Memoirs of Geisha by YouCoJapan
Who is a Geisha?
A geisha is a traditional Japanese performer often confused with prostitutes and courtesans. They are quite distinguishable in a crowd due to their make ups, dress, hairstyle, calm demeanor and elegant dance performance. The geisha performance arts emerged in the mid 18th century in Japan but still have a very strong hold in their culture although not very widespread. Japanese peoples’ love for culture has not let this performance art die or fade out with time.
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The word Geisha means?
The word Geisha consists of two separate words; “Gei” meaning “Art” and “Sha” meaning “Doer and Performer”. This easily translates into English as performing artists. In Kyoto, a completely trained Geisha is called “Geiko”. Geisha still under training are called “Maiko” which can be translated into English as dancing child.
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Training of a Geisha
Geisha traditionally start training at a very young age. In its earlier days, girls were sold to Okiya (Geisha Houses) where these children were trained to act walk and perform even look like a Geisha. Parents did so to secure the future of their children rather than upbringing them in poor households. In the days that followed, girls from middle class families also started to opt for this training willingly. There are 4 stages of Geisha training:
In the first stage Young girls are mostly given small errands of the Okikya to run and help senior geishas dress and undress before and after an engagement, sometimes even in late hours. This stage is set to ‘make’ or ‘break’ the young girls.
Once proved her worth through a difficult dance exam, the recruit is then promoted to Minarai stage which relieves her of the house errands and focuses on the field training. Minarai do not perform at parties or engagements but are often accompanied by senior geishas to such parties to observe what is expected of them in the future to come. They wear much elaborate gowns then the Maiko which easily tells people that they are at Minarai stage. This lasts a month or two.
Maiko is the apprenticeship stage and can last for very long periods often years. During this training, Maikos are taught how to serve tea, talk with clients, play shamisen, please them with their dance and most importantly typical geisha dance moves. This is the most important and tough stage because the future of a geisha depends on her training. This training is given by senior geisha mentor who also help them choose their professional name.
After the senior mentor is satisfied and a suitable time has been spent in training of the Maiko, she is promoted to a full fledged Geisha. This promotion can be after 6 years or maybe less depending on the adaptability and learning skills of the maiko. Now she can charge full price for her services and performance and is a geisha for life time.
Geisha still dwell in Okiyos and still learn to play musical instruments pertaining to Geisha world. Although not many girls in Japan now aspire to become a geisha, this performance art is slowly moving towards a decline. Many geishas are still summoned to parties but they fear extinction as other performance arts take root in Japan.