Editor’s Note:Despite historical war and conflicts between China and Japan, Japanese culture has enjoyed a more prominent position in China and around the world. At a time when Nanjing Massacre has gained renewed interest in Canada, Katie Jia, a Canadian born girl, writes to shed light on one of Japan’s fascinating and entertaining forms of art – Geisha.
Canada is one of the most diverse countries today, with ethnicities ranging from Chinese to middle-eastern. Valuing our diversity, it is important we explore the various cultures of said ethnicities. One that has kept me truly fascinated for years is the cultivation of the Japanese Geisha.
Geisha, the iconic images of a woman throughout Japan. These traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostess serve as a purpose for the entertainment of men and sometimes women. The most common stigma associated with these beautiful entertainers is that they are prostitutes or “call girls”. However, this is far from what they truly are. Going through years of training in art, dance, and music, they are the entertainers in the Japanese art world, highlighting 400 years of Japanese culture.
Compared to Chinese cultures, many had the misconception that a geisha house and Chinese brothel shared similar professions. Chinese brothel houses have been a source of entertainment since Ancient China and its feudal period. Like geishas, Chinese prostitutes, or “courtesans” as they were known as, were well dressed, groomed and had proper table manners in which they also learned skills in the art of dance and musical instruments.
However, the secret life of a geisha is more than what meets the eye compared to that of a courtesan. Geishas go through years of extensive training, with the profession of being a geisha to be highly respected and difficult one. They hold a special honor system, climbing through the ranks to be a full-fledged geisha while courtesans are just talented entertainers who also provide sex services.
Geisha’s hold a sense of unattainable perfection. To obtain this, they go through years of training, the youngest starting at just the age of 5 or 6. In order to become a geisha, the first step for any girl is to be accepted into an okiya, a geisha house owned by woman who help finance the training of geisha’s.
The vigorous training has the same time span as it takes to become a doctor. Six years is dedicated to art, dance, music, and tea ceremonies, in which they are called okiya’s at the time. Once she has completed several years of studying the behavior of a geisha, she is then brought by her onee-san (a mentor) to parties where she will not entertain, but remain quiet and observe how geisha interact with men. At this point, she is a maiko and will make her debut as a geisha when she finally establishes relationships with the customers.
The path to becoming a Geisha is like completing womanhood. These girls who are brought up from such a young age live and breathe their geisha culture and training. Compared to that of a courtesan, despite both being entertainers, the two professions live in completely different worlds.
With distinctive hair styles, pale white skin and blood red lips, they are from an area we mere mortals don’t have access to. Even after 400 years, the iconic image of a geisha still surround Japan, mainly area’s in Kyoto, and is still recognized around the world.
A geisha’s purpose is to entertain men at parties and events which raises the question “why is a Geisha different than say a stripper/prostitute in North America?” What’s truly fascinating about geisha’s is their preserved beauty and their value.
A geisha is like a porcelain doll, a valued piece of art that is to be admired and preserved where as a stripper per say, is like a Barbie doll. They are used as pure entertainment, and once they have served their purpose they aren’t needed anymore and aren’t kept in the future. Because of their background and extensive training, a geisha, who will never have relationships physically or emotionally with clients, a looked upon as art.
We value these traditional entertainers almost god-like and have the utmost respect and honor for them. Even though a prostitute has the same purpose, that being a source of entertainment predominantly for men, we see them as the lower classes of society and have little to no respect for them.
However, Japan is a country that is constantly looking towards the future. Geisha’s have seen a drop in their population while their world is becoming outmoded. Their iconic looks and beauty has attracted attention throughout the world. The years of culture that they represent, the secretive world of geishas will continue to live on.
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