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).

anonymous asked:

What happens if a Geiko (or even a Maiko!) get's pregnant? I know they can't get married but can have a partner so cases like these must sometiems happen surely.

Geiko are allowed to have children and Maiko aren’t necessarily “forbidden” (you can’t ever forbid people from getting pregnant in genereal) from having children, but it’s very very rare today. Maiko are 15 to 21, sometimes 22, and the vast majority of them doesn’t want to have children yet anyways. Japan also has a very low birth-rate (1,42 children per woman in 2014) and, on average, women also give birth to their first child comparatively late there, usually in their early 30s.

It’s not rare for Maiko to not be allowed to have boyfriends though, sometimes it’s also only the junior Maiko who aren’t allowed to date. When you’re young you learn the easiest and the fastest, so Maiko are usually expected to focus solely on their career and acquiring the artistic repertoire they will need as a Geiko. Their schedules are also so packed that they don’t really have time for dating, which then-Maiko Kikuno also mentions in the documentary “Geisha Girl”.

Geiko can have boyfriends and quite a lot of them have long-term partners. If they should choose to have a child or she’d just get pregnant “by accident” and decided to keep the child, she would continue working as long as it was still safe to do so and then stop for a couple of months before the birth. I’ve also read once that starting at a later point in the pregnancy, it’s not safe to wear the heavy brocade-silk obi anymore (it’s also tied pretty tightly). Im not a doctor and I’m not that well-educated on pregnancy, but I could imagine that that’s true. It would probably also apply to Maiko, whose obi is tied even tighter and is even heavier.

She would tell the kenban and her okaasan and probably her sisters, too, as generally, pregnancies are happy news and people want to share that. She could start working again at any point after the birth, she can decide herself when she wants to do that, but as far as I can tell, it’s usually less than a year. There are many ways of having your child taken care of, daycares, nannies (Geisha earn well, so that is an option) or their partner.

But since being a Geiko is such a time-consuming profession, many Geiko also choose to retire before having children, because they want to be able to focus more on their children.

There are several okaasan of okiya in Kyoto right now who have biological daughters and will pass their okiya onto their daughters one day. Shinahide of the Hatsunoya Okiya in Pontocho, Ichisuzu of the Nakagishi Okiya in Gion Kobu, Fukue of the Kawayoshi Okiya of Miyagawacho and Yuko, who already runs the Umeno Okiya in Kamishichiken for the most part, are all biological daughters of the okaasan of the okiya. Geiko Kanachisa of the Kawahisa Okiya in Miyagawacho and Miehina of the Harutomi Okiya of Miyagawacho are adopted daughters. The okaasan of the Umeno Okiya was also a Geiko for a long time, her geimei was Umeno, that is what her okiya is named after.

It has always been a common practice for okaasan of ochaya or okiya to pass their buisness down to their biological daughters, so Geiko (and Geisha everywhere in Japan in general) having children has always been common. And it was actually always seen as something positive, too, as their child could be a daughter who could become a Geisha herself one day. Having sons was a little more difficult, as they couldn’t live in okiya starting at a certain age (usually when they hit puberty), as okiya are women-only places, so the Geiko had to have her own place, but if she did, that was no problem either.

What would happen if a Maiko got pregnant, I don’t know, because I haven’t really heard of any incident of that happening in recent years.

What’s In a Book? Part 19

Book’s cover courtesy of Amazon.

Women of The Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of The Geisha by Lesley Downer (ISBN 978-0767904902)
Date of Publication: 2002
Language: English
Format: Hardcover, Softcover, and Digital
Availability: Extremely Easy to Find
Price: About $5-10
Errors: 36+

This was requested a while back and, since I recently got hold of a copy, I figured that it was time to do a new review for an English language book.

As for the book itself, I have very mixed feelings about it. I honestly wanted to stop reading the book after the first 20 pages or so as the introduction and the author’s terrible attitude towards her work made me literally mad (sorry to the poor people who had to hear me complain my head off that night during dinner). What specifically bothered me was thus:

-The first mention that the author makes in the book about anything related to the subject is Author Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. She spends almost an entire page going on and on about how “amazing” and “factual” that book is. Yes, I gagged and lost my ability to even.

