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Posted on October 1st, 2012, by

Japanese culture is polyhedral and inconceivable for many representatives of the west world. It includes a lot of different components, which do this culture such holistic and interesting for researchers. When we think about Japan, we, at first, see main images, which are associated with this country. The main popular among them are sakura, samurai, mountain Fudziyama, and, certainly, enigmatic exotic creation – a Japanese geisha.

Very often geisha becomes a main topic of various discussions and even disputes. Let’s stop on notion geisha and will concern with its more detailed study. At first, we address to a dictionary for interpretation of this notion.

“Geisha”, pronounced /geɪʃә/, like all Japanese nouns, has no distinct singular or plural variants. The word consists of two parts: (gei) meaning “art” and (sha) meaning “person”. The most direct translation of geisha into English would be “artist” or “performing artist”. As you see,  in amount we get the word combination: person of art. This completely personifies the role of the geisha. The Geisha must be a real person of art – she must well sing, beautifully dance, play music instruments, as well as the other variants of the education.

Geisha – is a Japanese national invention. The mentionings about geisha are possible to find in VII century.    At the end of the XVI century  first houses of pleasure appeared in Japan. But the first geisha appeared in XVII century. There is interesting fact, that, at first, geisha were men. Notable, the meaning of a notion geisha was different at that time; geisha were actors in a theater. But gradually women someway displaced men and a notion geisha started to belong to some women of Japan.

Way to the geisha begins in the early childhood.It consists from the several stages. Young girls who wish to become a geisha girl are usually introduced to an okiya  (geisha houses) through someone who has a connection to the teahouse. The head woman of an okiya, called okami, interviews the girl with her parents, explaining how the training goes. If the okami accepts the girl as an apprentice to her okiya, the girl can begin her training immediately and live in the okiya,  if she has graduated from a middle school. Although some girls were sold to geisha houses  as children. Once a girl becomes a geisha trainee, she can’t quit for 5 to 6 years.

The first stage of training was called shikomi. When girls first arrived at the okiya, they would be put to work as maids, required to do any necessary tasks. The work was difficult with the intent to “make” and “break” the new girls. The most junior shikomi of the house would have to wait late into the night for the senior geisha to return from engagements, sometimes as late as two or four in the morning. During this stage of training, the shikomi would go to classes at the hanamachi’s (the geisha district’s) geisha school.

While helping with the chores and errands of the house, the young girl learns customs and social skills and begins music and dance lessons.

In modern times, this stage still exists to accustom the girls to the traditional dialect, traditions and dress. It’s not an easily for a little girl to learn arts  and passed a final, difficult dance exam, but after this exam she would be promoted to the second stage of training: minarai.

Minarai are relieved of their housekeeping duties. Moreover, the minarai stage focuses on training in the field. Although minarai attend ozashiki (banquets in which guests are attended by geisha), they do not participate at an advanced level. Their kimono, more elaborate than a maiko’s, are intended to do the talking for them. Also, minarai can be hired for parties, but are usually uninvited (yet welcomed) guests at parties that their onee-san (“older sister”: the Minarai’s senior or mentor) attends. They charge 1/3 hanadai (fee). Minarai generally work with a particular tea house (called “minarai-jaya”) learning from the “okaa-san” (proprietress of the house). These techniques are not taught in school, as skills such as conversation and gaming can only be absorbed through practice. This stage lasts only about a month or so.

After a short period of time, the third (and most famous) stage of training began, called maiko. Maiko are apprentice geisha, and this stage can last for years. Maiko learn from their senior geisha mentor and follow them around to all their engagements. The onee-san/imouto-san (junior) relationship is important. Since the onee-san teaches her maiko everything about working in the hanamachi, her teaching is vital. She will teach her proper ways of serving tea and dancing, casual conversation and more. The onee-san will even help pick the maiko’s new professional name with kanji or symbols related to her own name. After a period as short as six months (in Tokyo) or as long as five years (in Kyoto), the maiko is promoted to a full-fledged geisha, and charges full price for her time. Geisha remain as such until they retire.

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