Leave your westerner self aside for a brief second and indulge yourself in discovering the depths of the exotic wonders of Japan, namely the mysterious geishas. Imagine warm colored cherry blossom trees surrounding you, a classical Japanese garden with a narrow river gently streaming around you while an experienced geisha tranquilly plays her shamisen. Add a traditional green tea to this soothing atmosphere and you are ready to discover what is not so conspicuous about the veiled geisha life.
1.Living under a code of silence
One of the first rules adhered to in their community is the one of silence. It is a known fact that whatever is said in the presence of a geisha is doubtlessly bound to remain a secret. This is crucial given the fact that their main scope is to entertain and accompany important men with countless secrets. Their rose petal lips are sealed, for their honor is at stake.
I’ve chosen this to be the first fact in this list exactly to emphasize the discretion air generated by them.
2. What do their dances mean?
Geisha means artist by definition ( “gei “meaning “art” and “sha” meaning “person who does”), and maiko, apprentice geishas, literally means “dancing child”. Hence a major part in their work is represented by dancing and singing. But does their dance mean anything? Actually, they recount whole stories. Most of them illustrate tales of geishas who sacrifice love for their art, which brings us to number 3:
3. Marriage, allowed?
Ever since she makes the decision to dedicate her life to being one, a geisha willingly accepts the fact that she won’t ever marry. They are bound to live clustered together under the same roof, similarly to sisterhoods (in some rare cases they can live alone if they are successful). However, it is not forbidden to wed, but by doing so you are compelled to forever quit your geisha life.
4. Are they solely women?
In point of fact, the first geishas were exclusively men. This until around 1750, when from the courtesan class the first female geisha, named Kikuya, emerged. Given the fact that the clients were just men, the woman entertainer was unquestionably more desirable. Unimaginably quick their influence prevailed and they outnumbered the male geisha (or taikomochi). Today there are less than 10 taikomochi in Japan.
5. Are they solely Asians?
Surprisingly given their commitment to tradition, there once was a western woman accepted into the community. Lisa Dalby, an american Anthropologist, shocked a few clients when they discovered that the geisha who was entertaining them was not in fact Japanese. However she was cordially treated amongst the other geishas in the house, and did not have any problem whatsoever. She has also written a few books on this bewildering experience, which I warmly recommend.
6. Why hide their curves?
I’ve always wondered why these gracious artists, who had to look as flawless as possible in order to please their wealthy clients, hid their waist with layers under and over the kimono. Compared to the western habit in which women wore incredibly tight bodices, regardless of the fact that they were incredibly hard to breath in, just so as to seem more slender, Japanese women seem to hide as much as possible. The reason lies in a major mentality difference, since in their conception beauty springs from gracious moves and utmost discretion.
“(…) the difference between revealed and hidden beauty. In short, woman’s dress in Europe and America is ornament made to cling to the curves of the body and bring out the beauty of those curves, isn’t it? The Japanese kimono wraps up the body and serves the purpose of hinting at its presence instead. And its color and design are ornaments to beautify the body’s canvas” (Kimodo-Japanese dress, Kenichi Kawakatsu)