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Geiko and Maiko - Accurate Perception and Portrayal?

Mizuiro

Samurai Retainer
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This is my first post, so forgive me for its lack of aesthetic appeal or sophistication. 😌

I'm also underinformed as to whether this topic has been discussed before. However, it occured to me as I read three books on Geisha (Liza Dalby's Geisha, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Geisha, A life) that, depending on the time period and author's interpretation of it, the reader could come off with very different ideas about both Geisha and prostitution, and the life of a trainee even before her debut as a maiko.

I'm also a little concerned about the filming of Memoirs of a Geisha, and not only because the Geisha it to be played by a Chinese actress. (Solely because I believe the position would be better filled by a Japanese actress, only for... accuracy and my sense of what's correct?)

Memoir's of a Geisha, among other things, included a rather dramatized conflict between the main character and an older Geiko, as well as the old practice of "mizu-age," and rather cruel treatment by her okasan (mother, or manager for those who don't know the term) and okiya (where Geisha are registered and live). If my memory serves me, she was also, for lack of a better word, sold into the okiya.

While I'm not trying to say this in inaccurate, as I've read that at different time periods all occured (admittedly sometimes/often together), it is one of the saddest stories I've read about a girl becoming a Geisha. I have read that girls wishing to become a Geisha rarely suffered so much in all considerations.

I also think that the idea of Geisha as what they truly are, skilled artists who study under the oldest and most advanced schools in Japan, will be severaly undermined in order to make another blockbuster (*shifty eyes* The Last Samurai, despite my love for that movie.) and that it will promote further misunderstanding about what it truly means to be a Geisha in the west, and also harm the shrinking, but beautiful old tradition.

(As far as necessary evidence about Geisha not being prostitues... As early as the later half of the 18th century, there was a clear distinction between "Geisha" who would engage in prostitution and those who would not. Liza Dalby explains this in her novel, noting that there were different terms for different "types" of Geisha. Shiro, or white Geisha, were solely for entertainment while Joroo were... not. In 1779, a Geisha could be punished for invading on a prostitutes territory, or distracting her customers. And finally, in 1957 when prostitution became illegal, Geisha were still allowed to practice.)

I hope some have interest! 🙂
 

lonesoullost3

Economist in Residence
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I am quite interested in this, great topic to bring up. However, my knowledge of Geisha tradition and custom is minimal - I think you covered everything I know and thensome. And I have also heard the Geisha were never prostitutes, but entertainers - more like Jesters to a royal court - but treated with more respect.
 

Mizuiro

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That's true. I thinking that it's pretty clear that "lower class Geisha" (who, in my opinion, probably weren't much of practicing artists at all..) were few and mostly looked down upon by classier Geisha.

I don't know know if "mizu-age" was a common practice even among the "classier Geisha" of the past, only that it is rather old..?
 

pipokun

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A question from a book, Naniwadora, written in the early Edo.
Naniwa means Osaka, and dora a spoiled son.
The book is about the son going to a red-light district and study how to behave well there from a Yujo.

How do you treat two different customers?
A: rich and good-looking guy
B: poor and ugly guy

Her answer was...
 

Tokis-Phoenix

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I have read the book "memoirs of a geisha" a couple of times now and enjoyed it much although its a largely fictional story and a bit of a fairy tale atmosphere in comparison to the real world of geisha and there are apparently concerns from people who are worried that when the movie is released, people who do not know alot about geisha will take it as real facts about geisha life instead of just a story...The story does bear alot of similaritys to the life of Mineko Iwasaki (one of the most famous geisha from Gion Kobu) story although most of the most distressing aspects of the books character Sayuri life like how she was sold into slavery by her parents did not happen to Mineko at all etc.
I personally don't think mizuage is cruel, it was more a way of an option to earn good money and help climb the social ladder and boost your success as a geisha more than anything else, which is a very important thing for them. Sayuri wanted to be free of Hatsumomo and the chains of life to her okiya and if she hadn't sold her mizuage this would have unlikely been posible. Its illegal though now days for geisha to sell their virginity due to prostitution laws now days although there is always rumor that it still goes on in some areas.
I admit i don't know alot about geisha so my knolege could be wrong in various areas.
Being a geisha back then was apparently very hard, although its still hard today, but if you wern't popular and successful back then you simply couldn't pay back your debts and your okiya would always be in control of your life, which could be a very misarable existance. Being a geisha though was one of the few ways a poor girl could excel in the social ladder and boost her status and have more rights in some ways than your average woman.
Geisha were also largely in control of their own lives compared to many other woman and being born a girl in geisha districts was more favorable than being a boy because you could become a geisha and earn an income and carry on your family buisness while as boys on the whole in other areas of japan were almost always favored over girls.
I personally think on the whole, Sayuri had an easier life being a geisha and had alot more than if she stayed a peasant in her home fishing villiage- just because she may not have always been happy with her relationships in her life as a geisha does not mean she would have been happier being a peasant girl...Even worse being an child orphan and a peasant with a sister that gives your family a bad name by running off with one of your villiages most respected members.
I don't think life in japan back then offered much oppotunity to fall in love, sayuri i think was lucky in that sense she achieved it in the end and got to go with who she wanted.
It will be interesting to see what "memoirs of a geisha" film will be like when it comes out :) .
Side note- who here thinks Sayuri should have stayed with Nobu rather than go for the chairman?
 

saisha

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i have also enjoyed the book of a.golden very much. i am very frightened of the movie because often movies disappoint me! i regretted watching several comic movies, too! but thats another topic is it!? *smile*

ahh, tokis-phoenix, how often i have asked that for myself!
well i often felt with nobu... that poor man. i mean, as if i were chiyo/sayuri, i would rather felt that it was my due to staying with him, the war victim and my "danna"... (in that time of course, one couldnt loose up her feelings could she?) i mean, i enjoyed the happy ending, too, but as a reader i started wondering at that point because it didnt feel ... "authentic" to me!
what was your feeling about that?
 
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