Geisha Culture: Undressed A Journey Into Japanese Culture

Table of contents

Page 1- Introduction

Page 2- "Behind The Scenes"..........Elva Li..........Painting

Page 3- Explanation of "Behind The Scenes"

Page 4- "Miyako Odori"..........Felisha Ortiz..........Digital Art

Page 5- Explaination of "Miyako Odori"

Page 6- "A Geisha's Journey"..........Alex Polimeni..........Documentary

Page 7- "Geisha Mistreatment"..........George Papa..........Documentary

Page 8- Bibliography


Arthur Golden once said, “If you aren't the woman I think you are, then this isn't the world I thought it was.” In the novel Memoirs of a Geisha, the author Arthur Golden is striving to demolish the single story that all geishas are prostitutes through personal experiences of a real geisha. Through many specific occurrences, such as the struggles to become a geisha, the importance of them, and the amount of respect relating towards Japanese geishas, the most common perspectives of geisha lifestyles are adjusted and altered. A great amount of people inevitably relate the term geisha directly to prostitution and sexual entertainers, however; this book will prove them otherwise. Geishas are entertainment people of Japan that date back to the 1600s during the Edo Period. The Japanese view geishas as professional entertainers, and they are trained to master a multitude of artistic skills. Prior to World War II, geishas began training before puberty. During their training, they are required to complete three stages of preparation before officially becoming a geisha. Most geishas suffer from abuse, resulting in numerous parts of Japan to ban geishas. Having a geisha in your company is considered a great status symbol. They take part in many traditions and events, as well as entertaining guests and are considered a special to Japanese culture.

In Memoirs of a Geisha, the author's purpose is to debunk the single story that all geishas are prostitutes by informing about the Japanese culture through a memoir. The main character Chiyo struggles to become a successful geisha and pay off her debts, which shows her amount of motivation and hard-work put into becoming the geisha she strives to be. This demonstrates that not all geishas must use their body to gain respect, but rather by their talents. In this literary magazine, we demonstrate proof to remove the single story of geishas. Through two documentaries, we discuss both the struggles revolved around the abuse of geishas and the different stages leading to become one. This magazine also features two pieces of artwork, one explaining the role of geishas in society and another reviewing the importance of geishas in Japanese culture.

"Behind the scenes"

By Elva Li

“Behind the Scenes” Explanation

By: Elva Li

The artwork, “Behind the Scenes” is created with acrylic paint. This painting was illustrated by Elva Li on December 11, 2016. It shows one of the roles as a geisha. Geisha is defined as a “performance person” or an entertainer in Japanese culture. This piece serves the purpose of debunking the single story that all geishas are prostitutes.

First of all, the usage of colors for the geisha and the teacher shows a high contrast. The colors of the geisha are very vibrant compared to the teacher, which are dull and monochromatic. This emphasizes the focal point of the artwork, which is the geisha dancing. Dancing is one of the skills that a geisha must master. Being a geisha, you must also be skillful in singing, playing the hayashi (a transverse flute and three types of drums) and naguta-style shamisen (three-stringed, Japanese musical instrument). In addition, the background consists of red and white, which are the colors of the flag of Japan. This illustrates that geishas play an important role in influencing the Japanese culture.

Secondly, I used size and shape to create the two characters in the painting, the geisha and her teacher. Moreover, I used lines to make the geisha dancing and to demonstrate how geishas are trained vigorously in numerous areas of arts. This signifies that geishas earn their living through their talents contrasting to prostitutes, who use their body.

Lastly, I applied various tones of values in this piece to show the value and the different roles of geishas in Japanese culture. The Japanese view geishas as professional entertainers. Since the 1930s, the main role of the geisha has gone from a high-class night entertainer to a curator of tradition. The geishas of Japan have played a significant role in defining the culture of the country.

In conclusion, many people believe that all geishas are prostitutes; however, this piece of artwork prove them otherwise. This painting shows the hard work and determination that goes behind of being a geisha, which verifies that geishas are unlike prostitutes, who do their job solely for money and with no effort.

