Geisha girls have a long history in Japan. They entertained royalty in the Feudal era and have evolved into modern entertainers today. The term geisha is thought of by some in the West as a prostitute, but a true geisha girl is far from that. Geisha are formally trained in singing, dancing and musical instruments to name a few things. Here are five things you probably never knew about geisha that you can use to impress your friends in Japan.
The kimonos that a geisha wears are always hand made. It is important to them that their kimonos are unique from other geisha. Geisha kimonos are always made of silk but they will switch to a different color depending on the season. It takes up to two hours for a geisha to put on her makeup, do her hair and put on her kimono. A real geisha always ties her kimono in the back.
The Okiya is the house where real geisha live. The house is run by a Okasan or “house mother.” The geisha live there with their “sisters” who are other geisha. Geisha get paid for housekeeping and from their clients, but a large part of their income goes to the Okiya. The money is used to keep the Okiya in business and maintenance.
While this is not a common practice any longer, some Geisha refuse to rest their head on a pillow while sleeping. Instead, they are trained to sleep with their head resting on a small support called a takamakura. This ensures that they don’t get “bed head” and that their hair stays perfect. The house mother or mentor pours rice around the sides of the support. If the girl’s head falls off the support, the rice will stick to her hair.
Geisha give their guests very little personal information about themselves. Part of their training is to be as anonymous as possible. This helps lend to their mystique. Everything about a Geisha girl leaves something to the imagination. This is also part of the Japanese culture as well. When an ex-Geisha helped an author write a book on this history of Geisha, she received death threats for breaking this code.
Many older geisha wear wigs. That is because the normal geisha hairstyle causes balding to occur. It most frequently occurs on the top of the head. Some geisha wear wigs even if they are not balding because it adds to the look. Prior to the modern age, a geisha’s white face paint also caused problems. It used to be made with lead and caused lead poisoning.
The geisha have a long history in Japan. There is a lot of history behind these Japanese women that most Westerners are not aware of. A geisha has strict rules she must follow in her costume and behavior. Geisha who do follow tradition will be shunned or kicked out of their Okiya.