Hey guys. I know you don’t know me but I think that’s okay. In response to seeing the recent comps displaying examples of people of different cultures I’ve recently decided I would like to start a series of informational comps about people who keep traditions alive within their communities. This includes people who take preserving the cultural aspects of the area around them as a career. What I would like to do is put out one comp per month as I would like to give myself time to research the cultural people in depth enough so I’m not just talking out of my ass. If I ever happen to get something wrong, please feel free to correct me and I’ll correct myself where appropriate. I also highly encourage you to leave me suggestions of cultural preservationists you would like to hear about.
The debut of one of the most famous Geisha of her time, Mineko Iwasaki (Roughly 50 years ago)
To start off I wanted to debut my series with a cultural profession I personally find very interesting, and that is the Geisha culture.
First a little history. The Geisha profession has been around for the past 400 years. Originally practiced exclusively by men as entertainers to patrons who waited for the courtesans’ arrival. (Which I may go into more detail in another comp) Women soon saw the opportunity and made the good prediction that patrons would get more entertainment from watching females preform rather than fellow males (As men were exclusive patrons of courtesans for obvious reasons) so women quickly took over.
Over time the professions of Geisha and courtesans slowly split apart as Geisha developed their own culture and while they did continue to entertain waiting patrons for the courtesans they acquired patrons of their own. Despite popular belief Geisha were in fact not prostitutes. Sex was not a part of their job description, though in the early days it is likely that some Geisha did cross the line and accepted payment for sex, however professionals who were found doing that were likely removed from the community.
One question that seems to strike many people is regarding “Mizuage” or the deflowering of a girl once she comes of age and while the thought of purchasing the “first time” of a young artist might be exciting for some, that’s not how it was done. For apprentices (Called Maiko in Kyoto and Hangyoku in Tokyo) the deflowering was a cultural affair much like a Barmitzva in the Jewish community and all girls were encouraged to take the leap that lead them to adulthood and money was not part of it. Instead, an okiya (The house that provided for the apprentice and into her Geisha-hood) would choose someone who was trusted and was a regular patron of the apprentice as she went through her training, as they didn’t just want to throw them at a stranger based on the amount of money they had. At the end of the day, it was the apprentices choice as to whether or not she wanted to go through with the act or not (Though in the past she would likely not graduate to Geisha status or “adulthood” in the eyes of the profession or community.)
Two young Maiko before WWII
From the past to today there have been a lot of changes. While primarily, apprentices could be adopted by the Okiya and start their training at a very young age, these days they have to wait until they graduate high school to start training to be a Maiko or Hangyoku at 15 at the earliest. Also, Mizuage has long been taken out of the culture. Notice I’m not using gender based pronouns, well that’s because there are no sex related confines when it comes to joining the profession. In fact there is a male Geisha practicing today named Geisha Eitaro-san. While he wears the female regalia of his fellow Geisha sisters while preforming, outside of the teahouses and theaters, he looks like any other Japanese man and while some would think this would be a disadvantage, he’s very popular and actually is the owner of his own Okiya! Geisha and courtesans have also long ago split ways, eventually courtesans like Oiran eventually went extinct leaving only the Geisha (Though there is a close cultural cousin called the Tayuu that I may make an informational comp on).
Male Geisha Eitaro-san on the left
The path from Apprentice to Geisha takes roughly 5 years, starting from Shikomi (A maid of sorts while they start taking their classes until they take a test that they MUST pass) to their debut as Maiko (Or Hangyoku if they’re from the Tokyo area), through the ranks, and finally becoming Geisha (Geiko in Kyoto). Keep in mind, Geisha and Maiko are not nuns. They’re not celibate. They can have sex, they just can’t charge for it, they have to do it on their off time, and considering how difficult and jam packed their days are, they usually find it hard to find relationships that get to the point of sexual, they just can’t charge for the act and it cannot happen while they’re working.
Maiko Satsuki-san during her first year of training. She is currently the most successful Maiko in Gion Kobu
Some may ask “With all this fuss what is it that Geisha do?” Well, the name says it all. Geisha roughly translates to “Arts Person” they’re artists. Skilled in the traditional Japanese arts of dance, singing, playing a plethora of instruments, tea ceremony, and general entertainment. They entertain their guests with these arts and traditional games, like Konpira fune fune.
Former Maiko Fukusato-san playing Konpira fune fune
The Geisha culture is in danger with modernization but with the opening up of this secretive world, including some okiya and hanamachi accepting foreigners and one time guests rather than regulars, they’re numbers are in a slight upcurve since the past few years, while the numbers used to be around 80,000 in the past, the number of those practicing today is roughly only 1000 resulting in those who practice and who are successful being likened to celebrities complete with fan clubs and people watching their careers all over the world.
Maiko Tomitae-san and Maiko Mameroku-san at the famous World Club in Kyoto. It's become quite trendy to invite Maiko to clubs
I hope you enjoyed this. Any questions you have will be answered as thoroughly as I can and will be stickied for other people's interest. Please leave a cultural preservationist career you know of and I will take them in consideration for other comps.
Retired Geiko Mamehana-san to finish the comp off!