Snapping Geisha in Gion, Kyoto

Kyoto.

Kyoto, meaning “capital city”

Kyoto used to be Japan’s capital when the Emperors used to live there from 794 to 1868.

During the wars, Kyoto had been rather damaged, but was thankfully spared from the list of atomic bombing cities due to its historic value!

When most people think of Japan, temples, shrines, ‘zen’, sushi, geishas and samurai are probably the first things that come to mind (as well as Pokemon, for my generation at least). Kyoto has that distinct traditional charm that makes Japan something very special. Please read some history before visiting Kyoto, and relish in the details. It’s unsettling when visitors don’t appreciate the beauty behind this ancient city. It deserves a little research before you visit. You will appreciate it more if you do.

Anyway, Kyoto is famously known as the “place to see geisha”. Don’t get the idea that they are all walking around all over the city though! No way! Keep your eyes open when you walk around Gion, the geisha district, and you may get lucky to see a few scurrying around to their next appointment with their tidy hair and white makeup faces.

The kanji for ‘gei’ means art, and ‘sha’ means person. Don’t be silly and assume the Japanese tourists in kimonos are geisha—I don’t think it’s that hard to tell the difference.

And by the way, geisha are not prostitutes. They are living works of art—dedicating their lives to be traditional art performers. They play shamisen (a Japanese guitar like instrument of 4 strings), dance, make tea, make flower arrangements, and are supposively master conversationalists and entertainers. They are very hard-working and talented women, historically existing to entertain men.

The beginnings come from the early 600’s. Many families were displaced, and as a result, the girls would wander around. Some would get by by doing sexual favors, others would entertain at high class gatherings. They were called saburuko girls. Many ‘entertainment’ shops, opened up, where sex was sold. However, when the capital moved to Kyoto, this work grew to a more noble status. These brothel like places moved towards other types of entertainment, such as dancing, singing, etc. Less emphasizes was on sex, and the profession of entertainment began—the first ‘geisha’ being men. The female geisha rose from teenage dancing girls, odoriok, who would dance for upper-class samurai. After they passed their teenage years they were no longer able to call themselves that name so they began to call themselves geisha and entertain alongside the male geisha. However, because of the competition of the older sexual houses, geisha were not allowed to sell sex. Some slept with their male customers and some only entertained. Prostitution was made illegal in the 1900s. After WWII, the geisha were sent off to work in factories to help with the war and after that, the image and work of geisha sharply declined.

But don’t they sleep with people for money? Well, some used to sell their virginity, or mizuage, for a lot of money. If they were lucky, this man will become their ‘danna’ who will shower them with gifts, money, kimonos, even pay rent for them for years to come. They don’t live together, because usually the man is married and a geisha is not a wife anyway, she is an entertainer. But he could come visit, or they could go on trips together, etc.

I find it interesting that the geisha is like the opposite of the wife. The ideal Japanese wife used to be modest, responsible and humble and quiet. The geisha’s role was to be proud, showing off their skills, and carefree. If you are interested, I recommend reading one of my favorite books, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, to get a different perspective. It’s fictional but girls an amazing insight on the life and culture of a geisha. I have read this book 2 or 3 times now, and would love to read it again. I’m also a fan of the movie, so if you don’t like to read give the movie a watch!

Anywho, here are some snap shots from Geisha-hunting.

Immaturely, this reminds me of Pokemon Snap for Gameboy xD

It’s such an exciting feeling when you see them shuffling around!

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