The Oriental world especially the East Asian countries have a rich cultural heritage and traditions that date back to millions of years. Japan is well known for its penchant for beauty and nurturing aesthetical sense in their children while they are growing up. The world of the geisha, known as the, “Flowers of Willow World” is one such enduring representation of Japanese tradition that speaks of grace, charm, beauty and immense depths of artistic talent. This is a tradition which has been appreciated for the past several centuries and for the people of other countries, geishas have been nothing short of an enigma. Traditional Japanese have guarded this old practice from everyone and very few lucky ones have been allowed to get into the depths of this interesting culture. While the courtesans represent the colorful flower, the geishas, represent the willow, being subtle and graceful and their world is known as the, Flower and Willow world.
During the 16th century, Hideyoshi Toyotomi a high profile and powerful General brought the control of the whole country under one canopy and made the Gion Kobu, renowned as an entertainment district his abode. This district which is located close to Imperial Palace on the Imadegawa Street, probably was the ideal place as the rich and noble were enetrtained by the geishas with their talents in music, singing and crafts. A new section was formed in the district of Gion, close to the Yasaka Shrine where the practice of Geisha first started. Around 17th century, Mizukakejaya or the Taverns were converted into Teahouses which are continued to be used in the similar manner even today. Rich people shell out thousands of money to Geisha for getting entertained. As of today, Gion Kobu is the epicenter of all the activities of contemporary Geisha. The training of Geisha in those days began at the early age of 4 years. But has evolved to incorporate with the changing times.
In Japanese, the word "Geisha" means "Artist". Geishas are professionally trained in various art forms like dance, singing, flower arrangements, playing different musical instruments, calligraphy and above all tea ceremony. Geisha thus is specialized in entertaining the guests at the tea party with their time honored artistic qualities. Since the expectations from the Geisha are enormous, their lives are very much different from common women. Today very few women opt for this type of life due to several limitations. The contemporary Geisha have to undergo apprenticeship after completing the education till junior high school, college or high school level. During the training period, a Geisha is known as "Maiko". There is a special place in Okiya known as Hanamachi where this training is carried out. The Flower and Willow World or the world of Geisha is highly elegant and cultured and is known as "Karyukai". Geishas are regularly asked for attending gatherings at the tea houses or traditional Japanese restaurants and to entertain in the parties. There is a special way of measuring the amount of time spent by the Geisha at a particular place. A perfumed incense stick known as "senkodai" is burnt to measure the amount of time dedicated by Geisha at one gathering. You can easily distinguish the Geisha by their colorful silhouettes walking elegantly on the streets of Pontocho dori or Hanamikoji. However, in the west, geishas are often mistaken for high-class prostitutes. Geishas are highly-trained hostesses. Most Japanese clients are aware of the fact that sex is not a part of geisha entertainment. Famous Geishas enjoy exclusive advantages and powers in the Japanese society. There is a ranking system involved the geishas.While the Gion Kobu are ranked the highest in all the geishas, the others are slightly ranked below them.
The female society of the Flower and Willow world is divided according to status. The owners of the place are known as Aunts or Mothers, whereas, the Maiko is given the status of Onesan or Older Sister. Maiko acts as a role model for the new entrants to the Giesha and trains and guides them. The Aunt or the Mother helps Maiko in the training process. The Maiko has to pay the proprietress for the investment she made for the first 5-7 years. Once she becomes a Geiko or Geisha, she independently handles all her contracts.
Today, the Geishas population is dwindling and are at the brink of extinction. Statistics reveal that the number of Geisha in Japan has come down considerably. In 1920, there were more than 80,000 Geisha serving in the Flower and Willow World but today the number has gone below 100 as the girls prefer a modern lifestyle.
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