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Voorkant Iwasaki 'Geisha - A life' Mineko IWASAKI
Geisha - A life
New York etc: Atria Books, 2002;
ISBN-13: 978 07 4345 3042

[Dit is een autobiografie van iemand die als een zeer succesvolle geisha geleefd heeft, maar dan wel een autobiografie die bijzonder goede infomatie biedt over de rol van geisha / geiko in de Japanse cultuur en over de relaties die zij aangaan met hun klanten. Iwasaki maakt duidelijk dat het niet om seksuele relaties gaat, al merkt ze ook nuchter op dat er ook tussen geisha en klanten wel eens verliefdheden optreden of huwelijken gesloten worden. Daarbij beschrijft ze ook de status van huwelijken in het toenmalige Japan. De rol van de geisha is het bieden van amusement door allerlei kunstvormen als dans en muziek. Goede conversatie en humor zijn verder minstens zo belangrijk. Het bestaan van een geisha is een bijzonder gereglementeerd en gereguleerd bestaan. Zo vergaand zelfs dat deze auteur er om die reden genoeg van kreeg om geisha te zijn: ze vond dat vernieuwing nodig was maar de tradities en maatschappelijke verhoudingen hielden dat tegen. Hier uitsluitend citaten die de informatie samenvatten met zoals gewoonlijk het accent vooral op de waarden en normen die een rol spelen. Het was weer een slecht epub-boek, dus de paginering is bij benadering.]

"I find great irony in my choice of profession. A first-class geiko is constantly in the glare of spotlights while I spent much of my childhood hiding in a darkened closet. A first-class geiko uses all the skills at her command to please her audience, to make every person she comes in contact with feel wonderful, while I prefer solitary pursuits. A first-class geiko is an exquisite willow tree who bends to the service of others while I have always been stubborn and contrary by nature, and very, very proud. While a first-class geiko is a master of creating an atmosphere of relaxation and amusement, I don’t particularly enjoy being with other people. A star geiko is never, ever alone and I always wanted to be by myself."(4)

"Yoneyu had a brilliant career. She was the highest grossing geiko in prewar Japan, ensuring that the Iwasaki okiya was one of the most successful houses. She was a classic beauty and men fell all over her. One of her sponsors was a very important Baron who kept her on a generous retainer. He paid her a stipend so that she would be available to entertain him and his guests whenever he so desired. This sort of arrangement is not unusual. Having a principal geiko at your beck and call is a major status symbol in Japanese society. And the 1930s were a time of flourishing abundance for Gion Kobu. The district attracted guests from all over, men from the highest ranks of the business world and the aristocracy. They competed with each other to help support the most popular geiko. It is somewhat similar to the patronage of, say, the opera, but instead of being on the board of the opera house, a man would choose to support his favorite diva. And in the same way that a patron of the opera does not expect sexual favors from the diva, the Baron supported Yoneyu solely because of the artistic perfection that she embodied and the luster that she lent to his reputation.
However, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. You can’t put talented, beautiful, elegant women together with rich and powerful men and expect nothing to happen. Romantic entanglements happen all the time, some leading to marriage and others to heartache. I met the love of my life, for example, while I was working. Old Meanie, on the other hand, was constantly falling in love with customers who ended up breaking her heart.
Yoneyu herself had a long-term relationship with a wealthy and powerful man named Seisuke Nagano, the heir to a major kimono concern. It was not uncommon in prewar Japan for successful men to have extramarital affairs. Marriages were arranged for the purpose of continuing bloodlines, not for pleasure, and men of means often had mistresses."(34-35)

"I don’t mean to imply that a geiko can’t be married. Some of the most successful geiko I knew were married and lived independently from their okiya. I was in awe of one geiko in particular, a tall, willowy woman named Ren, for the way she skillfully balanced the demands of an active career with those of a husband. But most of us found the idea too daunting and waited until we retired to get married. Others enjoyed their independence so much they never gave it up."(36)

"Even though she was quite beautiful, Fumichiyo was not skillful at charming customers. She lacked the playful artifice and sense of humor that a successful geiko needs. Being a geiko is not simply a matter of mastering one’s art form. One must also have passion and enthusiasm for the profession, which requires a profound commitment, an enormous amount of work, an unflappable countenance, and the presence of mind to stay calm in the midst of disaster."(40)

