Japanese Culture Teaching Notes



It's believed that the women who danced for warriors in the 11th century are the predecessors of geisha. Geisha girls and women are trained in a number of traditional skills; Japanese ancient dance, singing, playing instruments (a three stringed instrument called shamisen is an essential instrument), flower arrangement, wearing kimono, tea ceremony, calligraphy, conversation, alcohol serving manners, and more. Even after becoming a geisha girl, they keep improving their skills by taking many lessons. Nowadays, there are geisha girls and women who learn English conversation to serve English-speaking customers and learn computer skills.

Geisha District and Geisha House (o-chaya)

The districts where many geisha girls and women gather are called hana-machi. Some hana-machi were developed near temples and shrines where many o-chaya are located. Geisha used to entertain visitors at o-chaya. The o-chaya type of teahouse is completely different from those shops that merely serve tea or coffee. It's a sort of banquet house, which rents rooms for dinner parties. An o-chaya is usually a small Japanese-style house with wooden doors and tatami floors or Japanese-style gardens. Some o-chaya also train geisha and are places for maiko (young geisha girl) to live and go to work. Those o-chaya are called okiya.

To Become a Geisha in Japan

Since there aren't many people who want to endure the hard training necessary to become a geisha girl, the number of geisha is decreasing. Young girls who wish to become a geisha girl are usually introduced to an o-chaya through someone who has a connection to the teahouse.

The head woman of an o-chaya, called okami, interviews the girl with her parents, explaining how the training goes. If the okami accepts the girl as an apprentice to her o-chaya, the girl can begin her training immediately and live in the o-chaya if she has graduated from a middle school. Once a girl becomes a geisha trainee, she can't quit for 5 to 6 years. While helping with the chores and errands of the house, the young girl learns customs and social skills and begins music and dance lessons. After about a half-year, she becomes a young geisha girl called maiko (15-20 year old girls).

A maiko accompanies a geisha on her appointments to get to know the customers. Maiko girls wear a colorful kimono with long sleeves and high wooden shoes. Usually, when a maiko becomes 20 years old, she decides whether she will quit or become a geisha. If she gets married, she has to quit the job. If a maiko girl decides to become a geisha, the ceremony called "erigae" (literally means changes of collars) is held.

How to Party with Geisha in Japan

If a customer wants to call a geisha girl to a party, he/she asks the okami of an o-chaya, then the okami lets a management office (yakata) know about the request. The charge for calling the geisha girls is called "o-hanadai"

Unless you are referred by someone who is already a customer of an o-chaya, you aren't allowed to enter. O-chaya are very exclusive places. The charge for the service is billed to the customer from the o-chaya later, so it's important for the o-chaya to have a trusting relationship with customers. O-chaya don't do business with a newcomer without the proper referral. However, many well-known restaurants and Japanese inns in Kyoto have some kinds of connection to an o-chaya, so you can request them to send geisha to your party.

There are two basic types of geisha. One is called "tachikata" which mainly does traditional Japanese dance (mai). The other is called "jikata" which mainly sings, or plays an instrument. Tachikata are usually maiko girls and jikata are older geisha women. The cost for a party with geisha varies depending on the number of geisha, food, drink, hours, and so on, but you can even have a party beginning at about $150 per person for a regular two-hour appointment.

Where to Visit Geisha Girls and Women in Japan

In Kyoto, there are five hanamachi. The most famous is Gion. The Gion district is located on the west of Kawaramachi, Shijo-dori Street. The Gion district retains old Japanese-style buildings and the atmosphere is very different from other part of the city.

The best area to meet a geisha girl is Hanamikoji Street in Gion, where many o-chaya are located. If you visit the area in early evening, you might be able to see beautiful geisha girls before they go to their appointments. It's said that there are a couple hundred geisha in Gion. In Tokyo, Asakusa Hanamachi is the place to go to meet geisha.

Because some hanamachi were historically related to prostitution, this bias toward geisha and hanamachi districts still exists in modern Japan. However, geisha is an important part of Japanese culture and their performance and beauty still attracts many people from around the world.

Posted by ・Andrea :: 10:20 PM :: 1 Comments:

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