Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Gion - The Geisha District

'A story like mine should never be told.' These are the first words in Arthur Golden's best-selling book, Memoirs of a Geisha. When the book first came out, it was criticized by Mineko Iwasaki, the geisha on whom Golden supposedly based the story. She eventually wrote her own memoirs because she said that Golden had betrayed her confidence and depicted geisha as prostitutes. So, are they or are they not ? Before leaving Japan next week, I have decided to do a short post on Gion - the geisha district of Kyoto.
Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. However, the Gion district of modern-day Kyoto no longer had the exotic teahouses, theaters and ornate temples of the 1920s and 1930s. Along the Hanami-koji, some beautiful and old wooden teahouses (o-chaya) are still to be found - a place where geisha entertain their wealthy customers.
The rich and powerful come here in the evening. You won't see much during daytime and at night in some of the more exclusive teahouses, you probably won't be allowed to enter without some sort of connection (no matter how much money is offered).
Moreover, the yakuza-like atmosphere will probably not make tourists feel very comfortable. Shown is Gion's oldest and most exclusive teahouse - the Ichiriki-tei.
Geisha (in Kyoto, they prefer to be called geiko-san) or maiko sometimes wander through the streets during the day, but you will have more chances to spot one between 5pm and 6:30pm, when she is on her way to work.
One might need connections to enter exclusive teahouses to be entertained by geisha, but another way is to hire one to host parties and gatherings in japanese traditional restaurants (probably about USD300 - 400 for two hours session). Basically, there are two types of geisha. One is called 'tachikata' which mainly does traditional japanese dance. The other is called 'jikata' which mainly sings, or plays an instrument (e.g. shamisen).
On the other hand, I am sure there are traditional japanese restaurants in the Gion area which offer some sort dinner plus geisha performance package.
The Minamiza Theater (also mentioned in the book, 'Memoirs of a geisha') was the first kabuki theater built in Japan. Today, the theater is used for a wide variety of performances including musicals and modern plays. The month of december is the annual kaomise (face-showing) season, when popular kabuki actors are lined up on stage for some high drama, with dance and music. There are only two shows per day, but each lasts four or five hours.
Actor's names written on the wooden plate (maneki) and displayed on the wall of the building.
The number of geisha has been declining. Geisha have become an elite group and have therefore become very expensive. Fewer and fewer men are willing to pay the high cost of a geisha when other entertainers are available. Kyoto and the area around the city maintains the highest number of geisha as well as having a more traditional culture of geisha. Tokyo brags the second highest population of geisha, though these geisha and teahouses tend to be less traditional.

Will geisha survive in the modern japanese society ?


Acrix said...

Nice post :) Geisha and Maiko is different rite :P I am still curious whether Geisha is supposed to be virgin and single as i watched from a documentary film years ago~ In the book, the geisha have sex with the danna and so on~ Oh yar, do u have any photo of geisha from potoncho area?

I think geisha is abit out of trend and out of reach thou it;s a culture heritage~ Normal man would surely prefer kabukicho rite :P

zbjernak said...

looks like time stop in the gion district
those wooden houses...
pedestrian only street...

very lovely

yes...i too find the yakuza-style is not inviting though

but i do thing geisha will be there for many years... jap are known to hold on very strongly with their belief and traditional cultures...

mmulibra said...

leaving japan?

Anonymous said...

information leakage

Patrick next post will be on the Kobe Light Up..haha

Amanda Brightwell said...

Very cool... I want to see more pics of geishas!

Patrick Leong said...

acrix : maiko are apprentice geisha, that undergo a period of training in dance, singing, general social rules, and etc. i am not sure if i am correct but as i read from the book (memoirs of a geisha), a maiko apparently sells her virginity before she actually becomes a geisha. for more geisha pictures, visit my friend's blog - mboogiedown - japan (click from net friends) :P

zbjernak : yes. sometimes we may be able to spot maiko in certain areas. they are actually not maiko but either locals paid to dressed like one to promote tourism or tourist (japanese and also foreigner) dressed as one.

mmulibra : yes. leaving december 14th for good. will be working in malaysia.

amanda : visit my friend's blog - mboogiedown - japan (click from net friends). she has plenty of pictures of geisha and maiko. very nice pictures she has.

Sidney said...

Interesting post & pictures!
I will miss your pictures from Japan !

Melissa said...

PATRICK! Thanks for the shout out!

Maiko no longer sell their virginity to the highest bidder. This practice of mizuage was forbidden after the US won the war.

ACRIX: Simce maiko begin training at a young age (usually about 15 these days, since they must first finish jr. high school), and since they are forbidden from having a physical relationship with any customers other than danna, and since they are so busy they have no time for thier own social lives, it is probable that they are virgins, but not necessary. As far as the book goes about danna, that is acurate.

Geisha are very trendy with foreigners, if not among the youth of Japan. As long as female tourists pay to dress up like geisha for a day of sightseeing in Kyoto, and foreigners pay for the chance to see them walking the street, geisha will survive.

mmulibra said...

Hope you will find what you wanted in your new endeavour

I thought we are going on a trip soon, but looks like will be happening,
anyway, take care

Acrix said...

melissa: Thx for the details :) Tokking bout Mizuage made me think of Dr Crab :P Hehe~

emotionalistic said...

Hhmm...i am gonna miss your stories about Japan. And i bet you will defintely feel so reluctant to leave such a beautiful place.

Melissa said...

Acrix! Eeeeeeeeew Yuck! Mr Crab! I really hope they leave that part out of the movie! :) Did you see it yet?

Acrix said...

Melissa: The film will only be shown in Malaysia by next jan :( I wonder how does Nobu look like. I kinda admire his personality~

Anonymous said...

I am going to begin geisha training in a few years and am happy to hear that people are still interested in the arts. I hope the geisha will continue-I think that tourism will probably keep it alive, thouhg I can't say the same for male geisha. There are only 5 left in the world.