Gear Up For The Geisha RebirthFebruary 7, 2012 No Comments
If you thought geishas were as dead as the dinosaurs, think again.
Increasingly, Japanese women are rejecting the conventional path of love and marriage. Some choose to focus on career advancement, and becoming a geisha is now a very real aspiration for some young women.
In Shimoda, a hot spring resort on Japan’s Pacific coast, which was “home to about 200 geishas in the 1950s,” you will now be able to find geishas-in-training. Three women are learning how to properly wear a kimono and are working on perfecting traditional songs and dances.
In some ways, the geisha revival makes sense in a big tourist destination like Shimoda since the term has evolved to mean entertainer. The resort town is using public money to breed geishas to keep them from going extinct. Or so they say.
You have to wonder if it’s just a thinly veiled ploy to show women how desirable it is to be a geisha, luring them into a life full of duties and subservience. We can’t look past the efforts to control every aspect of an aspiring geisha’s life. They are told what to wear, how to act, what songs to sing and how to dance with utmost grace. If they can’t follow these geisha-specific guidelines, they won’t make the cut.
But the funny thing is that some women seem to be leaving their careers because they so desire to embrace — and preserve — a part of Japan’s cultural heritage. Awagiku responded to the advertisement calling for geishas in Shimoda and subsequently quit her job as a designer. She says the tsunami disaster in Japan made her more aware of her “Japanese-ness” and she realized she wanted to learn the arts associated with being a geisha.
It’s hard to know whether the rebirth of the geisha is positive or negative. Despite the shroud of mystery surrounding a geisha’s job and daily life in the past, there have always been preconceptions about the role of a geisha. Up to this day, there are ideas about the geisha as a kind of high-class prostitute where “entertainment” is just a prelude to sex.
But of course a geisha’s role is much more complicated and its meaning has significantly transformed over time. In its current state, it’s completely severed from sex (which was not the case in the pre-WWII period). Arguably, mastering Japan’s social and cultural arts is perceived as honourable, prestigious, and even empowering to women. Geishas are single women who gain high social statuses and, from a cultural point of view, are highly revered.
Whatever lingering ideas we have of the word “geisha,” it’s not like women are being forced to abandon their careers to live the geisha lifestyle. They are making these decisions on their own. So we must rest assured that while it’s easy to assume they’re being taken advantage of, a woman’s chosen path is her prerogative.
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