-The second is that she thought that she could just walk into Kyoto and everyone would fling their doors open to her and talk to her. If that isn’t a major case of ignorance and white privilege then I don’t know what is.

She spends the entire first chapter going on about how she was treated when she arrived (which was completely and well deserved) to how she slowly learned to shut up, look around, and just observe. You can drop names all you want, but if you’re rude as hell then no one will bother with you. It took her weeks to grasp this, but at least she ended up learning some manners by the end.

For a book that’s subtitled “ The Secret History of The Geisha” it sure as hell doesn’t talk about geisha as a main topic. Less than half the book deals with geisha directly, and that includes the final chapter that’s almost ridiculously ignorant of how the karyukai works and just says that it’s going to die out. I’m sorry to tell Ms. Downer, but the number of geisha in Japan has actually increased since 2002, so they are no where near dead.

So, for a book that supposedly talks about geisha yet doesn’t, what is written? Well, there’s a lot of history and it covers more of the stories of the women who worked in the red light districts beside geisha (including but not limited to: tayu, oiran, and yujo) than the geisha themselves. Near the end she also goes to Tokyo, Kanazawa, and Atami to see some of the geisha there, but those parts have very little about them and you’d learn just as much by reading Dr. Liza Dalby’s book, if not more. 

As for errors, well…

-First “thanks” is to Author Golden for his “amazing and insightful book”
-Calls okobo “clogs” (sorry, we’re not in Holland)
-Calls a shamisen a “banjo” (again, no)
-Page 13: Says that Kyoto is the only place where “strict geisha training continued and the geisha traditions were passed down” (no)
-States numerous times that geisha entertain men only (no)
-Easy to understand why the guy beside her on the plane was so angry with her writing about geisha - In her opinion, Arthur Golden’s book had opened up new fashion and brought back “femininity” to the fashion world (I gagged)
-Says that Madonna’s outfit had “long flapping sleeves and a plastic obi” that was “the talk of Tokyo” (yeah, ‘cause it was cultural appropriation).
-Who would have known that back in 2000 people wouldn’t know much about geisha, especially in the West, seeing as the internet was in its infancy?
-Continuously calls Gion Kobu “Gion”
-Gets her white privilege checked on page 20. Good on the okasan. Not an error, I just liked to include it as an observation.
-Maiko isn’t translated as “apprentice geisha” - the correct term is “dancing female” but “apprentice geisha” is a job description. (page 22)
-Compares an obi to a corset. One holds a kimono on the body while the other is meant to give a small waist (one is comfortable, the other is not).
-Not sure why she refers to cloth in a maiko’s hairstyle as “ribbons” (she ends up referring to any piece of silk as “ribbons” and it gets very annoying by the end)
-Throws in so many random French terms to sound… educated? They’re just incredibly unnecessary. For example, in her “glossary” at the back her definition of shogun is “generalissimo” (not French, but close). That’s not a definition! She loves to throw in “passé” and “accoutrements” often. 
-When she arrives in Kyoto she laments about finding herself at the bottom of the pecking order. Where the hell would she think she would be, besides the bottom of the pecking order? She’s an outsider with no manners.
-States that being a man would have made it easier to gain access to the karyukai. Being a man would have made her more of an outsider. Geisha don’t dote on men they don’t know, especially ones without an introduction.
-Hakama are not kimono (page 32)
-Uchiwa are not shaped like ginkgo leaves (page 35)
-Uchiwa with a geiko’s name on it uses red ink, not black ink (page 35)
-Pages 50+: Constantly makes references to different periods and historical women and then saying “these became geisha”, but so many of them did not (like those who taught nobility). It’s akin to saying that skullery maids became receptionists.
-Page 81: Mentions that the tayū of today are merely actresses - that is a disgusting summation. Yes, they no longer practice anything sexual, but they are still talented artists.
-Calls the juban a “petticoat” (wtf?)
-Refers to bira as “silver dangling combs” (wtf again)
-States that shikomi wear yukata everyday (yukata are only for summer wear) and then calls yukata an ankle length kimono-like garment (they are a kimono) on page 134.
-Not sure why the author calls walking in okobo or zori as “hobbling”
-Author doesn’t understand the meaning behind the heel hanging off the back of geta and/or zori.
-A handara knot does not go down to the back of one’s knees - it’s shorter than that.
-Page 153: Refers to the kenban as the “kemban” and Shinbashi as “Shimbashi”, both of which are outdated terms (same with “aduki” beans).
-Page 164: States that sakkō is worn for an entire month (it’s 2 weeks)
-Starting on 162: Refers to the wareshinobu as a “bagel”.
-Page 167: States that all maiko must be “adopted” by an older geisha to serve as their onesan (nope).
-Page 167: States that maiko seek out the geiko they want to be their older sister - this is done by the okasan of their okiya only.
-Page 171: Stated earlier that Haruka was 18, but then goes on to say that she’s been a maiko for 5 years. That’s impossible under current labor laws.
-Page 172: States that geiko wear their hair in a “bouffant bun” (she likes using “bouffant” a lot) and only wear katsura on special occasions.
-Speaks as though marriage past age 23 is almost impossible for geisha (it’s not)
-Page 173: States that maiko only exist in Kyoto now (they don’t).
-Page 175: Suddenly states that Harumi, the maiko who just debuted, was wearing ofuku (not possible).
-Calls furisode-san “fake maiko” (not even close).
-Likens a tori gate to Stonehenge (’cause they’re two vertical pillars topped with a horizontal one?).
-Continuously states that zori are straw sandals. Yes, that is the literal translation for zori, but they haven’t been made out of straw for a very long time. I couldn’t even imagine a geiko wearing straw to an appointment. 

