Geisha: Living Artifacts of the Past

One of the images we have about Japan is the allure and mystery of Japanese geisha. We see them in movies and programs about Japan. Demure, but maybe dangerous too. Very feminine, but in a way that is so different to the standards of “beauty” people think of in the West. They have a special place in culture and art, and while having been on the decline over the past few decades, there is a renewed interest in people deciding to learn more about geisha and more opportunities now than before for our guests and clients to meet and interact with these very unique and artistic women.

A few things to learn about geisha!

  1. Artistic Mastery: Geisha are highly skilled performers and artists who have mastered various traditional Japanese arts, including the tea ceremony (茶道, sadō), classical music (sankyoku), dance (nihonbuyo), and the art of conversation.
  2. Historical Origins: The term “geisha” (芸者) means “artist” or “person of the arts.” They originated in the 18th century as female entertainers in the pleasure districts of Japan.
  3. Distinctive Appearance: Geisha are known for their distinctive appearance, which includes wearing elaborate silk kimonos, traditional hairstyles, and white face makeup. The white makeup is meant to emphasize their beauty and create an air of mystery.
  4. Apprentice System: Young girls who aspire to become geisha undergo a rigorous and lengthy apprenticeship. They are known as “maiko” during this period, which can last for several years.
  5. Hair Ornaments: Geisha wear various hair ornaments, such as the “kanzashi,” which are decorative hairpins. The specific kanzashi worn can indicate the geisha’s rank and the changing seasons.
  6. Ochaya: Geisha entertain clients in traditional tea houses called “ochaya.” These establishments are exclusive and private, providing an intimate setting for geisha performances and conversation.
  7. Strict Etiquette: There are many rules and etiquette surrounding the interactions with geisha, including how clients should behave and what they can and cannot request from the geisha. We will advise you accordingly should you decide to have a dinner or lunch with geisha performance and entertainment.
  8. Declining Numbers: The number of geisha in Japan has been steadily decreasing over the years. In the early 20th century, there were thousands of geisha, but today, there are only a few hundred. Nevertheless, as Inbound Tourism grows, Kyoto is making a come-back in the geisha houses and training of new maiko and geisha.
  9. Modern Geisha: While traditional geisha are a rare sight, there are modern variations, known as “geiko” in Kyoto, who continue to preserve and practice traditional arts. Some geisha also engage in contemporary performances and activities.

Geisha are not only symbols of grace and artistry but also represent the preservation of Japan’s rich cultural heritage. They are the pride of Kyoto, and while we take guests to the Gion area where they reside and entertain it is possible to see them as they walk through the narrow streets, and also at various temples and shrines as well as they often attend a wide variety of social functions.

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