The historically significant role of the Geisha.


The culture of the Japanese is distinct and includes the kabuki theatre and the samurai. One of the most unique aspects is the geisha. This beautiful tradition empowered Japan when the world was without power. The meaning of the word geisha is performance person. They entertained the Japanese during the Edo Period of the 1600’s. The typical perception of a geisha is a woman in a kimono with a white face and a bun. This is not a fair representation because it take many years to become a geisha. The training begins when the girl is a teenager and transforms her into entertainment for high society.

The first step to becoming a geisha is making the decision. The training originally started at thirteen but due to the law now begins at sixteen. This path requires the girl to leave home, undergo intense schooling and work for a teahouse. This is where the geisha traditionally entertain. The girl lives in a geisha house or an okiya. The trainers are referred to as maiko and teach the girls how to sing, play instruments and dance. Learning to play traditional Japanese instruments provides prestige for these girls. They additionally learn the proper social skills and customs. Each girl is assigned an older sister or an “one-san”. This relationship forms into a bond for life.

Geisha history goes back to the early 1600’s. The focus of the government was morality so a license was necessary for all prostitutes and entertainers. The acceptable areas were generally on the outskirts of the city and were referred to as the pleasure quarters. These areas were under government control and encased with walls. Geisha entertainment was originally only for men. The majority of geisha were not female until 1750. The geisha mostly worked in teahouses and entertained the customers. The Tempo Reforms were established by the government in 1842. This reform wanted all ladies of pleasure to obtain proper employment. The pleasure quarters were strictly governed until 1851. The geishas were able to continueing working in the tea houses because they set the tables.

The golden age of the geisha was during the 1860’s. The tea houses offered an environment both respectable and desirable. During this period the Geisha often set the trends. October of 1872 saw the establishment of the Emancipation of Geisha and Prostitutes. Geishas were once again asked to find a proper occupation. The role of the geisha changed in 1875. A Spring Festival was established by the mayor of Kyoto to bring back the city’s spirit. The geisha performed the dances and were established as public entertainers. In 1886 geisha fees were standardized. Government regulations taxed the entertainment and maintained control in the pleasure quarters. These quarters became a way to spend money and leisure time.

The geisha became an established group in 1895. The Sino-Japanese War during 1895 was victorious and the demand for entertainment increased. The National Conference of the Confederation was formed to coordinate the geisha houses with the wartime activities. The National Confederation of Geisha Houses was established several years later. This established standards and rules for the geisha. The geisha were prosperous during the 1890’s and become the true spirit of Japan. By 1898 there were 25,000 geisha. The population continued to increase from 1905 through 1920. This represented the highest point of the geisha.

The geisha struggled during the 1920’s due to the modernization of the country. The western clothing of the 1920’s and 1930’s caused the geisha to fall out of fashion. The traditional entertainment and dress are now only for special occasions and holidays. The numbers of the geishas are diminishing quickly.


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