Geishas - personified artworks /Part 1/


2017-12-06 11:40 GMT+8

In a realm hidden behind a silk curtain lies a world forever frozen in time. A utopia overwhelmed with grace, luxury and beauty. Through each staggering evolution, the silhouette on the bamboo screen of the flower and willow domain are yet to change.

Rich red lips, tight hair, graceful movements and hidden secrets. Geishas are the sacred protectors of Japan’s culture, the past walking amongst the present. Living behind a wall of secrets, tucked in for centuries —the ancient rule of secrecy binds them to a life of promises and trust.

A geisha is an artist, whose main duty is to satisfy and entertain her hosts by her graceful manners and artistic values: dancing, singing, playing the shamisen (Japanese traditional instrument) and literature. Through hard work, perseverance and dedication only the elite were named Geisha. By the end of their hard training regime, they were considered personified artworks.

In the early 1600s, the once separated Japan was united under the dictatorship of Shogun; during those times, geishas were men assuming the roles of court gestures while females, resigning in the same establishment, were prostitutes. As time went on, the customers’ list of the prostitutes began to dwindle, with some receiving the regular number of customers, while others were receiving little to none. To attract more clients, forth came the first female geisha. Female geishas became so popular that later on they outnumbered the male geishas. This ritual continued until the geisha business was the only business that was run exclusively by women for men.

A system known as Kenban was arranged after the geisha occupation was legitimized. It served as a purpose to regulate and control the pay for geishas. The laws passed by the Kenban strictly forbade geishas to enter prostitution, hence every night officers would accompany them to their assigned teahouses, in doing so the geishas did not stray into prostitution. With such clean and strict legislations clearly showing that geishas were not prostitutes but are pure artists, the geisha profession grew popularity amongst the population.

As both prostitutes and geishas wore kimonos, it was difficult to differentiate one another. However, the most important factors that separated them were how they wore their obis (the Japanese traditional silk sash) and hair ornaments. Prostitutes would have their obis tied at the front, to make it easier for them to put on their outfits; as for their hair ornaments they would wear a range of flamboyant hair pieces. On the other hand, geishas wore their obis tied at the back and to complement their natural beauty, they bore much simpler hair ornaments.

After 250 years of the Shogun rule, samurais, who were against his oppression, had their meetings in the teahouses of the geishas. With the assistance of the geishas, the samurai overthrew Shogun.

When emperor Meiji took over in 1868, Japan was introduced to the industrial world, since the assistance of the geishas was vital for the uprising of the new age, the rank and prestige of geishas grew. They were adored, admired and aspired. No word could describe their blinding beauty. The most talented, fashionable and educated women were all geishas.

By the 1900s, geisha numbers swelled to 25,000. Within a few years, Japan had defeated Russia over the control of Korea. During the highly secretive negotiation, a banquet was thrown, a famous geisha called Okoi was sent to entertain and serve the Russian general and Japanese prime minister, Tarō Katsura. During the dance, the Russian general demanded the geisha’s obi sash, she kindly refused, this amazed the prime minister so much that he fell in love with her. For the first time in history, powerful men took geishas as brides. This opened a bridge for geishas to gain access to the highest powers in Japan. They were favored due to their elegant and graceful manner on how they were trained to serve men; however, with all those assets aside, they were highly sought out for their bind to secrecy.

Until the 1920s, geishas were the epitome of high class, they represented the highest form of manner for women. However, with the arrival of the western jazz genre came the western style of pixie cuts and formal attires. With vivid, dazzling and modern night club lights and beautiful show girls, ‘café girls’ became a craze due to their informal company, which cost much less than that of geishas. For the first time in history, the geisha faced a threat of modern competition--café girls. But in 1926, emperor Hirohito took the throne and announced western influence to be corrupt. Thus, nationalism reigned over Japan and geishas represented the best of Japan’s traditions, sparking the craze for geishas once more. They were worshipped as the symbol of Japan, which increased the number of geishas to 80,000 in the early 1930s.

The popularity of the geishas was impeccable. Little did they know what the future had in store for them could possibly have been the starting point for their impure stigma of today…

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