Geisha, also known as geiko or geigi, are traditional Japanese women known for their mastery of various arts such as music, dance, games, and conversation. They are iconic symbols of Japan and are renowned worldwide for their elegance and beauty. The term Geisha, a combination of “gei” meaning art and “sha” meaning person, hails from the Tokyo dialect and has been embraced by European languages. In standard Japanese, the term used is “geigi” which translates to artist. However, in the Kansai dialect they are referred to as “geiko”, meaning child or girl of art. During their training, geishas in Tokyo may also be referred to as “hangyoku” or “oshaku”, while in Kyoto, they are known as “maiko”, meaning dance girl.
The Origins of the Geisha Tradition
The geisha tradition dates back to the early 18th century in Japan’s Edo period, where a cultural and artistic bloom emerged. Wealthy merchants and their wives sought to partake in the capital’s cultural and social life, leading to the rise of the odoriko performer. By the early 1700s, some odoriko began to offer sexual services alongside their performances. Kikuya, a prostitute and talented singer and shamisen player from Fukagawa, became the first woman to identify as a “geisha” around 1750. She paved the way for female geisha to gain recognition for their entertainment skills and often worked with male geisha in the same establishments.
The Process of Becoming a Geisha
Becoming a geisha is a long and challenging process, beginning with the training of a “maiko,” or apprentice geisha. A young girl is taken in by a “okiya,” or geisha house, where she trains under the guidance of an experienced geisha, or “oneesan.” Training entails learning traditional Japanese arts, such as music, dance, tea ceremony, and entertaining guests. The maiko gradually integrates into the geisha world and makes public appearances before becoming a full-fledged “geiko” after completing her training. Geiko’s skills are continuously honed throughout their career.
The Geisha’s Role in Society
Geisha have been a significant part of Japanese society, serving as companions to the wealthy and powerful and entertaining guests at social events. Today, they still entertain at banquets and events, but also serve as cultural ambassadors for Japan and perform abroad.
The Geisha’s Distinctive Look
Geisha’s appearance holds great symbolic value. Their white face makeup, made from rice powder and wax, creates a smooth complexion, and red lipstick and accents on the eyes and eyebrows enhance their beauty. Their hairstyle, a severe yet elegant chignon with hair ornaments, takes hours to create. The traditional kimono, made of silk, is brightly colored and decorated, tied with an obi in a large bow.
In conclusion, geisha are an integral part of Japan’s culture and history, valued for their traditional arts skills and beauty. Although their role has evolved, they continue to play a vital part in Japanese society.