Sunday, 6 December 2009

Stunning show location

Spectacular! The private show was a real success. 5 performers, 2playing shamisen and 3 performers. Ichimaru was first up followed by me then Yoneyu. Yoneyu danced with a parasol! We did single dances during our stories. I told about the history of geisha. Here are the words:

Just over one year ago geisha Yoneyu and me performed our erikae,marking our promotion to geisha rank.
Today I’ll give a brief history of “Geisha”.
Geisha come out of the "floating world" the era of the pleasure quarters,
giving rise to today's "flower and willow world" the world of the Geisha.
The origin of the pleasure quarters is attributed to Saburoemon Hara
who in 1589 asked for, and was granted,
license to build a brothel by his ruling warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
This was placed not far from the Imperial Palace in Kyoto
and was called the Yanagimachi or Willow Town.
High class courtesans were used to tempt the gentlemen of Kyoto,
however objections were made due to its vicinity to the palace
and so it was moved to the now infamous Shimabara.
The laws of prostitution at the time kept such activities to walled in isolated pleasure quarters,
islands of debauchery where a man might be entertained for the evening at a cost,
this meant the culture of the quarters was very insular, if not stagnant.
The courtesans of Shimabara while otherworldly and very sophisticated
were none the less "available for the night" at ludicrous prices for those who could afford them.
There were several ranks of Shimabara ladies:
the highest were the Tayu,
followed by the Koshi and Sancha
and at the top of the social hierarchy were the Hashi.
The Tayu were said to be extremely extravagant
and would often hold impromptu fashion parades by flaunting their sumptous clothing in front of the other courtesans,
and in doing so specify a natural hierarchy in the pleasure quarter.
Like so many aspects of Japanese culture the courtesans became highly ritualised
with strict etiquette ruling who could associate with the ladies of the pleasure quarters.
This made way for a new market niche,
entertainers outside the pleasure quarters could legally entertain a man
in a less intimate manner freely and without the rules that government the ways of the Tayu.
Unlicensed pleasure quarters sprang up all over Japan,
the appeal of the free thinking unruly women grew rapidly.
Many of these areas were near to Shinto shrines
and offered tea and entertainment to pilgrims,
lending the name Ochaya (or tea house) to the establishments
at which these girls entertained,
though liquor was quick to overtake tea on the menu.
The Odoroki or dancing girls were very popular in these areas for entertainment,
though as some of the girls grew older it became inappropriate to take this name
and so called themselves Geisha after the male Geisha of the pleasure quarters
who would entertain men at their banquets before they would retire for the night with the courtesans.
These male Geisha, or Taikomochi, may have been the first
but they were soon superseded by the popularity of the female Geisha.
The ruling lords at the time saw the trends changing
and began to ensure that teahouses were licensed
much as the pleasure quarters had been.
The laws governing Geisha controlled both the services they were allowed to offer
and also the way they dressed,
in this way it would hope that they would not serve as a threat to the courtesans
being neither able to engage in prostitution
nor wear the highly decorative clothing of the Tayu.
This gives rise to the simplistic kimono and [relatively] simple hairstyles of the Geisha:
the point is understated elegance rather than extravagance.
Licensed Geisha districts grew first in Gion
and then spread to other Hanamachi throughout Japan.
The Tayu soon seemed to lose their popularity
and today there are no full time Tayu in existence,
though a handful of women keep up the tradition by playing out the role in daylight hours for exhibitions.
From then on the Geisha were to be the epitomy of high fashion,
usually the forerunners of new trends and "Iki" habits.
In turn they too became ritualised and as the Geisha dwindle in number
they have become as unreachable to the average man
as the Tayu were in the pleasure quarter era.
As Western culture has taken hold of Japan
the Geisha are no longer the denizens of high fashion but the holders of a traditional culture.
One of the other major changes to the lives of the Geisha came about after World War II.
The new laws governing prostitution and entertaining girls
meant that girls could no longer be sold into the Geisha life by their families,
nor could a Maiko's virginity be bought and sold any longer,
removing the long standing Mizuage rite of passage.
Shimabara was closed in 1958, when prostitution was outlawed in Japan.
Today the Geisha life is a very different one,
girls become Geisha of their own free will,
and often only stay long enough to get married,
much as any other profession in Japan.
The Geisha population is slowly dying out
and many of the Hanamachi have disappeared in recent times.
There are talks of regulating the Geisha world,
however whether this will ever occur is uncertain.
The stigma of advertising for girls to join the profession has meant that the numbers do not grow,
and there is a social understanding that while it may be very elegant to visit a Geisha
it is not likely that one would wish their own daughter to become one.
Perhaps the Geisha will become another packaged tourist attraction
but more likely, as the Tayu became the Geisha,
the Geisha will evolve into something more fitting to contemporary Japan.
And as you see here, the introduction of virtual worlds
has given the opportunity for non-Japanese to “live” in the geisha world.
Thank you for enjoying our own geisha journey together…

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