One of the most iconic symbols of Japan is the geisha, who most westerners picture as a beautifully ordained young woman, with her painted in white. Many people also assume that they were nothing more than courtesans who could charm any man. However, most of these assumptions are far from the truth: men were the original geishas, and their jobs had nothing to do with luring men into bed with them. This article highlights some of the misconceptions you have about geishas that are dead wrong!
1. They Wore White Face Paint All Time
The typical image of a geisha floating on the internet is that of a beautiful young girl wearing white face paint and an elegant kimono. However, the face paint wasn’t an everyday look in the lives of an average geisha—it was only used for special occasions and their regular makeup wasn’t any different from what regular women would wear. The white face paint was a symbol of inexperience and was often worn by underage, barely pubescent apprentices who were in training. So the more experience she gained, the simpler she was allowed to dress.
2. Only Women Were Geishas
When the first female geisha popped up around 1751, many people treated it as this weird idea and she was hardly taken seriously. This is because, although it’s now a mostly female job, men were the original geishas and this had been the case for hundreds of years. Their duties were exactly the same as their female counterparts: entertain male lords by performing songs, telling jokes, serving tea and pretty much stroking their egos. Even to this day, female geishas in Japan are still called by the feminine word “geiko ” because technically, a geisha is supposed to be a man.
3. Geishas Are Escorts
Despite what you may believe, geishas weren’t prostitutes—this was the hob of high-class courtesans known as orian. Instead, geishas were hired to entertain male customers to keep them from walking out while they waited for their turn. They even dabbled in a bit of role playing by letting the men imagine themselves as studs who could seduce beautiful women instead of desperate johns. The association of geishas and courtesans came about during WWII when Japanese prostitutes would call themselves geishas in an attempt to lure in American soldiers as customers.
4. Only Young Geishas Are Seen as Desirable
Contrary to popular belief, not all geishas were young. If anything, older geishas were held in high regard and received more respect as they got older. Some of the most popular geishas were in their fifties and sixties and the world’s oldest geisha was well into her 90s. They also believe that their beauty increased with age, and the older a woman was, the less makeup she was allowed to wear on her face; she was allowed to show off. So by the age of 30, a geisha would drop her face paint as it’s believed that her natural beauty had come out.
5. Becoming A Geisha Was Always Easy
Today, many geisha apprentices start training as early as 15-years-old. But that wasn’t always the case. In the old days, girls who became geishas often came from an impoverished family who sold them to a geisha house where their training would take place, beginning at the tender age of just 6-years-old! Geishas today don’t go through half of the rigorous training; they don’t even work near the courtesans until they’re a bit older. Instead of a lifelong training session, some geisha houses today will only offer one day of training!
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