"Auntie Oima told me she was dumbfounded. It’s difficult for me to express adequately the importance of kimono in a geiko’s life or to convey just how transgressive Yaeko’s act actually was. Kimono, the costumes of our profession, are sacred to us. They are the emblems of our calling. Made from some of the finest and most expensive textiles in the world, kimono embody beauty as we understand it. Each kimono is a one-of-a kind work of art that its owner has taken an active role in creating.
In general, we can tell a lot about a person from the quality of the kimono that he or she is wearing: financial status, sense of style, family background, personality. There may be little variation in the cut of a kimono but there is a tremendous variety in the colors and patterns of the materials used to make them.
There is an art to matching the choice of kimono to the situation in which it is worn. Seasonal appropriateness is paramount. The canons of traditional Japanese taste divide the year into twenty-eight seasons, each of which has its own symbols. Ideally, the colors and patterns on the kimono and obi reflect the exact season, nightingales in late March, for example, or chrysanthemums in early November."(43)

"Traditional Japanese dance looks very different from its Western counterparts. It is done in white cotton tabi socks rather than special shoes. The movements, unlike ballet, for instance, are slow and focus on one’s relationship to the ground rather than the sky. Like ballet, however, the movements require highly trained muscles to perform and are taught as fixed patterns (kata) that are strung together to form an individual piece. The Inoue School is considered the best school of traditional dance in Japan. The inoue iemoto is therefore the most powerful person in the traditional dance world. She is the standard by which all other dancers are judged."(47)

"Most tradesmen came in the morning. Men were allowed in the Iwasaki okiya after 10 A.M., when most of the inhabitants had left. The iceman brought in the ice for the icebox. Kimono salesmen, caterers, bill collectors, and others were greeted in the genkan. There was a bench they could sit on while conducting business. Male relatives, like my father, were allowed to come in as far as the dining room. Only priests and children were allowed deeper entry. Not even Aba’s husband, Auntie Oima’s younger brother, was free to come and go at his own will. This is why the whole notion of 'geisha houses' being dens of ill repute is so ridiculous. Men are barely allowed inside these bastions of feminine society, let alone permitted to frolic with the inhabitants after they arrive."(50)

"After lunch Auntie Oima or Kuniko handed out the assignments for that evening to the assembled geiko. Then the women 'got to work' researching the people they would be entertaining that evening. If one of her customers was a politician she studied the legislation he was sponsoring, if one was an actress she read an article about her in a magazine, if one was a singer she listened to his records. Or read his or her novel. Or studied the country the guest came from. We used all the resources at our disposal to do this. I spent many an afternoon, especially when I was a maiko, in bookstores, libraries, and museums. Younger girls turned to their 'older sisters' for advice and information."(50-51)

"In late afternoon the maiko and geiko returned to the Iwasaki okiya to dress, and the doors of the Iwasaki okiya were closed to outsiders for the rest of the day. The maiko and geiko took baths, fixed their hair, and put on their highly stylized makeup. Then the dressers would arrive to get them into their costumes. All of our dressers came from the Suehiroya.
Most dressers are men, and they are the one exception to the no-men-in-the-inner apartments-of-the-okiya rule. They were allowed up to the main dressing room on the second floor. Being a dresser is a highly skilled profession, one that takes years to master. A good dresser is critical to a geiko’s success. Balance is essential. When I debuted as a maiko, for example, I weighed 79 pounds. My kimono weighed 44. I had to balance the whole getup on 6-inch-high wooden sandals. If one thing was out of place it could have spelled disaster.(...)
The whole point of the geiko enterprise is perfection, and the dresser’s job is to ensure that perfection. If anything is missing, slightly out of place, or seasonally inappropriate, the dresser is the person who ultimately bears the blame.
The relationship goes far beyond the external. Because of their intimate access to the internal workings of the system, the dressers have become the standard brokers of various relationships within the karyukai, such as the elder/younger sister pairings. They serve as escorts in appropriate situations. And lastly, they are our friends. One’s dresser often becomes one’s confidant, a person one turns to for brotherly advice and counsel."(51-52)

