuhachi (尺八): The high pitched iconic flute that is actually rare in the karyukai, it features 5 holes (4 on top and 1 underneath). Its sound is often described as “haunting” as it gently pierces through silence to deliver melodies full of both happiness and sadness.
-Shinobue (篠笛)/Yokobue (横笛): Flutes that are much closer to Western ones, but are still made from wood. It features 7 holes that allows it to play more notes than the shakuhachi. This type is often played with the end resting on the musician’s shoulder.
-Koto (事): A 13 stringed instrument that’s considered a type of lute although it plays closer to that of a harp. Due to its size it lays flat on the floor and the musician plucks the strings individually to produce sound. Those who are new to the koto often wear metal guards on their fingers to keep the strings from slicing into their skin until their hands have developed enough to withstand the pressure.
-Kokyū (胡弓): Taught exclusively in Miyagawa Cho as it was once considered an instrument of the oiran, a kokyū is a smaller version of the shamisen that’s played upright with a bow instead of a plectrum.
July 2015: Jikata Geiko Hizuru (Katsumi Okiya) of Pontochō
performing the Kamogawa Kouta, Pontochō’s equivalent to the Gion Kouta.
When performing the Gion Kouta, Pontochō’s Maiko and Geiko only perform the first two verses of the original Gion Kouta and finish with these two verses of the Kamogawa Kouta.
Ukare ukare te Ponto-chō
Kayoi naretaru hoso-roji no
Kado no yukiki mo yoi-gokochi
Kyō wa Matsuri ya Odori maho
Kitsui kiyanaika doudosue
Yanagi ga kure no tsuki akari
Hashi no giboshi ni kaze ukete
Tsuyu ni nure sona bin-tsuki mo
Mugon mairi no ushiro-kage
Kitsui kiyanaika doudosue
October 2016: Tayū Kikugawa attending a memorial service for dolls.
It is an old Japanese belif that dolls who were loved by their owners have their own souls, which is why a lot of Japanese people think throwing away dolls is a taboo, especially if they were gifted to them.
Instead, they send them to Shinto Shrines, where they are given a proper, ritual send-off.
Someone anonymously asked me about the weight of a Maiko’s kimono, but when I posted it it just disappeared, so I’m just going to answer it this way.
A Maiko’s kimono is very heavy, it can way up to twenty kilograms (44 lbs)!
The kimono are lighter in summer and heavier in winter, because winter kimono are made of heavier, lined fabric.
The special darari obi Maiko wear is especially heavy; it’s made of heavy silk brocade and is about seven metres long.
This means that some Maiko who are on the short and dainty side wear an outfit that is about half of their weight on a daily basis.
Mineko Iwasaki talked about this in her book “Geisha of Gion”. She is quite small and has always been skinny and when she had just started out as a Maiko at age 15, she was even smaller and weighed a little bit over 40 kilograms.
She really had to train and get used to wearing and moving in such a heavy, elobrate outfit and also wearing the high wooden okobo-shoes with it.
Maiko are generally very fit and strong, mainly because of their daily training, but also because they wear such heavy clothing.
I would also like to know if you could help me figure out what makes a geisha mother combine what obi with what kimono and what kanzashi. I understand there are set patterns and set motifs that are accepted for each season but beyond that what causes a geiko or a maiko to wear an outfit like the one on your blog.
And, finally, onto the second question! (Sorry, I was busy with work.)
Since this is a complicated, extensive topic (there have been whole books written about this), let’s start with the kanzashi.
Kanzashi-designs are set for each month, so there is only a limited amount of designs to choose from. Usually, a Maiko decides which design she likes best and wants to wear herself.
January: Plum flowers and pine needles/bamboo sticks or origami cranes.
February: Plum blossoms in several different designs: One big plum blossom or several small, white plum blossoms hanging from branches for senior Maiko and several white, pink and red plum blossoms for junior Maiko. Maiko can also wear a special kanzashi for Setsubun consisting of a temari ball and a long, dangling cord.
March: Narcissus, peony, canola blossoms with silver butterflies landing on them, peach blossoms.
April: Cherry blossoms (often with silver butterflies landing on them), silver butterflies, cherry blossoms and traditional lanterns.
July: Uchiwa fans, special Gion Matsuri-kanzashi which changes every year.
August: Pampas grass, morning glory.
September: Bellflowers, clover.
November: Gingko, maple leaves.
December: Special maneki-kanzashi singed by the respective Maiko’s favourite Kabuki actors (female role in red lipstick and male role in black ink).
Then, there are some basic rules for matching Kimono to the season, the respective Maiko/Geiko and obi that I know of:
First of all, the kimono the Maiko/Geiko is wearing depends on their age. Junior Maiko, especially first-year Maiko, tend to wear kimono in very vibrant colors and with big patterns on them to make them look young, childish and cute. The pattern also usually goes over both shoulders.
Senior Maiko already start wearing kimono in slightly more set colors and with smaller motifs on them. The pattern usually only covers one shoulder, sometimes it doesn’t even reach the shoulder at all, and I’ve also already seen senior Maiko in completely plain, monocolored (Iromuji) kimono. This is done to symbolize a certain level of experience and maturity over their junior sisters who are usually in their early to mid-teens.
A Geiko’s kimono usually has no pattern on the shoulders at all; the pattern usually only covers the lower part of the kimono, not even reaching up to the obi, and is printed once on each sleeve. I have already seen Geiko wearing kimono with an all-over pattern, but these are pretty rare. Geiko also wear much more subdued colors.
Often, taller Maiko also wear more vibrant kimono with bigger motifs to make them look more childish and set off their features.
If the kimono has a big pattern and a vibrant color, the obi should be more subdued and vice versa.
Color-matching is usually done like we would match regular pieces of clothing together (blue goes with white, black goes with gold and red, purple goes with white or very light yellow, etc.), but there are dozens of rules to color-matching and layering a kimono which would take too long to explain so here’s a link to a great explanation.
When matching obi and kimono, one has to follow these color-matching rules and can also only use a motif on the obi which can either be worn during the respective season or all year long.
Flower-motifs are usually worn when the respective flower(s) is/are blooming. Cherry blossom-motifs are worn from late March to early May, maple-leaf motifs are worn in October and November, peony is worn ins spring, clover is worn in late summer and early fall, etc.
Kimono featuring water-, waves- or boat-motifs are mostly worn in summer, but can also already be worn in spring and still be worn in early fall.
Uchiwa-fan motifs are worn during summer.
Fireworks are also mostly worn during July, because it’s the month of the Gion Matsuri, Kyoto’s biggest festival and there are even some special Gion-Matsuri-themed kimono.
A combination of pine, bamboo, and
plum blossoms is often worn in winter and early spring and is considered promising (Sho-chiku-bai 松竹梅, the “three friends of winter”).
A combination of bush clover, pampas grass, arrowroot, pinks (dianthus or wild cloves),
valerian, mistflower, and Chinese bellflower is a common motif for autumn (Aki-no-nanakusa 秋の七草, the “seven autumn grasses”).
There are also some patterns that can be worn all year long: temari balls, shodoki (patterns depicting buildings, everyday objects, flowers and just everyday life duing the Edo period) as long as it’s not intailing flowers, go-shodoki (patterns depicting scenes from the ancient Imperial Court) as long as it’s not intailing flowers, katawa-gurumu (wooden wheels with broken spokes), horse carriages, toys, water wheels, birds, folding fans and traditional instruments.
Choosing the suiting kimono-ensemble is an art in itself, really, and it often takes Maiko several years to learn it before they start choosing their kimono on their own.
That’s all I know about it and I really hope I could help you!