The Geisha: the prostitute of Japan?
Hello everyone! I’m sorry i haven’t had a chance to write lately but i’ve been really busy with college. At any rate, i recently watch the movie Memoirs of a Geisha and am now reading the book. Although i consider myself a Japanese fanatic, or a weebo as one of my friends so delicately put it, i really didn’t know about one of the most cultural aspects to have somewhat survived in Japan – the Geisha. When most people, particularly Americans, think of a geisha, they immediately think that a geisha is the equivalent to a prostitute. However, based on the research done by the author of Memoirs, this was not the full truth. According to Arthur Golden, a geisha is a woman who entertains men with conversation, dance and music, but also has to sell her virginity to the highest bidder. After doing some research of my own, i found out that the geisha of Japan were actually very sophisticated and cultured women who practiced many arts, flower-arranging NOT being one of them. Furthermore, the practice of selling one’s viriginity, or mizuage, was not real. In fact, a mizuage actually consisted of a tea ceremony and a different hair cut to symbolize one’s coming of age.
After going into my research, i began to wonder why many people have the misconception that geisha are prostitutes when i can upon a startling find. Back in the hay day, or during WWII to be more precise, many American soldiers were stationed in Japan, and Japanese women (meaning geisha and prostitutes) were stumbling over themselves for a chance to be able to entertain these men and gain some sort of higher status – to clarify, geisha simply wished to continue to practice their art, not sleep with these men. Thus, the “geisha girl” was born. Geisha girls were actually prostitutes who dressed like geisha, BUT wore the traditional obi, or the band that held their kimono together in the front (for easy removal since it could take up to an hour to arrange an obi correctly for a real geisha), and they also fashioned their hair a different way.
With the girl on the left, you will notice her obi is tied in the box fashion, while the girl on the right has the sash fashion. It is important to note that both of these girls are prostitutes, which can also be seen from their hair.
When the soldiers began coming to Japan, prostitutes began dressing more similarly to geisha, with a few differences, as stated above. However, the American soldiers couldn’t tell the differences between the girls, as they probably only saw the white face make up as a distinguishing feature. Just to clarify, I’m for once not blaming Americans for their ignorance as i realize how difficult it can be to distinguish people from a completely different culture. To these Americans, they were probably trying to distinguish different types of foods, forget about the people. At any rate, the soldiers, in their unknowing-ness began calling these women “Geisha girls” and the word forever became synonymous with the word geisha. Even today, when foreigners see real geisha, they still call them “geisha girls.” I can bet you that if you go out onto the street and ask someone what a geisha is, they will either reply that they do not know, or that it is a prostitute.
I’d like to point out that a lot of this knowledge would not be available to me, and thus you, if it wasn’t for 1) Mrs. Mineko Iwasaki, who had to bear through many horrendous things because of Mr. Arthur Golden’s inability to follow a contract, and for her book Geisha, A Life, which although i have yet to read, made me realize how many of Mr. Golden’s details were incorrect, and 2) Mr. Okinawa Soba, whose flickr account made many interesting details about the lives of geisha and prostitutes available to me. Three of the URLs i used were:
I’d also like to point out just HOW difficult it is to find a picture of a formally and correctly dressed geisha, and a japanese prostitute. Well, I hoped this article brought some light upon the subject. Furthermore, I really don’t have much feedback from anyone about how i’m doing with these articles, and as i’ve never done anything like this before, i would very much appreciate any comments, feelings, questions, discrepancies, criticisms or whatever else it is that you can think of! In closing, I will leave you some pictures of ACTUAL geisha, and you can compare the differences for yourself. Thank you!