"Relationships in Gion Kobu last a long time, and harmony is prized above any other social value. Though characteristic of Japanese society as a whole, the emphasis on peaceful coexistence is even more pronounced in the karyukai. I believe that there are two reasons for this. The first is that our lives are so intertwined. People have no choice but to get along.
The other reason is in the nature of the enterprise. Maiko and geiko entertain powerful people from every quarter of society and from all over the world. We are de facto diplomats who have to be able to communicate with anyone. But this doesn’t mean we are doormats. We are expected to be sharp-witted and insightful. Over time, I learned how to express my thoughts and opinions without causing offense to others."(66)

"An event at an ochaya is called an ozashiki. This loosely translates as 'banquet', or 'dinner party', and is also the name of the private room in which the event is held. An ozashiki is an occasion for a host and his or her guests to enjoy the very best in cuisine, relaxation, stimulating conversation, and refined entertainment that the ochaya can provide. An ozashiki lasts for a few hours, takes place in a totally private and pristine space, and, like the tea ceremony, ideally provides a break from daily affairs. The ochaya provides the setting, the maiko and geiko act as catalysts, but it is the sophistication of the guests that determines the tone of the evening."(85)

"A strong bond of loyalty develops between an ochaya and its regular customers, many of whom host ozashiki at least once a week, if not more often. Similarly, customers develop real relationships with the geiko of whom they are most fond. We get to know our regular customers very well. Some of the dearest relationships of my life began in the ozashiki. My favorite customers were professionals who were expert in some field of knowledge. The most enjoyable ozashiki for me personally were those in which I learned something.
There were some customers I liked so much that I always found time to attend their ozashiki, no matter how tightly my schedule was booked. And others I tried my best to avoid. The bottom line, though, is that the geiko has been hired to amuse the host of the ozashiki and his or her guests. She is there to make people feel good. When a geiko enters an ozashiki she is required to go over to whoever is seated in the place of honor and engage that person in conversation. No matter what she is feeling, her expression must declare: 'I couldn’t wait to come right over and speak to you'. If her face says, 'I can’t stand you', she doesn’t deserve to be a geiko. It is her job to find something likable about everyone.
Sometimes I had to be nice to people whom I found physically repulsive. This was the hardest because repulsion is a difficult reaction to conceal. But the customers had paid for my company. The least I could do was treat every one of them graciously. Sublimating one’s personal likes and dislikes under a veneer of gentility is one of the fundamental challenges of the profession."(86)

