Little Known Secrets About Geisha In Japan

Geisha are beautiful entertainers that bring joy and a unique form of entertainment to a Japanese celebration. Geisha are also sometimes referred to as geiko or geigi. They typically entertain guests of a Japanese banquet with singing, dancing, and music performances.

Geisha are sometimes misclassified as “working girls” by foreigners because, in the past, these ladies dressed similarly to geisha, but it’s important to know that geisha are not adult industry workers. 

A geisha can easily be recognized by their exquisite appearance and dress. There is a particular hairstyle that geisha wear, which is a high bun with various types of adornment, such as a ribbon. They also wear long kimonos and makeup called oshiroi. The makeup application varies between regions in Japan

Geisha have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries, but there is an air of mystery around them. There are some little-known secrets about geisha in Japan that add to their allure. 

Geishas In Training Are Called Maiko 

There is a training process involved to become a geisha. Before you can become a geisha, you are considered a maiko. Maiko dresses differently and wears their hair differently than geisha, but they wear the same traditional oshiroi makeup. 

Maiko is trained to perform at banquets and other celebrations as geisha do. They will learn to play traditional Japanese instruments, dance, and sing. They will typically train during the day and go out to perform at night. 

A girl who has reached 16 years old can train as a maiko. They must learn many skills, including Japanese culture, art, traditional dancing, tea ceremonies, and much more.

Some also learn another language to interact with travelers. Once the girl has reached 21 years old, she can become a geisha.

Geisha Will Have Mentors 

A geisha will be paired with a mentor, also known as an oneesan. These are fellow geisha that represent the role of a big sister. They are connected in a ceremony called the san san kudo, and this custom is very vital to geisha culture today. 

During this ceremony, each geisha will pass a cup of sake to the other to be consumed. This is meant to represent a shared unity between the two that can last a lifetime. 

Geisha Have Special Pillows 

In order to protect a geisha’s wig, which is always beautifully and intricately done, they have their own special pillow to sleep on. This pillow is called takamakura, and it’s sort of an elevated pillow to keep geisha’s hairstyles intact. Sleeping with their specialized wigs done helps them avoid having to get it redone every day.

Geisha Have Special Shoes 

The kimonos that geisha wear are very expensive and elaborate. They are also always supposed to be long. In order to avoid getting the kimonos damaged, geisha will wear special shoes called geta. 

Geta are wooden, platformed shoes that help give the geisha extra height to avoid their kimonos dragging on the floor when they walk. They typically have a thong strap to keep them on their feet. 

There Is Special Meaning To Geisha Dances

Everything a geisha does has some sort of symbolism, cultural reference, or deeper meaning. This includes the dances that geisha perform. 

One of the common dances that geisha learn to perform is called the shimai. This is performed with accompanying traditional music, and each fluid movement has a particular meaning. The whole dance is meant to tell a story. They also learn to perform traditional umbrella and fan dances. 

There Once Were Male Geisha 

A long time ago, geisha could be either male or female. Male geisha would do the same thing as geisha do today, such as singing and dancing to entertain Japanese patrons of their performances. Once the 19th century arrived, however, the industry transition to be mainly dominated by women.  

Geisha Used To Blacken Their Teeth

It was customary for geisha, as well as other women, to blacken their teeth. This process was called ohaguro. Its meaning changed throughout the years, but it was believed to be a symbol of beauty at the time. Maiko who graduate their training will sometimes practice this. 

A Geisha’s Makeup Is Particular

Geisha can be recognized around the world for their makeup. Their makeup application is called oshiroi. Their faces and necks are painted with white makeup, and they will sometimes add rouge to their cheeks. They also wear red lipstick and black eyeliner, and red eyeshadow in the corners of their eyes. 

In the past, the white makeup once contained lead, which made many geisha very ill. Now, the products used are safe and have similar properties to standard modern makeup. The white makeup is meant to help geisha stand out in dimly lit rooms, and distinguish them from other guests at the event. 

Not Just Anyone Can Hire A Geisha

In order to have a geisha attend your gathering, you have to be connected. An Okiya is a geisha lodging house where many geisha reside, either some of the time or all of the time. A person must know an Okiya in order to find a true geisha. 

Okiya are located in specific areas of Japan (primarily Kyoto) and are usually situated within a Hanamachi, which translates to flower town. These areas are residential with Okiya, and often attract visitors. They are run by house mothers, known as okasan, who pay for a maiko’s training in order to earn part of the earnings once they become geisha. 

There are also Ryotei, which are Japanese restaurants that are of high status, and have rooms for parties to entertain in. If you have the right connections, you can go to a Ryotei and ask for geisha to entertain you and your guests. There are a lot of rules in place for how this process operates. 

Geisha Don’t Get Married 

While geisha are beautiful and are probably highly desired, they do not get married while they are a geisha. They will sometimes get married after they retire from their time as a geisha. 

Geisha Have A Unique Pay System 

Geisha have different ranks that determine which part of the pay system they are entitled to. The three tiers are ohanadai, gyokudai, and senkoudai. Dai translates to price, ohana means flower, gyoku means jewel, and senkou means incense. 

Geisha Are Highly Trained In The Japanese Culture

A geisha does not just sing and dance. They study Japanese culture and are expected to keep up with current events. This is because part of their charm is to be able to have conversations with attendants. They are trained on the art of holding a good conversation, but they also learn many areas of current events to keep their guest entertained. 

Geisha Are Also Trained In Tea Ceremonies

Tea ceremonies are events that are very important in Japanese culture. There are requirements to performing a proper tea ceremony, including the mixing of green tea into matcha. Geisha are trained in this art form, and maiko sometimes performs them. 

Geishas Are Considered The Pinnacle Of Beauty

Geishas are absolutely multitalented, intelligent, and dedicated, and their talent also includes their beauty. From the way geisha dress to the way they apply their makeup, they are considered to represent the pinnacle of beauty in Japan. 

A geisha is considered to be a work of art that is to be admired and appreciated from afar. 

Geisha Need Help Getting Dressed

The kimono is a very intricate and delicate garment that can take years to create. It is usually made of the finest silks. There is also a belt called an obi that a geisha uses to keep the kimono intact. However, they can’t do this process themselves. 

There are people specially trained to help a geisha get dressed called kitsuke. They will help tie the obi around the geisha’s kimono and tie it at the back. There is a very meticulous way a geisha must dress. 

Geisha Once Had Financial Help From Men 

It used to be customary, but not necessary, for geisha to have men called danna help them fund their training and expenses. These men were usually very wealthy. With the amount of training needed to become a geisha, as well as the numerous kimonos they need to wear at performances, becoming a geisha is a very expensive process. 

The relationship that a geisha and danna would have was only friendly. There was no intimacy involved, nor was there any intimacy expected. 

Geisha Are Dwindling In Modern Japan

Attend A Live Geisha Performance At Yasaka Shrine (Annually At the Begining Of February)

There once were tens of thousands of geisha throughout Japan, but the numbers are in decline. Part of the reason is the expenses required to become and continue to be a geisha in modern Japan. It is also very expensive to hire the services of a geisha, so patrons aren’t as likely to spend their money on this type of entertainment as they once did.

Geisha Dance Performance In Kyoto

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.