Geisha means "art" and "person" and therefore "person skilled in fine arts, in fine manners". The beauty of this culture is nothing more than a further manifestation of femininity through the fluid movement of fans and umbrellas.
We often hear about geisha and maiko together, but not everyone is clear about the difference. The maiko is the apprentice geisha: she is aged between 15-16 and 20 and her appearance is very different from that of the professional geisha.
She wears a kimono with much more gaudy colors, painted with particularly elaborate patterns and a long belt, the “hikizuri”, which hangs at the back like a dovetail.
The makeup of the maiko is also more elaborate: in addition to sprinkling their face with white powder, the apprentices paint the corner of the eyelid red in a design that is somewhat reminiscent of plum petals. In addition, they dye their lips in different ways depending on their "seniority".

Being apprentices, they do not enjoy the privilege of using a wig: their hair is actually styled in the "Shimada mage" once a week, and they are forced to sleep by resting their necks on wooden pillows so as not to ruin their hair.
The maiko wear clogs called “okobo”: they have a very high sole and give them an elegant appearance. The performances of a maiko consist of singing, dancing and playing the shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument for the participants in banquets and parties. They are to all intents and purposes the helpers of real geishas, ​​who observe to learn their art.
In ancient times, girls devoted themselves to this path from a very young age and in the vast majority of cases it was not their decision. The girls entered an Okiya (置 屋), literally the house of the geisha, and began the long path of studies. The financial agreement with the okiya was often that of not having to spend anything on education, room and board and repaying the large debt that one was going to incur with one's work as a Geisha.
There were also other forms of agreement that allowed an aspiring Geisha to remain independent, buying the kimono herself and living away from the okiya. These girls, called Jimae, only paid a membership fee to work at the okiya.
The matron of the okiya, called okasan, was generally a "retired" geisha who moved on to the administrative side of the profession. Often she decided to adopt daughters (musume) among her maiko to pass on the management of the house. A geisha could also emancipate herself from okiya after paying off all debts and in case she found a patron (danna) wealthy enough to support her financially. In this case the girl could leave the Okiya and go to live elsewhere.
Around the seventh century the saburuko, courtesans whose job was to entertain the noble class, appeared; they were then replaced by the jūyo, upper-town prostitutes most appreciated by the aristocrats. But it is in the Edo period (1603 - 1868) that the birth of the geisha in Japan is traced back: in the beginning it was the men who entertained the guests with dances and songs, but it didn't take long before the women took possession of this profession, exploiting their natural grace in the movements.
The word geisha is formed from the kanji 芸 者, where 芸 indicates art and 者 person; just as her name indicates, the geisha was an expert in the art of entertainment and not a luxury prostitute as she is often depicted in the West. Becoming more and more successful, these female figures definitively replaced the jūyo and, thanks to their growing popularity, neighborhoods were created specifically for them called hanamachi (花街, city of flowers); the customers were mostly businessmen and politicians who gathered in the neighborhood tea rooms to enjoy their company.
The would-be geisha in Japan arrived at the okiya at an early age, often sold by their families to repay their debts, and they also remained there as adults for the entire period in which they practiced the profession, living with other apprentices and geisha. From the very beginning they studied the art of dance, singing and musical instruments such as the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument with a melancholy sound, and the shakuhachi, the bamboo flute; once deemed suitable, the apprentices became maiko (舞 妓, dancing girl) under the guidance of a geisha who acted as their mentor, and obtained a stage name.
The training lasted from three to five years and if passed allowed them to be promoted to geisha in a ceremony called mizuage; however, since it was also a term used for the initiation of prostitutes (causing even more confusion on the figure of the geisha), nowadays the term erikae (襟 替 え, change of collar) is used.
The figure of the geisha was born a man, in fact around the beginning of the sixteenth century, in the entertainment districts: they were also called "hokan" (the equivalent of the court jester) or "taiko mochi" (literally bearer of drums). They, thanks to their light conversation and their comic and musical talent, enlivened the evenings in the clubs of the pleasure districts, where men went mainly to have fun and, if it happened, to end the evening in the bed of a yujo, that is a prostitute.