And those were just some of the things that I bothered to make notes about. Overall it wasn’t too bad, but it’s just so ignorant of customs and traditions and the information that it does give can easily be found in other books. I’m fairly certain that she modeled hers after Dr. Liza Dalby’s, but she just can’t produce any new information that wasn’t already known and ends up making a fool of herself.

Rating: ✪✪ (out of 5)

anonymous asked:

One of the accounts I've recently started following on Instagram has been posting a lot about "Fake Tayuu" and how much they hate them. Most of it is written in Japanese, so I can't read it, but the posts are always accomplanied by pictures of Tayuu Aoi and her mother. I've also heard that some people don't believe Aoi to be a real Tayuu for some reason. Could you explain why and why she is getting hate?

This is going to be a long answer, and I’m going to try to be as impartial as I can as this is still a highly debated subject.

First of all, I do not wish to give any attention to the person who’s having a tantrum on Instagram. They’re not very respected in the community and they tend to have rants like these often, so I usually ignore them as they are not worth my time.

Secondly, I need to go over the extreme basics of tayū, as what’s being debated is ultimately an issue of semantics. So, we all know that tayū were the highest class of “courtesan” from the Edo Period. They wore incredibly gaudy clothing with ornate hairstyles and were available only to the elites. No one is denying this. Yes, they also had “sexy times” with their “customers” but it was (usually) not the main component of their job. They were supposed to function as a woman who could be the complete opposite of a wife; that is, be skilled in various arts and be able to hold a conversation/attention well.

The tayū themselves were already a dying breed of entertainer by the 18th century as their exclusivity and faded fashions could not even come close to matching the extremely popular geisha. So, from the mid 1750s tayū had basically ceased to exist everywhere except for Shimabara in Kyoto. Over the centuries their numbers have gone down as their skills and knowledge were seen as archaic to modern society even back then. What really marked the literal end for the tayū was the outlawing of prostitution in 1958. Since tayū were considered courtesans and technically the sexy stuff was part of their trade (although, not the main focus), they were forbidden from actually “being” tayū anymore. What’s more, there’s only one “registered” ochaya in Shimabara anymore, the 300 year old Wachigaya.