"Conversation at a banquet is wide-ranging, and geiko are presumed to be knowledgeable about current events and contemporary literature as well as thoroughly grounded in traditional art forms such as the tea ceremony, flower arranging, poetry, calligraphy, and painting. The first forty or fifty minutes of a banquet are normally devoted to a pleasant discussion of these topics.
Serving women (naikai) serve the banquet, assisted by maids, though the geiko will pour sake. Needless to say, the cuisine must be excellent. Ochaya do not prepare their own food but rely on the many gourmet restaurants and catering services (shidashi) in the area to provide feasts commensurate with the host’s tastes and pocketbook.
The fee for a banquet at an ochaya is not inexpensive. An ozashiki costs about $500 an hour. This includes the use of the room and the services of the ochaya staff. It does not include the food and drink that is ordered, nor the fees for the services of the geiko. A two-hour party with a full dinner for a few guests and three or four geiko in attendance can easily cost $2,000.
The ochaya must meet the discriminating standards of customers from the top ranks of Japanese and international society. Historically based on the refined aesthetic of the tea ceremony, the ochaya embodies the best of traditional Japanese architecture and interior design. Each room must have a tatami floor and a tokonoma (alcove) replete with the appropriate monthly hanging scroll and a suitable arrangement of flowers in a suitable vase. These amenities are completely changed for each guest.
At some point the geiko perform. There are basically two kinds of geiko, a tachikata and a jikata. A tachikata is a main performer. She is trained to dance and play an instrument other than the shamisen, such as the flute or hand drum. A jikata is an accompanist who is trained to play the shamisen and sing. Tachikata begin their training early and debut as maiko when they are in their early teens whereas jikata, who come out as ordinary geiko, tend to study for a shorter period of time and debut when they are older (such as my sister Tomiko).
Physical beauty is a requirement to become a tachikata but not a jikata. Tachikata who do not develop into skillful dancers focus on becoming expert in the playing of their instrument.
The Iwasaki okiya was known for its drumming, and I studied the tsutsumi hand drum from the time I was a child. Because of my fame as a dancer I was rarely asked to play the tsutsumi at ozashiki, but I played it in on stage every year during the Miyako Odori.
During a banquet, a tachikata will dance. A jikata geiko will play the shamisen and sing. After the performance, conversation often turns to artistican matters. The geiko may tell amusing story or lead the group in a drinking game.
A geiko’s fee is calculated in units of time known as hanadai, or 'flower charges', usually calculated in fifteen-minute lengths, which are then billed to the client. In addition to the hanadai, customers also give the geiko cash tips (goshugi), which they place in small white envelopes and may tuck into her obi or sleeve. She is free to keep these for herself.
At the end of the night, the ochaya calculates the hanadai for all the maiko and geiko who have attended banquets there that evening. They write the tallies down on slips of paper that they place in a box in the entryway of the ochaya. The next morning a representative of the kenban, or financial affairs office, makes the rounds of the ochaya to collect all the slips from the night before. These are tallied and reported to the Kabukai. The kenban is an independent organization that performs this service on behalf of the geiko association.
The kenban checks with the okiya to make sure that the accounts agree, and, if no mistake has been made, calculates the distribution of income. It tells the ochaya how much is due it to pay taxes and monthly fees. It then specifies the amount that the ochaya is to pay the okiya.
The ochaya, in turn, keeps its own accounts and bills its customers on a regular basis. This used to be done on a yearly basis but is now done once a month. After being paid, the ochaya then settles with the okiya.
The okasan of the okiya notes the amount received in the geiko’s ledger, deducts fees and expenditures, and transfers the remainder to the geiko’s account.
This transparent system of accounting means that we know which geiko did the most business on any given day. It is always clear who is Number One.
But as I soon learned, it didn’t matter. Like many all-female societies, the Gion Kobu is fraught with intrigue, backstabbing, and vicious competitive relationships. The rigidity of the system may have caused me years of frustration, but the years of rivalry caused me true sadness."(94)

"The first request I received as a maiko to attend an ozashiki came from Ichirikitei, the most famous ochaya in Gion Kobu. A number of important historical meetings and incidents have taken place in the private rooms of the Ichirikitei, so much so that it has taken on a legendary quality. The Ichirikitei often appears as the setting for the action in novels and plays.
This has not always benefited Gion Kobu. Some of the fiction has served to propagate the notion that courtesans ply their trade in the area and that geiko spend the night with their customers. Once an idea like this is planted in the general culture it takes on a life of its own. I understand that there are some scholars of Japan in foreign countries who also believe these misconceptions to be true."(99)

"In 1872 a Peruvian ship named the Maria Luz docked in the port of Yokohama. It was carrying a number of Chinese slaves who managed to escape their captors and apply to the Meiji government for asylum. The government, saying it did not have a policy of recognizing slavery, set the men free and sent them back to China. This brought a storm of protest from the Peruvian government, who claimed that Japan had it’s own de facto system of slavery in its licensing of women who worked in the pleasure quarters.
The Meiji government, which was striving to enter the world stage as a modern country, was extremely sensitive to international opinion. In order to pacify the Peruvians, it issued an Emancipation Act that abolished the obligatory terms of service (nenki-boko) under which many of the women worked. In the process, the perception of the role of the oiran (courtesan) and the geisha (entertainer) became intertwined and confused. It still is.
Three years later, in 1875, the matter came up formally before an international tribunal that was presided over by the czar of Russia. It was the first time Japan had ever been involved in human rights litigation and it won the case, but it was too late to correct the misconception that geiko were slaves.
In response to the Emancipation Act, Jiroemon Sugiura, ninth generation of the ochaya Ichirikitei; Inoue Yachiyo III, iemoto of the Inoue School; Nobuatsu Hase, governor of Kyoto; and Masanao Uemura, councilor, founded an association known as the Gion Kobu Female Professional Training Company. The name was shortened to the Kabukai, or Performers Association. The organization’s charter was to advance the self sufficiency, independence, and social position of women working as artists and entertainers. Its motto was 'We sell art, not bodies'."(102-103)