"Miyako Odori"

By Felisha Ortiz

"Maiko Odori" Explaination

By Felisha Ortiz

Throughout all cultures, there is an object that holds great importance and prestige amongst their community. For the French, this item may be their vast arrangements of cheeses. For the Irish, it might be their elaborate step dancing. For Americans, it’s probably their fast food restaurants and various musical stylings. For Japan, however, this item just so happens to be a geisha. The digital art piece entitled “Miyako Odori,” created by Felisha Ortiz on December 14, 2016, depicts two Japanese geishas in their traditional attire, posing in a position of the dance of a geisha in Japanese culture. Geishas are an essential key to the traditions of a Japanese lifestyle, holding high prestige in the eyes of its practitioners.

The created work “Miyako Odori” shows great parallels to the aspects of geishas within Japanese culture through the overall design of said piece. For example, one can even be seen through the style of art used to create this piece. By choosing to depict the image of the traditional Japanese geishas in a realistic art style in comparison to a more cartoon-like approach, the piece captures the importance of this tradition’s practice in Japanese culture. This tradition has existed for 143 years now, and it is considered a great honor for the women who participate in Miyako Odori. During Miyako Odori, also known as the Dances of the Old Capital, 60 geishas perform a very intricate dance in the Kaburenjo Theatre every April for an exclusive group of men. For these men, it is considered a high symbol of status to be accompanied by a geisha, as the clients entertained by the geishas are traditionally corporate CEOs, actors, and politicians. The company of these women is quite expensive as well, costing 2,000 yen for second class and 4,500 yen for special class with a tea ceremony.

A second parallel is shown through the decision to create the work digitally instead of the traditional, pencil-on-paper method of creating art. This decision was made in order to accurately portray the very small, precise details of the kimonos and the intricate appearance of their hair, makeup, and even physique. In Japanese culture, geishas train between three and five years in dance, song, and art to master the very delicate craft of entertaining a male client. Every move of the dance of must be perfect. Each element of this process is perfected to a tee, and everything must be perfectly in place, as depicted in “Miyako Odori.”

The final parallel between “Miyako Odori” and the Japanese culture of geishas actually might not be as obvious as the others, as it’s not the main centerpiece of the work. It actually comes from the background. Behind the dancing geishas, there is an image of a circle of cherry blossom trees. Firstly, the design of the circle surrounded by complete white is a symbol of the actual flag of Japan. The real flag shows a completely white flag with a large, red circle in the center. Secondly, the image of cherry blossoms represent much in Japanese culture. In Japan, people anxiously await the blossoming of the cherry flowers, and celebrate with festivals that include food, drink, and music. This is similar to the way the Japanese anticipate the Miyako Odori every April. For hundreds of years, cherry blossom trees have represented the fragile beauty of life in Japanese culture. The trees bloom for such a short span of time each year that it is a constant reminder that all beautiful things do not last long. This is also parallel to the Miyako Odori, which is held only once a year, where everything is so perfectly choreographed and practiced that if one small thing is out of place, the entire show falls apart. The state of the show is so short and beautiful, yet so fragile at the same time, just like the blooming of the cherry blossom trees seen in the background of “Miyako Odori.”

Geishas are an essential key to the traditions of a Japanese lifestyle, holding high prestige in the eyes of its practitioners. The techniques used to create “Miyako Odori” showed direct parallels to the tradition, precision, and symbolism behind geishas in Japanese culture. Each element of this piece was put in place for the purpose of accurately capturing this entire component of culture in Japan. Through this artwork, you have to begin to look past the face value, noting the intricate details, design decisions made, and the deeper meaning behind it all. A simple glance won’t give you the full experience of this piece. One needs to critically analyze to find a lesson within an object, which the Japanese seem to have obviously been doing for centuries now, and will continue to for more years to come.

"A geisha's Journey"

By Alex Polimeni

"Geisha Mistreatment"

By George Papageorgiou


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