One of the very unique cultures of Japan has to do with their professional entertainers, the geisha. Have you ever wondered if geisha are allowed to marry? I have, so I did my research to help you learn more about them.
In essence, Geisha cannot marry. They abide by strict cultural and professional rules dictating that their devotion should be in their professions. Should they want to marry, they are required to quit their jobs and leave the profession.
The restriction on marriage is put in place by strict cultural and traditional standards. So in traditional regions, geisha do not get married. However, there are married geisha who can still work in a geisha capacity in more modernized regions and districts.
Geisha and Relationships
Traditionally, geisha are not allowed to get married. It is a sacred rule in the profession that geisha should be married to the art, not to people. Hence, traditional geisha houses impose restrictions on relationships.
More than the sacred rule, another reason that most geisha houses frown upon marriage and relationships is to preserve their investment in the young girls. Before they can practice the profession, they live in a geisha house to study and be trained on etiquette, walking, ways of men, and traditional arts like calligraphy and dancing.
Geisha who are still in training are called maikos. During their training period, all expenses such as food and accommodation are shouldered by the geisha house, to be paid later by the geisha once they are able to make money from their careers.
In a way, it is a huge investment that they make on these young girls so that they could practice the profession for many years. They are often expected to have lifelong devotion and loyalty in geisha art. Hence, they do not condone relationships and marriage as it would lead to potentially distracting them or compromising their affinity to the profession.
It is possible, though, for geisha to keep secrets and enter private relationships. However, due to the demands of time, work, and training, maintaining a relationship is not an easy feat.
Older geisha also take patrons or danna (husbands) for lovers as a way of financial support to help them settle their debts to the geisha house and pay monthly registration fees.
However, in today’s more modernized society, it is rare for a patron to offer financial support in exchange for intimacy. Though there are still patrons who help geisha with expenses, it is now seen as a way to preserve the geisha art and tradition.
Should a geisha want to get married, she must quit her job as a trade-off. And once she does, it becomes nearly impossible to go back to the geisha house should she wish to practice again. They can, however, go to a different city to train and practice there under a new identity.
There are also many more modernized regions that allow geisha to marry and have lovers while pursuing the profession. The question of whether or not geisha can marry would depend on how culturally strict the city they are practicing in is. The possibility of marriage is more likely for geisha practicing outside the traditionalist districts in Kyoto.
What Geisha Do
Geisha are trained to be professional entertainers. They practice the art of gei, an artistic skill that involves charming men with music, dance, singing, and conversations. They are an embodiment of what ancient Japanese believe to be the perfect woman, thanks to strict and rigorous training.
Young girls typically decide to be geisha by choice, entering the geisha house in their cities as young as 14. In the geisha house, maikos undergo strict training on proper etiquette, posture, walking, as well as traditional arts like calligraphy, flower arrangement, umbrella dancing, and playing traditional instruments. They are even taught how to properly eat and drink without opening their mouths too big and touching their lips!
To become the embodiment of the perfect Japanese woman, geisha must be educated and trained as part of the elite. They need to be overwhelmingly beautiful to be in the business of selling dreams and providing high-class companionship to men.
Because of that, they live with strict rules and etiquettes, which many modern women would not agree to. Things like submission to men, patience, loyalty, and being silent about their opinions are core geisha values that may not be appealing to modern feminists.
Geisha follow a strict code of honor that prohibits them from revealing their personal and private lives to their male customers. This is not only for the sake of their safety, but more so to preserve the “perfect” woman image.
Despite their dancing, singing, and entertaining skills, Japanese men claim that what they appreciate the most about geisha companionship is their skill in conversation. Geisha are very knowledgeable about the latest news and trends. Hence, they have the capacity to indulge in meaningful conversations.
Geisha have studied the science and psychology behind men, their moods, and their behaviors. Through this, are able to become good companions for night outs and leisure activities.
During a night out, geisha spend a lot of time pouring drinks, drinking with patrons, listening, and conversing. They are trained to strengthen their tolerance to alcohol so that they do not stray away from proper behavior while drinking with patrons.
A geisha’s every move is rooted in a Japanese ritual — every action looks like a performance. That is what they are trained for.
Many geisha houses also hold staged geisha performances for tourists. This hour-long presentation conventionally involves 2 nagauta (long epic songs) with music, instruments, singing, and dancing. Some other comical dance performances are the Kyo no Shiki and Yozakuraya.
Interesting in knowing more about geisha? Read more :
A Day in the Life of a Geisha
A bulk of the geisha career involves working at night and attending parties. They are paid generously for a night of entertainment and companionship and are given big tips. In a night’s work, they earn about $300 plus tips. However, this is not enough to pay for the expensive costs of her training, registration fees, debts, and kimonos, which add up to over $2000 monthly.
Despite geisha working at night until the wee hours of the morning, they also have to get up early for training and other household duties. A typical day would begin at 9:00 AM doing errands, household chores, taking lessons, and training. At 6:00 PM, they head to work and finish at about 1:00 or 2:00 AM.
This is what daily life looks like for a geisha, which can take its toll. A lot of them end up quitting after a few years because of exhaustion in training and at work. Not to mention the effect of drinking and inhaling second-hand smoke on their health.
Because it’s so hard to train for and sustain the geisha lifestyle, many maikos never become geishas and quit on their training.
There are those, however, who stay in the profession for their whole lives. There is no retirement in the geisha profession, so many still work until the age of 90 and above. One of the most famous geishas, Haru Kato, performed and worked in the profession until she died at the age of 102, making her one of the oldest geishas to this day.
Traditionally, the geisha profession was seen as a way of life. Once you enter it, you must be devoted and stay in it forever. But times have changed.
The modern-day geisha no longer sees it as a life-long career. Many young girls today enter the geisha house at a young age as a stepping stone before getting married and settling down. Modern-day geisha retire by the age of 40.
Are There Male Geisha?
There are male geisha. They are called Hokan or talko-mochi, which means “drum bearer”. Hokans undergo the same training and take the same lessons as female geisha.
In fact, the earliest geisha were men who professionally charmed and entertained male companions with conversations, service, music, and dance. Females only started becoming geisha in the mid 18th century.
Are there still geisha in the modern-day?
The geisha culture and tradition have effectively been preserved in Japan. Although rituals are not as strict as they were traditionally, most of the geisha culture can still be witnessed. Today, there are about 273 geishas in Gion District, a famous pleasure destination in Kyoto.
Can geisha fall in love?
Most geisha houses prohibit geisha and maikos from falling in love and having relationships. So most do it secretly. Should they want to marry, they need to quit their jobs and leave the geisha house. However, there are modernized cities that have looser restrictions with regard to relationship and marriage.
Are geisha respected?
Quite contrary to popular belief and misconceptions, geisha are very much respected. Japanese culture would know and understand how difficult it is to train as a maiko and gain geisha status. With their immense training, they are seen as professional entertainers with outstanding etiquette and characteristics.