"The consortium founded a vocational school to train the geiko. Before the war, girls who began professional training at six (five by modern reckoning) were allowed to enter the school after they finished the fourth grade. In those days, a girl might become a maiko or geiko as young as eleven or twelve. After the war, in 1952, the foundation became an educational foundation and the name of the school was changed to the Yasaka Nyokoba Academy. Due to educational reform, girls now had to graduate from junior high school before entering the Nyokoba and could not become maiko until they turned fifteen."(103)

"One of the misconceptions about the karyukai is that it caters solely to men. This simply isn’t true. Women host ozashiki too, and often attend them as guests.
It is true that the majority of our customers are men, but we often get to know their families. My clients often brought their wives and children to visit me in the ochaya and to watch me perform on stage. Wives seemed to like the Miyako Odori, in particular,and often invited me to their homes on special occasions like New Year’s Day. A husband might be presiding over a stuffy ozashiki of business executives in one room while his wife and her girlfriends were laughing it up in another. I would finish up with the gentlemen as soon as decorum allowed and happily glide down the hall to join the ladies."(106-107)

"Because I was so popular, customers were billed for a full hour of my time even if I was only with them for a few minutes. In this way, I accumulated many more hanadai than time units worked. Every night. I don’t have the exact figures, but I believe I was earning about $500,000 a year. This was a good deal of money in 1960s Japan, more than that earned by the presidents of most companies. (It is also the reason the notion that geiko perform sexual favors for their clients is so ridiculous. With this much income, why would we?"(119)

"The change in hairstyle meant that I had entered the later stages of my career as a maiko. My regular customers took this as a signal that I was nearing marriageable age and started to approach me with proposals. Not for themselves, of course, but for their sons and grandsons.
The geiko of Gion Kobu make famously prized wives for rich and powerful men. One couldn’t ask for a more beautiful or sophisticated hostess, especially if one travels in diplomatic or international business circles. And a geiko brings with her the cornucopia of connections she has cultivated over her career, which can be very important for a young man starting out.
From the geiko’s point of view, she needs a partner who is as interesting as the men she meets every night of the week. Most have no desire to leave their aerie of glamour and openness for the constriction of a middle-class existence. And geiko are used to having a lot of money. I have seen instances where working geiko married for love and basically kept their husbands. These relationships were rarely successful.
What about the women who are the mistresses of married patrons? Those stories could fill another volume. The classic tale is that of a wife lying on her deathbed. She calls the geiko to her side and thanks her tearfully for taking such good care of her husband. Then she dies, the geiko becomes the man’s second wife, and they live happily ever after.
It is rarely that straightforward."(129-130)

"The 'flower and willow world' is a society apart, complete with its own rules and regulations, its own rites and rituals. It allows for sexual relationships outside of marriage, but only if those relationships adhere to certain guidelines.
Most long-term relationships in Japan, such as those between man and wife and teacher and disciple, are arranged by a third party who continues to act as a go between even after the two have been joined. Thus, Mother Sakaguchi arranged my apprenticeship to the iemoto and remained ready to intervene whenever there was a problem. The okasan of the ochaya was making a serious commitment when she agreed to be a 'party to the discussion'. It effectively meant that she was accepting the role as our go-between. On her advice, we immediately went to the okiya to confer with Mama."(153)

"Shimabara used to be a licensed quarter where women known as oiran and tayu (courtesans, high-class prostitutes) plied their trade, though they were accomplished in the traditional arts as well. A young oiran also underwent a ritual called a 'mizuage' but hers consisted of being ceremoniously deflowered by a patron who had paid handsomely for the privilege. (This alternative definition of the word 'mizuage' has been the source of some confusion about what it means to be a geisha.) Tayu and oiran worked under contracts of indenture and were confined to the district until their period of servitude was over."(159)

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