Geisha is written 芸者 in Japanese Kanji. The word 芸 “Gei” means arts, and 者 “sha” means person in Japanese. It is also known as 芸子 “Geiko”, or 芸妓 “Geigi”, 子 “ko” means child, and 妓 “gi” means female singer in Japanese. So, Geisha literally means Japanese female entertainers in Japanese. They usually use their skills of music, dance, and conversation to entertain male customers in Japan. So, let’s learn a bit more about them!
It is known that Geisha came from saburuko jobs in the past. Saburuko or “serving girls” were wandering girls who were used to pour sake and entertain some customers in cafés or bars in Japan. Some of them also sold sexual services, while the others made a better living by entertaining at high-class social gatherings, such as businessmen and politicians.
On around 16th century, Saburuko had divided in two groups, Oiran and Tayuu. Oiran got famous because of their erotic dances and the fact that they allowed the customers to have intimate relationships with them. Tayuu were different, as they didn’t have intimate relationships with customers, but they got famous because of their skills of playing instruments, singing, and dancing. Finally, on the 18th century, the first entertainers of the pleasure quarters, called Geisha appeared.
Surprisingly, the first Geishas were men. The first woman known to have called herself Geisha was a Fukugawa prostitute.
There was a Geisha ranking system in Japan. It is known as Gokagai of Kyoto, the five districts of Geisha, which is also known as Hanamachi. “Hana” means flower and “machi” means town in Japanese. So, Hanamachi literally means flower town in Japanese. Those five districts are Gion Kobu, Pontocho, Kamishichiken, Gion Higashi, and Miyagawa-cho. The first three districts (Gion Kobu, Pontocho, and Kamishichiken) are the highest status and very expensive. Businessmen and politicians frequent them, while the two others (Gion Higashi and Miyagawa-cho) are considered to be the lower rank of Geisha.
Training to Become an Elite Geisha
Japanese girls who were to become Geisha were bonded to Geisha houses since they were children, at around nine years old. An apprentice of Geisha is called Maiko and is bonded under contract to her Okiya (Geisha house). In the Okiya, their life was supplied well, such as food, kimonos, board, and etc. Because of the cost of the training to be Geisha was expensive, their debt had to be repaid to their Okiya with the earnings they made. When their debt was settled, they were allowed to move out to work independently.
Iwasaki Mineko, a former famous Geisha, said : “Geishas are not submissive and subservient, but in fact they are some of the most financially and emotionally successful and strongest women in Japan, and traditionally have been so.”Don’t you believe so ?