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Japanese Culture >> Geisha

Geisha: A Beautiful Aspect of Japanese Culture

Geishas are one of the symbols of Japanese tradition. However, Geisha art only became well known worldwide after the Second World War. Some Geishas even became very famous and were admired as much as film stars nowadays. Nevertheless the Geisha life still remains a secret. Geishas seem to live in their own world which has its own principles and the Japanese give much respect to this. Though a Geisha is not prohibited from telling the outside world about her life, it seems to be an unspoken rule that a Geisha, after her retirement, will never tell anyone about her past and keep her life a secret until the day of her death.

Many people have a misconception that Geishas are prostitutes. This is completely wrong. The word "
Geisha" is the combination of two parts: in Japanese, "Gei" means art, performance and "Sha" means a person. Therefore Geisha means a person who performs Japanese traditional arts. They are real artists who can play different kinds of musical instruments, sing and dance, perform the tea ceremony, arrange flowers, chant poems and especially be an expert in wearing traditional kimonos. Geishas also have very good conversation skills and many even can speak English in order to entertain foreign guests.

Geishas live in houses called okiyas. The leader of each okiya is called Okami, who used to be a Geisha. She has the duty of taking care of Geishas and trainees, doing the accounting work and getting connections with the teahouses where Geishas work or do their internship. Young girls who want to become Geishas are sent to a special school where they can learn essential skills. All living and studying expenses of these prospective Geishas are noted carefully by the Okami and they have to be paid back when the girls become professional Geishas. The training is very harsh and often takes about six years. After that, the trainee Geisha is called Maiko and will go with a head Geisha to teahouses to get familiar with the customers. A Maiko later has to choose whether she wishes to become a professional Geisha or not, because a Geisha cannot get married at any time of her life.

Nowadays there are still Geishas entertaining at hotels and restaurants in Japan. However, fewer and fewer girls want to become Geishas now due to the rigorous and time-consuming training. That's a pity because Geishas are not only talented entertainers but also have been considered an important part of Japanese culture, to the outside world.

About the Author

Michael Russell. Your Independent guide to Japan.