Geisha means Artist

In The Valmont Contingency, Tasha Ocasek’s mother is a master geisha, who runs a school in the traditional Nipponese arts on the planet Honshu. Tasha spent the first eight years of her life with her mother, and has kept up her studies of the samisen, a traditional instrument played by plucking strings. She can also correctly apply the highly stylized makeup mostly worn by apprentice geisha, who are usually known as maiko.

I want to make one thing very, very clear: a geisha is not a prostitute or a courtesan. Geisha means artist, and so women who work as geisha dance, play musical instruments, wear traditional clothing, hairstyles and makeup (although they usually only bother with full makeup for important events), and perform the Tea Ceremony.

Hiring a full geisha to perform for an evening is very expensive, sort of like hiring an opera singer, or a concert violinist. Visiting a geisha‘s tea house is the equivalent of going to a highly accurate Renn Faire. It isn’t anything like hiring an Escort.

This is not to say that the traditional cultures of Japan and China did not include prostitutes and courtesans, because they did. And those courtesans and prostitutes wore full kimono, elaborate hairstyles and full stylized makeup. Confusing, right?

One quick way to tell the difference is that a geisha will always have her obi (kimono belt) tied in back, requiring someone to dress her and undress her. She’s not going to shed that very expensive traditional kimono until she’s done for the day. A yujo (prostitute) or oiran (courtesan) ties her obi in front so that she can undress and dress herself.

A note of caution: Sometimes respectable middle-class women tied their obi in front as well, particularly if they were working. You don’t want to mistake a hard-working farmwife for a woman of pleasure — it could cause all kinds of trouble.

Victoria’s Secret recently got in trouble for advertising a “naughty geisha” outfit, which appeared to be a mesh body suit with fabric in a few strategic places. As far as I’m concerned, they should have gotten in trouble, because a naughty geisha would wear a translucent kimono with a wide obi providing strategic coverage — you know, like Tasha’s Red Kimono, not something that snaps in the crotch.

Duh.

 

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