Geisha, one word introduced to the world by the 2005 film ‘Memoirs Of A Geisha’.
While the film might just be a decade old, the Geisha culture is in fact centuries old that spans from sometime around the late 600s.
Though the film might have introduced the term and the culture on a commercial level and to an unaware audience, it also created a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about this ancient culture that were borne out of ignorance, incorrect sources and for some plainly taking the word of a ‘commercial’ film as final and legit.
A lot of people have the misconception that Geishas are just a synonym for prostitutes and that the sexual part of their job is all that is to this culture.
Let us bust some myths here and make people aware of whether this idea is true or not.
What Is The Geisha Culture
It would be extremely difficult to fit in this one article what exactly the geisha culture is, what it means and everything including its rich and old history and journey thereafter.
But the word ‘geisha’ itself, means ‘artist’ or ‘performing artist’ and being a Japanese noun, it does not really have a singular or plural type. But some have used ‘geishas’ as a plural variant when talking about this culture.
The geisha culture, according to reports, is said to descend from somewhere in the late 600s, but the actual term of geisha and the culture as we know it popped up around the 18th century.
And you might be surprised by this but the first geisha were men who would entertain the customers that were in wait to see the more popular and well-known oiran or courtesans.
Around the 1760s and 70s the term geisha became extremely popular and slowly they moved towards being classified as just entertainers instead of prostitutes.
Certain sources also say that in order to keep the oiran and geisha profession separate, geisha were forbidden to sell sex and later on ‘machi geisha’ created their own niche of being artists and the ideal female companion without the sexual favours.
By 1800 being a geisha was almost considered as a legitimate occupation for the females, although some males still opted for it, and it differed from geisha to geisha on whether they wanted to have sexual relations with their customer or just be entertainers in the strict form of the word, showing excellence in art forms like singing, dancing, or even calligraphers and poets.
Geisha in the past as per certain sources also represented the strict arranged marriage Japanese community where men had a certain idea about the role of their wives and that included being a protector of their house along with being a mother to their children. Their sexual relationship was only shared with a geisha and in certain cases, the family knew about them, their children and while they could not be recognized on an official level, they were still treated as part of the family with respect.
Why The Misconception Of Geisha As Prostitutes?
It was actually during the World War II when the geisha culture went into a decline and the name ‘geisha girls’ was taken up by prostitutes when trying to lure the American military men.
This highly deteriorated the image and name of ‘geisha’ and created the false perception that geisha is just another word for a prostitute.
By 1945 when the women returned to being geishas after the war, they wanted to return the name and culture back to its traditional roots and even worked for better rights for geishas than there were before.
As quoted by Liza Dalby in ‘Do They Don’t They’, “After Japan lost the war, geisha dispersed and the profession was in shambles. When they regrouped during the Occupation and began to flourish in the 1960s during Japan’s postwar economic boom, the geisha world changed. In modern Japan, girls are not sold into indentured service. Nowadays, a geisha’s sex life is her private affair.”
Concluding this piece I would just say that just based on this, one can assume that while sexual favours might have been a part of the geisha lifestyle, but it was not really the main or focus point at all. Instead, being a geisha is a respected profession and something that holds a lot of historical and cultural value that has been completely been brushed over by the sexualising and eroticising of it by popular media.
Image Credits: Google Images