There is something magical when it comes to Japan. Show me one person, who isn’t enchanted by its geographical, mental and spiritual remoteness. We all eat sushi, exercise yoga, admire calligraphy and heard of ikebana. We read manga, worship samurai and giggle at sumo wrestlers (at least I do). But how much do we really know about their customs, believes and traditions? There are many myths and misbelieves. Probably no other aspect of Japanese culture is as misunderstood as the concept of geisha.The underlining source of that misinterpretation is mass media creating a fictional representation of those intriguing ladies e.g.: Memoirs of a Geisha — a beautiful movie reflecting the art but not really the history.
Let me take you on a journey to the geisha world, where beautiful women entertain powerful men with dancing, tea ceremonies and other favours. Do they entertain them with sex? No, they don’t. Geisha do not sell their BODY, they sell their TIME. In Western culture we associate entertaining men mainly with sexual pleasures. Well, I guess for most it’s the best way of entertainment, however geisha don’t practise that. They flirt to attract attention, they use their sublime sex appeal — their role is to please and entertain, that’s for sure. But they are not for sale. They might have many partners at the same time, but must stay single. There are no married geisha. I believe it makes sense: people who, for some reasons, can’t be with each other in a formal (marriage) or informal (affair) relationship, they build a perfect myth, they become blind to the imperfections of their lover and start idealising their unfulfilled love. Geisha are perceived as perfect, because they are unobtainable. But it’s just one of the reasons.
Think about geisha the same way as you think about branding. Why do you choose to buy one product instead of the other? Be honest, many times it’s because of an appealing design, an attractive package or popular brand. First out of curiosity, you pick a product with a fabulous look. But the (crucial) thing is: in case you select the same product for the second/third/next time, you don’t come back to it just for its appearance, you keep coming back for its flavour, for its quality and character. Personal branding for geisha works the same way (actually for many women these days): men will choose you for your package, but will come back for your flavour. Does it sound sexist? Well, yes. But life, in most cases, is. And men choices don’t come as an exception here. Nor does the Japanese culture.
Wrapped up in a kimono, with a white-powdered face and perfectly painted red lips, walking gracefully through the streets of Kyoto, there’s no more mesmerizing view than glamorous Geisha. For the half of the century they were fashion trendsetters and even now they stay in the centre of attention. Geisha are sexy and playful but also very disciplined and smart. They are those kind of women who make all the others disappear. All eyes on them and none else.
What is it there for us, what can we learn from geisha? We can learn loads! Lets start with a feminine allure. Geisha are masters of irresistible allure, innocence and sassiness. How do they do that? Through a meaningful conversations, impeccable manners, even through making witty jokes. They can teach us charm, etiquette, graceful body gestures too. But the most important lesson for us to learn is that: value the time, which you spend with others. Do you remember? Geisha do not sell their body, what they sell is their time. Our time, which we choose to spend with the man we care for, it should be considered as sacred and highly valued in any relationship. Isn’t it true that the biggest gift nowadays we can offer to others is our time and our company? Ladies — choose wisely who you give your time to, gents — don’t take your ‘geisha’ for granted! Respect and cherish the time you spend with each other.
We don’t stop just here. There’s so much more to learn: how to expose the nape (the back of the neck) – the sexiest body part in a Japanese culture and how to treat men — to pamper them but to stay free at the same time. In the past geisha were the freest women in Japan, they were powerful businesswomen with strong connections. Not much has changed till now. I like the idea or pleasing men but staying true to ourselves at the same time. It gives some feminist touch to the submissive image of geisha.
Today I am Geisha
How to understand and experience the concept of geisha in the most pleasurable way? If you visit Japan the best way is to turn literally into geisha yourself. Some time ago, I showed up in Japan with two lovely Irish ladies (Gia and Eleanor). They introduced me to the idea of kimono rental service (girls, I love you for that!). When I heard about it, I didn’t linger for a second, I was dying to try one. The moment you step into a rental place (we chose the one called “KIMONO”, close to Kiyomizu-dera Temple) the fun begins. It is a kimono paradise — there are endless options to choose from, all the colours, all the styles, really hard to decide! I found the floral-pink kimono the most appealing but girls went for more subtle variations. The hairdresser does your hairstyle, puts some make-up on, gives you a handbag, shoes/socks and you are ready to go! It was such a great time walking around, talking many pictures with tourists and other ‘fake’ geisha. Eleanor, the pretty blond, was especially at the centre of attention, due to her friendly personality and unusual in Asia, super attractive hair colour. We went to Kyoto in autumn and the colours were just amazing, adding an extra value to our short trip. In spring you witness 50 shades of pink, in autumn you witness 50 shades of red. Sexy. No matter the season you go, if you have a chance, don’t hesitate and turn into geisha yourself!
Tomorrow I understand who Geisha really is
There are a couple of ways to enjoy geisha culture. Dressing up is certainly one choice. However if you are lucky to be in Japan during a spring season, you can visit cultural centre and experience a fantastic geisha dances. Participate in a tea ceremony before the performance and then enjoy the show. I visited Miyako Odori theater in Gion area in Kyoto. This place is a true educational centre. You understand the difference between maiko (an apprentice geisha, a young girl, who must undergo a period of training that generally takes about 5 years) and geiko (fully trained maiko, synonym for Geisha, name used mostly in Kyoto district) and many other interesting things. In Miyako Odori you can see Geisha in their proper role as traditional art entertainers: professional singers, dancers, instrument players. This is who they really are.They are very skilled in performance arts and damn, you can see that during the show! Imagine the final scene where about 60 geisha fill in the stage with theirs impressive and lavish dancing choreography. No photos/video allowed during the show so the only souvenirs are my memories. But I found some Miyako Odori teaser online, so you can get an idea about the show:
Japanese phrase Koi no yokan is untranslatable into English, however the concept it conveys is very beautiful. It means: the sense one can have upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love. Differs from “love at first sight” as it does not imply that the feeling of love exists, only the knowledge that a future love is inevitable.
I really like Koi no yokan idea and find it very useful when describing my relationship with A. — the first time I saw him under the palm tree in Warsaw — it was a pure Koi no yokan. But it’s not just him, it’s also about my relationships with the distant cultures, destinations and places. With Japan I felt exactly like that, there was no love at the first sight, maybe curiosity and interest in it, but deep in my heart I knew that future love was inevitable. Still sometimes shocking and difficult to comprehend, Japanese culture, is like a bottomless pit for aesthetic pleasures, treats for the taste buds and meaningful sense of adventure. Traveling in Japan is chic and definitely falls under category of Bon chic, Bon voyage.