Monday, June 28, 2010

Geisha girls in Japan


Geisha , Geishaor Geiko , Geiko
are traditional, female Japanese
whose skills include performing various Japanese arts, such as classical music
and dance. Contrary to popular belief, geisha are not prostitutes.

“Geisha girls”

“Geisha girls”
(pronounced “geesha”), also known as “panpan girls,” were Japanese women who worked as prostitutes
during the period of the Allied Occupation of Japan. They almost
exclusively serviced American GIs stationed in the country. The
term is a mispronunciation of the word geisha. The mispronunciation persists
among some westerners.

Adding to the confusion is
the fact that these women dressed in kimono and imitated
the look of geisha. Americans unfamiliar with the culture of Japan did not know
the difference between these costumed prostitutes and actual geisha. Shortly after their arrival in 1945, occupying American GIs
are said to have congregated on the Ginza
and shouted in unison “We want geesha girls!”

Eventually, the term
“geisha girl” became a general word for any female Japanese
prostitute or worker in the mizu shobai, and included bar hostesses
and streetwalkers.

Geisha girls are speculated
by researchers
to be largely responsible for the continuing misconception in the West that
geisha are prostitutes.

Modern geisha
Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses
called okiya in areas called hanamachi
“flower towns”, particularly
during their apprenticeship. Many experienced geisha are successful enough
choose to live independently. The elegant, high-culture world that geisha are a
part of is called karyūkai (”the flower and willow world”).

Young women who wish to become geisha
now most often begin their training after completing junior high
school or even high school or college,
with many women beginning their careers in adulthood. Geisha still study
traditional instruments like the shamisen, shakuhachi (bamboo flute), and drums, as well as traditional
songs, Japanese traditional dance, tea ceremony, literature and poetry. By
watching other geisha, and with the assistance of the owner of the geisha house,
apprentices also become skilled in the complex traditions surrounding selecting
and wearing kimono,
and in dealing with clients.

Kyoto is considered by many to be where
the geisha tradition is the strongest today, including Gion Kobu. The geisha in
these districts are known as geiko. The Tokyo hanamachi of Shimbashi,
and Kagurazaka
are also well known.
In modern Japan, geisha and
maiko are now a rare sight outside hanamachi. In the 1920s there were
over 80,000 geisha in Japan, but today there are far fewer. The exact number is
unknown to outsiders, and is estimated to be from 1,000 to 2,000, mostly in the
resort town of Atami. Most common are sightings of tourists
who pay a fee to be dressed up as a maiko.

A sluggish economy, declining interest
in the traditional arts, the exclusive nature of the flower and willow world,
and the expense of being entertained by geisha have all contributed to the
tradition’s decline.

Geisha are often hired to attend
parties and gatherings, traditionally at tea houses (ochaya)
or at traditional Japanese restaurants (ryōtei).
Their time is measured by the time it takes an incense stick to burn, and is
called senkōdai ( “incense stick fee”) or gyokudai
(”jewel fee”). In Kyoto the terms “ohana”
(”hanadai”, meaning “flower fees”, are preferred. The
customer makes arrangements through the geisha union office (kenban),
which keeps each geisha’s schedule and
makes her appointments both for entertaining and for training.

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