Geisha girls are a cherished part of Japanese culture.
Creative and professional entertainers, they are skilled in many areas of Japanese arts, such as dance and music.
Their role has changed significantly over the years, and their numbers are declining.
But are you likely to see geisha girls on the streets of Japan?
Let’s find out.
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Where can visitors see Geisha Girls?
Visitors can see their performances in the Kyoto area and Tokyo and experience firsthand the rich cultural heritage they represent.
Geishas are associated with specific districts in the city where they perform in traditional tea houses and entertainment establishments.
Although it is possible to encounter a geisha girl in these areas, it is rare to see them casually wandering the streets.
Although encountering a geisha outside one of these designated areas is unlikely, it is not altogether impossible.
The Origin of Geisha Girls
Geisha girls can be traced back to 17th-century Japan.
They were initially female entertainers and often performed dances and songs at tea houses and pleasure quarters. The name for these entertainers was initially “saburuko” and they had, at that time, associations with prostitution.
The role of the saburuko evolved, and they went on to develop more skills in performing arts, transforming into what we know today as Geisha girls.
They would engage guests in witty conversation and perform dances and musical performances. The girls quickly became sought after for their talents and refined skills.
How to Become A Geisha
To become a Geisha, a rigorous training process often starts at a young age, around the age of 15.
The youngest Geishas, known as “maiko,” enter an okiya (a geisha house) to start their apprenticeship.
Under the guidance of a senior geisha (called an “onee-san,” which roughly translates as an older sister), the girls would learn how to become fully-fledged geisha girls.
Geishas would have associations with elegance, grace, and sophistication.
They were knowledgeable and could hold intelligent conversations with their guests.
The girls needed to adapt to different social situations and create a relaxing environment for the people they entertained.
Interesting Geisha Facts
Here are some interesting facts about geisha girls:
- Getting Ready: This is a lengthy process and can take the average geisha girl up to two hours in hair and makeup alone!
- First Geishas: The first geishas were men; they were called Honko.
- Kimono: The intricate kimonos the geishas wear can take up to three years to manufacture.
- Lips: Geisha girls use safflower lipstick to color their lips red, and apply sugar, which gives them a shine.
Western modernization and influences affected the geisha culture during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century.
This period saw the samurai class decline and the middle-class rise. World War II saw many geisha houses close, and the population decreased significantly.
The number of geishas has decreased in modern times, but their role has evolved. The primary focus is entertainment, but the clientele has shifted to tourists and dignitaries. Being a geisha girl is now seen as a niche profession, and fewer women pursue it as a full-time career.
Some women still pursue a career as a geisha in contemporary society; however, following this career path involves rigorous training, so it should be undertaken with seriousness.
Modern geisha often work in traditional teahouses, entertaining tourists, politicians, and business people.
They may play conventional musical instruments like the shamisen, perform classical dances like the “Kouta” and “buyo,” and engage guests in lively conversation and banter.
Nevertheless, geisha have continued to be valued as preservers of Japanese culture and practices, and some efforts are being made to promote the profession.
Final Thoughts on Will You See Geisha Girls on the Streets of Japan?
Although unlikely, you may see a geisha girl on the streets of Japan.
If you want to increase your chances of seeing a geisha, head to Kyoto where there are often festivals and street performances involving geisha girls.
You can also book experiences with geisha girls to get up close and interact with them.
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