Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Etiquette for Geisha Watching in Japan

According to JapanVisitor.com, "camera-wielding tourists" have become much more aggressive in stalking Kyoto's geisha.

Sadly, a stigma has been placed on Japan's geisha since World War II. Some believe geisha are simply glorified prostitutes. They are not. Geisha’s are artists and were originally men. The women are entertainers who train vigorously in art, music and dancing. Translated into English, "geisha" means "artist."

Geisha (or geiko in Kyoto dialect) are truly professional entertainers who attend to guests and put them at ease during meals, banquets, or other occasions. They are trained in various traditional Japanese arts, such as dance and music, as well as in the art of communication. Their role is to make guests feel welcome with conversation, drinking games and dance performances.
World War II brought a tremendous decline in geisha arts as most women had to go to factories or other places to work for Japan. The geisha name lost some status during this time also, due to prostitute referring to themselves as "geisha girls" to American military men after the war.

Geisha can be found in several cities across Japan, including Tokyo and Kanazawa, but the former capital of Kyoto remains the best and most prestigious place to experience geisha, who are known there in the local dialect as geiko.

Five major geiko districts (hanamachi) remain in Kyoto. Four of them, Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi, Miyagawacho and Pontocho, are located in or around the Gion district in central Kyoto, while the fifth, Kamishichiken, is located near Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

A geisha is a traditional entertainer trained in classical arts such as dance, tea ceremony, and music. In the modern era geisha are understood to be female, but historically there were male geisha as well. In 1913, an Englishwoman applied for a license to become a geisha. There were already many "half-caste" girls who were geisha in Japan, however "Lena" would be the first white woman to hold such a license.  The application was at first thought to be from someone who had to be "deranged," so it was ignored by Yokohama officials. A second application was sent in and she was granted the license on the 26th of December, 1913.

To combat the pushy foreigners who wish to get photos and meet geisha when visiting Kyoto, Japan, patrols have been created. They are to protect them and escort geisha from tea house to tea house. Some common sense, respect and restraint, on the part of tourists can easily solve this growing problem.

When visiting any of the areas where one will find Geisha, try to keep the following etiquette in mind:

1. Geisha are not costumed characters like at Disneyland, and the tea houses where they work are not theme parks. 
2. The geisha are working. They are not there to pose with you for photos. They are most likely on their way to appointments. They are on a schedule. Stay out of their way.
3. Never touch the geisha. It takes many hours for her to get dressed and prepare for an evening.
4. Do not follow geisha. They are not prey to be stalked.
5. Do not enter a tea house or private residence unless you are expected there.

6. Respect body space. Do not push your camera inches from a geisha's body or face.
7. If you have a brief opportunity, take a photo or video and then move on.

From several sources, including ImmortalGeisha.com and JapanVistitor.com

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia