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5 Surprising Geisha Facts

The Not So Secret and Not So Sensual World Revealed

By Jessica RifflePublished 5 years ago 4 min read

They Aren't Sex Workers.

This might be one of the most common myths and one that was helped along by the book Memoirs of a Geisha, which was written by a man who had hardly any real contact with Geisha and traditional Japanese society. Explaining the role of Geisha in cultures where they don't exist is also very hard, which might have led to people assuming they were sex workers at first. Geisha are artists, literally. They keep the arts of spoken poetry, brush painting, traditional music, dance, and instruments alive. These are all pursuits that require the support of others and that take a long time to master. Geisha also train in the art of speaking and in social graces.

Once they debut, the point of a Geisha is basically to be an artist who embodies the perfect, easy to talk to, mildly funny, and always out of reach woman. Even at 50 years old, they are still attending school in the morning and working in the evenings, meeting with clients who are like any other consumers of the arts.

Most Wear Wigs

While most people who see a Geisha are amazed at their perfectly coifed hair and pillows for sleeping with your hair like that do exist, they actually very rarely wear their actual hair that way. One exception is during the first year that they debut, when they wear the traditional hairstyle before transitioning to a wig. While the most common reason given for this is that the hair pieces and materials used are heavy and can cause unwanted neck strain, the fact that things like hot wax, lye, and traditional curling irons are used to create perfect hairstyles also plays a big part in these decisions. I know when faced with an iron straight out of the fire and a vat of hot wax to pull through my hair I would choose to wear a wig. This has led to big industries both in the creation of wigs, but also in their sale and collection after use. Most of the wigs that are used during the period of a Geisha's work life are eventually bought by collectors. Unlike kimono and hair pieces, they are not kept by the Okiya and are generally not wanted by the women who retire,

You Can't Just Suddenly Become Their Client

I regularly see people who post that they are going to Gion in Kyoto or that they want to learn how to meet Geisha, and the real truth is that you can't. Outside of yearly performances, becoming the client of a Geisha is by invitation only.

This is both because most people who patronize them are from old families who take their children to meet the Geisha, and because Japan has a very strong culture based upon introduction and vouching for each other. To become their client, and to dine at some of the most exclusive and old school restaurants, you would first need to make friends with someone who already patronizes them. Next, you would need to be invited along several times and show yourself to be of good character and get along with the Geisha within the tea house, event, or river boat trip. Finally, you would receive an invitation to become one of their patrons, at which time you could begin to book time with them at any of the venues that they work at. This may seem like an odd way to conduct business, but it does ensure that Geisha are not overworked, that they know exactly who they are going to be seeing, and that they feel comfortable in all situations.

They Have A Registry And Rules And Regulations

Geisha in each ward actually register themselves with the local authorities and in some cases there are other associations as well. These control the age that someone can start training and debut at, the rates that people charge, and even set forward the punishments for misconduct. They are often connected with groups that aim to preserve cultural heritage and the regulations are often unspoken rules that would be rarely violated in the first place.

While individuals who have gone and founded their own houses can claim to be Geisha, the fact that they have not been accepted by these regulatory bodies and the fact that they are unable to pass many of the tests shows otherwise.

However, this doesn't mean that it is easy to find who is or isn't an active Geisha, as the houses and "mothers" themselves are the ones who are registered, with each house keeping their rosters after that point. In addition, names that are submitted to the central registry are kept there forever, making it hard to tell who is active and who is not.

They Live Extremely Modern Lives Outside Of Work

Many of the women who work or worked as Geisha have Instagrams, take trains, are seen on their cell phones, and otherwise enjoy the modern world. Many shows and people seek to show them as isolationists who have rejected the modern, when most Geisha have simply found a way to blend the two. Amusingly, more and more advertisements for products either used by or endorsed by Geisha are starting to make their way into the main stream, meaning that this perception may soon change. Thank for reading, and hopefully you learned something


About the Creator

Jessica Riffle

33, First Nation's in diaspora from home. Mother of cats. Prone to random relocation and mood changes.Business inquiries; [email protected]

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