It was in 1751 that the first taiko-mochi woman appeared in Shimabara, a district of Kyoto; in a few years an increasing number of women entered this profession. At the beginning they were called "onna geisha", that is, a woman geisha; around 1780 women became more numerous than men and after 1800 men were so few that there was no longer any need to specify the sex of the geisha and the term took on the meaning it still has today. In all the main cities of Japan (Kyoto and Tokyo in particular) there were neighborhoods, called hanamachi ("city of flowers") where the ochaya (tea houses) and the okiya (the houses of the geisha) were concentrated in which to enjoy the their talent.
In Kyoto, the various levels of study are also distinguished: during the first year the girls (aged between 15 and 20 years) begin to study the various artistic disciplines, the etiquette, they help the older ones and are called "shikomi". After passing an exam, they become "minarai", they begin to dress and make up according to traditional costumes and accompany the senpai to the evenings to familiarize themselves with work. Finally, there is the real debut that determines the transition to the status of maiko.
In Tokyo, on the other hand, the term "hangyoku" is used which means "half a jewel": the apprentices in fact receive a salary that is about half that of the geisha
Being a geisha is not a job but a lifestyle with many personal sacrifices, including the greatest not being able to marry and not being able to have any romantic relationship. Being a decision to be made at a young age, even their adolescence during the formative years (when one is maiko) is different from that of other girls, all the time is devoted to studying the arts and performing.
Generally speaking, a geisha gets up very early in the morning, spends about an hour putting on make-up and wearing a kimono, and then goes to dance and music lessons. In the afternoon she works in an ochaya (tea room) where she meets customers giving them the TEA CEREMONY, then in the evening she is called to traditional clubs to participate in the ozashiki (geisha party) where she dances, dances and makes conversation.
The appearance of the geisha is very important, she must be perfect. The trick is part of that. The face is made completely white and the lips and eyes red. White makeup is a relic from the days when there were no lamps in the emperor's palace. The artists made all their faces white, with chalk, lime or cyanide, but also with dried droppings of the nightingale, so that the emperor could see them clearly by candlelight. Also, white leather is a status symbol. You could see that you shouldn't have to work outside. So: whiter, richer. As early as 1,500 BC, the peoples of China and Japan made their faces white. They then did so by means of the rice powder.
Once a week, the geisha and maiko hairstyles are made beautiful. A maiko undergoes five different hairstyles during her probationary period. This is to symbolize the steps in his development towards the geisha. A maiko starts with the wareshinobu haircut. Various decorations are placed in the hair, such as: a red silk headband, silver wings, flower that blooms during that month, turtle comb, canoe, canoe hairpin and hairpin in opal, turtle and jade. The transition to a new haircut occurs when the girl has been maiko for about two years. During the mizuage, a ceremony to celebrate the growth of the maiko, the upper curl is symbolically cut. The new hairstyle is called ofuku. On special occasions, the yakko hairstyle is worn in combination with a traditional kimono. And the katsuyama haircut for the month before and after the Gion festival in July. The change of hairstyle marks the final phase of the maiko's career. Clients can see this as a sign that maiko has reached the end of her maiko career.
In the last month as a maiko she has been wearing the sakko hairstyle. By cutting the top curl, the maiko days are over. This can be an exciting time for girls. After the sakko, the geisha maintains the same hairstyle throughout her life as an artist. Wear a wig during performances and performances, because every geisha often has to look the same. The maiko hairstyle, where the hair is tied together at the crown, creates bald spots on the crown. The hairs are held in place by a bamboo pin, which means that the hair roots are constantly under pressure. Due to the itchy scalp, geishas scratch the tip of a hair ornament and this causes the hair to break at the root. After a few years, bald spots appear.
Geishas always wear kimonos. The novice geisha has to work, just to expand her wardrobe. During their career they have therefore lost a considerable amount of money on the purchase of their clothes.
The geisha wears the ribbon in the center, obi, on the back of her back. Due to the difficulty of bonding girls and women often need help getting dressed. The common Japanese has two different kimonos: one for the winter months and one for the summer months. A geisha should wear a different kimono every season and different for every occasion. Each kimono is a work of art and will not be worn unless it is perfect. They are also all unique and are often worn no more than five or six times. Also, wearing a kimono requires a special haircut, footwear, socks and bags.
The neighborhoods where you can meet geishas are called hanamachi, literally translated as the flower district. The district par excellence is Gion in Kyoto, it is an area of ​​the city that still retains characteristic architecture with many ochaya (tea rooms) where geisha work.
To meet one you need to be lucky, they are numerically few and the only way to see them is on the street in the afternoon as they go to the ochayas.

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