Outstanding content today: I’ll take you discover in immersion the typical day of a Maiko, a Geisha apprentice in Kyoto! To accompany the video, I offer in this article a topo on the history and life of Geisha.

THE HISTORY OF THE GEISHA

Geisha is the subject of many mysteries and fabulations, especially in the West and what is a shame is that to explain what a Geisha is, we are constantly forced to start by explaining what it is not, that is, a luxury prostitute.

Different women artists have exercised over the centuries but the term Geisha appears for the first time in the 17th century, during the Edo period. It is a period of peace that follows centuries of civil war: Japan, now unified, can finally benefit from a lasting peace that allows the development of a large entertainment business regulated throughout the country with the creation of Yuukaku, pleasure districts where prostitution was legal and regulated.

yuukaky
In 1617, the Yuukaku were created, closed pleasure districts away from the cities.

There are different types of prostitutes and services there (to satisfy all budgets), ranging from ordinary courtesans (Yuujo) whose goal is just the sexual act to Oiran, very refined luxury prostitutes who also mastered the arts, could refuse clients and did not offer sex service until at least 3 dates.

oiran geisha
Comparison between Oiran and Geisha.

As you can see, the appearance of the Oiran recalls that of the Geisha with the face covered with white powder and the Kimono but we can easily differentiate them with their knot tied in front for the Oiran and behind for the Geisha. The Oiran have a much more sophisticated hairstyle and appearance than the Geisha who are rather sober.

The pleasure districts being very popular, customers waited in Ochaya, tea rooms where we drank while attending performances by Taikomochi, men who drummed, told stories and offered games to entertain customers. We then began to call these men Geisha, literally people of art.

taikomochi
The Taikomochi, these men who are the first Geisha …

The profession then welcomed women who were more and more numerous until it became exclusively female.

Where the Oiran offer their services at unaffordable prices and are very elitist, Geisha are much more accessible so their popularity is increasing, customers preferring to entertain their minds with a Geisha before going to see an ordinary prostitute rather than paying dearly for an Oiran.

So the profession of Geisha was born and developed in neighborhoods of pleasure but without touching prostitution even if, of course, some not very prestigious houses have indulged in it in secret. Moreover, to avoid any drift, in 1779 a law prohibits prostitution to Geisha and they will then move to districts dedicated to them, without prostitutes: the Hanamachi.

The Geisha then reached their peak at the beginning of the 20th century with more than 80,000 Geisha active in the 1920s. World War II, however, marks a serious blow to the world of Geisha, luxurious entertainment that is out of step with post-war misery. Many prostitutes also take advantage of the American presence to offer their services by calling themselves Geisha Girls to play on a refined image and thus get paid more, which has created great confusion in the West.

geisha girls
Among the Geisha Girls, there were also former Geisha from little reputable houses.

The number of Geisha has decreased from year to year and today there are only 1000 in the whole country even if we can note a revival in recent years.
This decrease is of course due to the fact that the life of Geisha hardly fits our modern and ultra-connected world but especially to the fact that in the past, we did not become Geisha by choice but by obligation. Many children were sold or kidnapped to become Geisha whereas today it is a real choice of life.

miyagawacho
Miyagawacho, one of Kyoto’s 5 Hanamachi.

Even today, the Geisha and Maiko live in dedicated quarters, the Hanamachi, the most famous being in Kyoto. They entertain their customers in Ochaya, tea rooms that only open their doors to regulars. You have to be introduced by someone in order to become a regular in turn.

ochaya shigemori
The Ochaya only open their doors to regulars.

THE STAGES OF THE LIFE OF A GEISHA

First of all, you have to join a house that we call Okiya, held by a Okaasan, the mother who runs the house. It is she who will take care of the training of the future Geisha as well as accommodation and food. These expenses will then be reimbursed as and when the future Geisha works.

We start as Shikomi, a young girl in apprenticeship who takes care of household chores and follows a training course. We used to start at 5-6 years old, but now it’s from 15 years old, after college, for about a year.

After its formation, the Shikomi becomes a Minarai, an apprentice Geisha but only as an observer for a period that varies between 2 weeks and 2 months.

Then she becomes a Maiko, apprentice Geisha whose dance performances are quite popular. The duration varies but it is usually up to 20 years.

Finally, the Maiko becomes a Geiko, an accomplished artist who can then leave home to go on her own once she has enough repeat customers. Note that the word ” Geiko Is the one used in Kyoto to qualify Geisha.

The differences between a Maiko and a Geiko.

In the past, the Geiko was sometimes taken care of by a Danna, a wealthy patron who covered all her expenses and could even buy her virginity, not to enjoy it (even if it could happen) but rather symbolically, as a sign of wealth and social success. This allowed him to pose as a good protector of the arts. Obviously that no longer exists but we can always find the principle of Danna with companies which sometimes sponsor Geisha or men who participate in several a bit like a kind of crowdfunding to support a Geisha.

maiko shigemori
The Maiko and Minarai of the Okiya of Shigemori.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MAIKO

So I spent a day following Fukunori San, a 17-year-old first year Maiko from Okiya of Shigemori, in the Hanamachi of Miyagawacho in Kyoto.

geisha life
A day in the life of an apprentice Geisha

An exciting day where she followed up greetings, training, preparation and the evening banquet. It is a mysterious and very closed world that was able to open its doors to us for a day and I hope that this video will make it possible to wring the necks of a lot of stubborn clichés on Geisha and above all to make people aware that behind the Maiko or the Geiko that we meet in the street, there is a young woman who dedicates her life to her art and her work.

I hope you will think of all of this the next time you come across a Geiko or Maiko on the street and you are not one of the ones chasing them, touching them or cliching them because it has become a real problem. in Kyoto and photos are now even banned in some neighborhoods.

He remains in Fukunori San for at least 3 more years as a Maiko before eventually becoming a Geiko and thus being freer. She will even be able to leave the house once she has reimbursed all the fees advanced by the Okaasan and has enough loyal customers to be a Jimae, a self-employed Geiko. She can then continue her career until she decides to retire by founding a family or by converting herself into an Okaasan from an Okiya for example.

fukunori san maiko
A day with Fukunori San

HOW TO ENJOY A MAIKO OR GEIKO SHOW

To enjoy a Maiko or Geiko evening, you have to be a regular at a house, it is not possible if you are not introduced by someone. But there are certain services that allow foreigners to enjoy it also: for example

  • the Maiko Theater, owned by the daughter of the Okaasan in the video, which offers Maiko shows to suit all budgets.
  • Geisha Japan, an association that allows for example to attend Maiko training sessions or to participate in a banquet.
maiko show
End of the show …

Here it was, it was an exceptional experience and I take this opportunity to thank the Mimaru Kyoto hotel for making it possible! 🙂

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