Sunday, 29 April 2012

A bit about Geisha

I have made 3 quilts for the Orientation exhibition at Redditch Needle Museum, but because
the space is a bit bigger at Minerva, I think I will do a larger piece - for more impact - more along the lines of the Life series I'm working on.

I've been trawling the interweb trying to find out about Geisha's and the Tea Ceremony, and very interesting it all is too!!

I don't know if anyone else out there will be madly interested, but I thought I'd regurgitate some of the things that I've found out.  I've got a rough idea where I'm going with the quilt and here's what it will be based on. (model coming on Wednesday, so not a lot of thinking time left!)  Naively I thought this Geisha stuff was all a very chaste, decorative and zen, but apparently it's not - or at least the roots of it all aren't.

Geisha's and Tea Ceremonies are inescapably linked, but the world of the Geisha is much more complicated. Basically their history starts pre-600's as female entertainers and included sexual services. In traditional Japan men were not expected to be faithful to their wives, who would be a "modest mother and manager of the home" (rather like my goodself!!) and for sexual enjoyment and romantic attachment they went to courtesans. The original "Oiran" (early Geisha) combined being an actress with prostitution, and dancing.  The dancing side was called kabuki and the wild erotic dances became the beginning of the kabuki theatre.

In the 18th century the first Geishas appeared, and were men. (there are still male Geisha today) They entertained customers waiting to see the courtesans.  The first female Geishas were trained as chaste dancers for hire; they called themselves Geisha after the men, and were paid to perform in the private homes of upper-class samurai. They were forbidden to sell themselves for sex to protect the business of the Oiran.  Prostitution was legal in Japan until the1950's and as such was widespread. Since the 1960's girls are no longer sold into indentured service as Maiko and trained to become Geisha, nor are the coerced into sexual relations - her sex life being her own private affair. However I discovered that even in 2001 the auctioning of a maiko's virginity could still happen, and that the men she meets are carefully chosen and unlikely to be casual. Although the ceremony for deflowering a young maiko is supposed to be illegal it's considered a right of passage and part of the understanding a professional geisha should have of the opposite sex, and still occurs.

And if you've stuck with this so far, here's a little bit about the makeup and hair.  Maiko (the young girls who train to be Geisha) have a scarlet fringe on the collar of their komono which hangs very loosley at the back to accentuate the nape of the neck. This is considered a primary erotic area in Japanese sexuality.  She wears white makeup on her face and on the nape, leaving two or three stripes of bare skin exposed.

Her kimono is bright and colourful with an eleaborately tied obi hanging down to her ankles. She takes very small steps and wears traditional wooden shoes called okobo which stand nearly 10 centimeters high. There are 5 different hairstyles that a maiko wears and they mark the different stages of her apprenticeship. They spend hours each week at the hairdresser and sleep on holed pillow to preserve the elaborate styling. They can develop a bald spot on the crown caused by rubbing and tugging in hairdressing and it has become associated with womanhood and a particular hairstyle adopted after a maiko's first sexual experience.  They wear lots of hair combs and pins.  Traditional hairstyling is a dying art and today many women use wigs.

They wear a thick white base makeup on their face with red lipstick and red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows. The white base was originally made from lead, but was replaced with rice powder when the effects of lead poisoning became known. Its a time consuming process to apply with a wax or oil applied next to the skin.  The white powder is mixed with water to a paste and applied with a bamboo brush starting from the neck and working upwards. Leaving some areas of the neck, and around the hairline uncovered (see above) gives the illusion of a mask.  A sponge is then patted to remove excess moisture and blend the foundation.  Then the eyes and eyebrows are drawn in traditionally using charcoal to colour them black. A maiko also applies red around her eyes.

The lips are filled in with a small brush, and the colour comes in a small stick which is melted into water, and sugar added to give lustre. The lower lip is coloured in paritally and the upper lip left white initially but coloured later when the girl become a geisha. The idea is to create a flower bud so the whole of the lips are rarely coloured. For a brief time Maiko also colour their teeth black to contrast to the white face makeup and make them disappear when their mouth is open.

You don't have to be Japanese to be a Geisha. Liza Dalby in the 1970's, an Australian Fiona Graham, in 2007, and in 2012 A Romanian and a Ukrainian. You are expected to remain single and retire if you marry.

Enough?  Perhaps I'll leave the tea ceremony for another time!

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