Geisha and oiran explained

If, as most books and articles point out, geisha were not prostitutes, where did that impression come from?

Japanese prostitutes that specialized in GIs during the occupation (pan pan girls), understanding the appeal of the exotic East, used to dress up as geisha for their clients.

Why do some Westerners pronounce it “geesha”?

The prostitutes adding a bit of exotic flavour to their work for the occupation forces mentioned above chose that exagerrated American pronunciation to distinguish themselves from actual geisha, and that also later got confused.

Why do geisha have such white make up?

It is an exaggeration of the white skin that is a sign of beauty in Japan and most of Asia (as in Europe until comparatively recently, white skin proves someone is rich enough not to need to work out in the sun).It also helps set them apart from the ordinary world, so making a night with geisha an escape.

Why do geisha leave some of the back of their neck free of white make-up?

Like the character in one of the James Bond books who suffocates because he is completely covered with gold paint, they have to let their skin breathe or they’d drop down dead.

Only joking! It’s supposed to emphasise what is traditionally considered the most erotic part of the body

Why the traditional Japanese erotic focus on necks?

It makes them look vunerable??

Why are there such disagreements over whether a geisha’s virginity was sold or not?

Did the whole thing start with “Memoirs of a Geisha”??

Why did prostitutes wear the obi (belt/ sash) at the front of their kimono?

According to some, it was for ease of dressing and undressing without anyone’s help.

Why do they leave a line between the white make up and the hair?

In Japanese culture, you are always supposed to be able to see the artifice- see bonsai, kabuki, Japanese puppets etc. for other examples. No idea why you’re supposed to be able to see the artifice though…

10 Comments

  1. crella said,

    October 9, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I’ve always thought that the neck being thought of as erotic is simply because that’s all you can see when a woman wears kimono, much as the ankle was erotic in Victorian times. In the west, women wore bustles, ruffles, corsets, all kinds of things that hid the actual bodily contours, a glimpse of ankle was titillating. In the same way, kimono and all the padding, binding, etc that can be necessary to wear one makes all women look similar; you can’t really tell much about a woman’s figure.

  2. alexcase said,

    October 9, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Aha, so it’s not a vampire thing!

    Joking aside, thanks for the continuing thoughful and interesting theories, crella. And thanks for still reading the pages even though the posts have taken a bit of a break

  3. crella said,

    October 10, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Haha, I hadn’t thought of that! :-)

    I enjoy this site quite a bit, I haven’t read even half the topics yet, there’s a lot of information here, it’s quite interesting.

  4. o hey! said,

    November 13, 2008 at 4:05 am

    Actually the is obi being tied in the front isn’t so prostitutes can undress easily.. it’s an artifact of the culture, the oiran (female entertainers, who came before the geisha) wore their obis on the front to mimic married women of the time who did the same. Prostitutes, like oiran are confined to certain areas of town… thus the prostitutes of our era were/are mimicking the oiran of their countries past. It is likely that the oiran became prostitutes, when geisha (who could exist outside of wall, unlike the oiran) became prominent midways through the Edo period.

  5. Rosabell said,

    October 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    ” No idea why you’re supposed to be able to see the artifice though…”

    maybe because seeing the artifice would make you appreciate more the effort of the perfection ? Showing it is an artifice proves you are not faking , but making your effort an art :)

  6. mickayla said,

    October 23, 2009 at 6:30 am

    the reason they leave the line around face or dont paint ears is to make them apper to be wearing a marsk…….the men found it more exillerating to try and work out the real geishs’ face

    they also learnt a form of dance at their special schools that did the same kind of thing (left a line of skin)

  7. ohiokimono said,

    November 19, 2009 at 5:59 am

    This is an awesome post, and more so thank you for sharing with the world such an informative blog.

  8. sara said,

    December 2, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    The line of skin around the hairline is not painted, as the traditional Japanese form of nudity. It is considered sexy like the back of the neck.

  9. mas0475 said,

    November 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I read somewhere that Geisha’s are supposed to look like living dolls and due to the lighting of the time, did in fact look like one. Not sure if this is true or not, but that’s what I read somewhere (forgot there though).

  10. Frank Chappell said,

    August 16, 2014 at 4:47 am

    IO still don’t know what the padding at the back consists of, and why is it worn, please?


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