For the last few (and by “few” I mean “5ish”) decades all of the tayū have come from the Wachigaya since the Wachigaya was the only building around in Shimabara with a history of hosting tayū. Even as recent as the 1980s the tayū of Shimabara participated in the all-kagai dance performance that takes place in June. Today that’s called the Miyako No Nigiwai and it celebrates the dance styles of the gokagai (five flower towns). Previously this was known as the rokkagai (six flower towns) as Shimabara still operated a kenban and the tayū were well practiced artists. 

As you can guess by now, Shimabara has since lost its status as a kagai, no longer has a kenban, and thus no longer has any type of registration. The only thing that’s kept the Wachigaya going is that it’s incredibly old and still somewhat functions as an ochaya, albeit very exclusive. 

The biggest issue here that isn’t being addressed by anyone right now is what exactly constitutes a tayū and what doesn’t and, most importantly, who gets to be a tayū and who doesn’t. According to said Instagram drama queen, only women affiliated with the Wachigaya can be tayū. However (and, of course, there’s always an “however” in there somewhere), what happens when the Wachigaya says “no”? You’d figure that the last place where tayū can supposedly exist would want to promote their lineage and keep it going, right? Well, this is where the issue of who’s a “real” tayū and who isn’t comes into play, and, of course, it’s full of drama.

Tsukasa Tayū began her career in Kyoto by becoming a maiko in Gion Kobu. She then left to go to Shimabara to become a tayū at the Wachigaya. For decades she worked at the Wachigaya and even had her biological daughter learn the traditional arts and stand in as her kamuro (attendant) during parades. This was all fine and well until a few years ago when Tsukasa wanted her daughter to debut as a tayū too. You’d figure with her actual experience and pedigree that she’d a perfect candidate to become a tayū. Well, the Wachigaya said “no” and, being determined to carry on, Tsukasa split with the Wachigaya to allow her daughter to debut as a tayū. Her daughter is now Aoi Tayū.

At the same time Takasago Tayū, who has since retired and owns her own ochaya, found a very promising girl that showed real dedication to the tayū life. Once again, the Wachigaya said “no” and, to allow her to debut, she funded her entire debut herself because of her convictions. That girl is now Kikugawa Tayū. Unlike some of the other tayū Kikugawa sometimes wears a wig as she has naturally thin hair.

As a way to show that they’re the perceived “true” authority on tayū, the Wachigaya also debuted a new girl, the now Sakuragi Tayū.

So, we now have three separate places that are supporting what they feel is tayū culture. The Instagram whiner says that Tsukasa, Aoi, and Kikugawa aren’t “real” tayū because they are not affiliated with the Wachigaya. However, she enjoys glossing over the fact that the Wachigaya has used many “stand ins” for their parades over the years due to declining numbers. That is, they have women known to them dress up as tayū and act the part of a tayū for public ceremonies. She also states that the outfits that they wear are synthetic fibers, which is ridiculous. This ignorant person feels that the outfits that Tsukasa, Aoi, and Kikugawa are “fake” because she knows nothing of real silk and ignores that the Wachigaya does use kimono that are over 100 years old (many are in disrepair if you look through various images though), whereas Tsukasa, Aoi, and Kikugawa wear newer made garments. Yes, the way that silk is made and used has changed greatly in the last century, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t “real” or of the highest quality. In fact, we’ve gotten better at silk production and the silk we use today is stronger, retains colors longer, and uses artistic techniques that could only have been considered a dream a century ago. 

And, thus, we’ve come around full circle. The question at the center of this being, “Who decides who gets to be a tayū when there is no longer any institution who says what is and isn’t and who can and cannot?” The tayū have long since been resigned to a ceremonial role, no one can deny that. But, if the Wachigaya truly wants the tayū to survive, then why would they deny promising candidates? It took a vast amount of money and connections to launch new tayū who are practicing the tayū arts from the same teachers, so why should they not be called tayū too? I personally do not wish to join into this useless debate that benefits no one, but I believe that an artist is an artist and if they meet the requirements of that trade then they deserve to be called such.