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OTHER ITA SITES:
The Japanese Geisha
Contrary to popular western belief, a geisha is not a prostitute. Although she works as a professional hostess at a teahouse called O-chaya, the kind of work she does has actually very little to do with prostitution or sex.
Schooled in the arts and highly cultured as part of her training, the geisha possesses skills in the fine art of Japanese ancient dance, singing, playing musical instruments, doing flower arrangements, wearing kimono, holding a tea ceremony, calligraphy, engaging in formal conversations, etiquette, alcohol serving manners and more. These talents, which she keeps developing and perfecting all throughout her career as a geisha, have earned her a certain degree of respectability in traditional Japanese society. In fact, the term geisha in Japanese means "artist". Thus she is regarded more as an artist and performer, than anything else and women tend to look to her for the latest in fashion and other finer things.
The negative connotation of geisha may have stemmed from the fact that, more often, the skills and services of a geisha as professional hostess and dancer/performer are requested by highly placed male customers who go to the teahouses to entertain their guests and be entertained themselves. It's important to note, however, that not just anyone can hire the services of a geisha as the O-chaya only makes this privilege available to regular customers who have maintained good relations with the teahouse. Providing sex to regular customers is not part of a geisha's duty and even though there are cases when a patron may develop a relationship with a geisha and may even end up having sex with her, this is not something demanded of her as part of her job but a personal choice she has made to take care of only one customer and enjoy the attendant privileges. In this case, the customer becomes her patron.
Are wives generally in bad terms with a geisha? The answer is no. In fact, most wives know their husband's geisha because every year during the Obon Festival and during the New Year's celebration, the geisha would visit their O-chaya's regular customers' homes and give their wives gifts. Sometimes she may even intercede for a customer's wife by telling him something his wife is scared to tell him.
Even when a relationship develops between a patron and a geisha, Japanese society does not consider this a threat to the marriage simply because a geisha is not allowed to get married and more often than not a moneyed male client is married to someone his parents chose for him. Pre-arranged marriages were practiced in Japan until quite recently. The purpose was to preserve the family's wealth and rank.
Still, the most noteworthy role of the geisha is entertaining guests as a professional hostess. As a performer, she can either me a "Tachikata" who mainly does traditional Japanese dance or a "Jikata" who mainly sings or plays an instrument. Moreover, a geisha does not divulge anything that was discussed during a party or a business meeting.
In today's modern Japanese society, the number of girls who become geisha have declined mainly because the training is too rigid and the demand is no longer that high. Most Japanese males prefer the westernized entertainers who are not only in greater supply but who command a cheaper prize than a geisha.
Perhaps Japanese tourism will insure the preservation of the geisha. However, this may be in a modified form mainly because the women who are still working as geisha are no longer living in a sheltered environment detached from the rest of world and society. Most of them also work as models and career women. This is rather sad considering the geisha were once the respected preservers of traditional art and culture and they achieved this by developing their art in a world all their own.
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Travel Part B