JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when in crowds.

Oiran courtesan. Also see my [url=http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=559]photos of an oiran show here.[/url] My oiran [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNncpdEFOB0]video at YouTube here.[/url]
The highest-ranking geisha is called an oiran or tayu. She is escorted by two little attendant girls called kamuro. Notice her high clogs. It takes some skill to walk in those and she usually requires someone's shoulder to hold onto while walking. Sometimes at festivals or special events, you can see the Oiran Dochu procession where she walks in a parade together with geisha attendants. 
Keywords: japanese vintage postcards nihon bijin women beauty geisha maiko woman kimono oiran kamuro courtesan yoshiwara

Oiran courtesan. Also see my photos of an oiran show here. My oiran video at YouTube here.

The highest-ranking geisha is called an oiran or tayu. She is escorted by two little attendant girls called kamuro. Notice her high clogs. It takes some skill to walk in those and she usually requires someone's shoulder to hold onto while walking. Sometimes at festivals or special events, you can see the Oiran Dochu procession where she walks in a parade together with geisha attendants.

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Comments   [Sep 19, 2008 at 02:09 AM]
From: tell'em_like_i_see'em (Nov 23, 2005 17:05)
I think that the people who pretend to be so very appalled by the idea that geisha were a form of prostitutes should ponder why they feel this way. Often our emotions will get out of hand when we are confronted by discrepancies between what we want to be true and what actually is the truth. In my opinion if it looks like a duck, acts like a duck and receives money to �!! ;-)

From: Mae (Dec 07, 2005 09:14)
this is certainly not a Geisha. She's a Tayuu or Oiran. If you do some reserches you might find out. Geisha's aren't prostitutes. Geisha's are people who entertain ( dancing, singing, etc...). She ties her obi at the back whilst the Tayuu tie theirs in front. Plus, Tayuus are so much more accessorated.

From: Confused (Dec 08, 2005 16:42)
Huh? I thought an Oiran was the highest ranking Geisha or something. But I;m probably wrong. But I don't see the reason for a lot of idiot comments on this page. I personally think this is a lovely site with some pretty pictures (most Geisha pictures on Google are horrible looking!).

I think some people that have commented should just relax and have fun viewing all the pics.

I don't think some Westerner who thinks that he knows about Asian culture can really have a say in any sort of discussion such as this one. Why? Because Geishas DID give sexual favors for money such as her Mizuage and Danna. But when Westerners hear this they go "OH MY GOD! They are prostitutes!" Yet they are ignorant enough to only look from their perspective and their view of Asian culture from their civilization.

Geishas are Geishas, prostitutes are prostitutes, whining about how bad prostitutes are won't make them disappear so stop whining about them, all men try to deny it, but in they end, they just want their "eels" to explore new "caves", and if they try to move above that; then they are 1) hypocrite or 2) sissy who can';t face the truth.
From: tell'em_like_i_see'em (Dec 11, 2005 19:08)
This name says it all. But no no "Confused", felt the need to give us a clear and vivid demonstration of just what a hypocrite is. Also appreciated was the clear and vivid demonstration of one who is ignorant enough to only look from their perspective. And by the way; a bigot is a bigot, might need to contemplated by this open foe of all �Westerners�.

Here�s to you "Confused" and good luck finding new caves for your sissy eel.

From: Jessi (Dec 29, 2005 17:03)
okay ppl. are Geisha's really prostotues or not, doo they really do sexual stuff for men?

From: maikeru (Jan 08, 2006 17:12)
the level of ignorance tossed about on these pages is unbelieveable. and that such a caption can even be sited to that photograph is disgusting... to label a oiran or tayu as a geisha of the highest rank is obscene... what's next? perhaps a movie about geisha which casts chinese as the lead role?? hmmmm...

From: tan (Jan 18, 2006 15:28)
they are not prostitutes you all got that.
philbert   [Sep 19, 2008 at 02:08 AM]
From: philbert (Nov 08, 2005 ) More oiran (...)
Comments   [Sep 19, 2008 at 02:05 AM]
From: faenocturne@gmail.com (Jul 13, 2005 23:16)
Why do people always pick and choose quotations from books? It's usually a sign they haven't read the whole thing.

Tayu, or whatever name they were called at the time, were highly trained in an artform. That artform happened to be sexual prowess. This is gone over in the same Liza Dalby book, "Geisha", that you have quoted.

Also, she states that in a certain time period, more experienced and slightly older geisha DID tie their obi in the front so as to be distinguished from their younger counter parts.

As for geisha taking "pillow money", I'm quite sure it happens in Gion, as well as the provinces the Kyoto geisha looked down upon. As you read Dalby's book, at one point in visiting the Akasaka geisha whose only visible artform was being at the head of fashion. She was appalled that the teahouse in that district that she was at didn't even have a shamisan on premises.

The Japanese police and the givers and takers of "pillow money" are really the only ones who can atttest to who does what where and with whom.

I am *quite* certain if (and this is a big if) there are current books about the subject of geisha being connected to prostitution, they certainly wouldn't be readily available to high-school debaters who come up with such pithy comebacks. Stick to trying to score enough on your SAT's to get into something better than junior college.

As for the rest of the beraters, he made a mistake. The rest of his information, while rather repetitive, is true. He is displaying artworks for YOUR enjoyment.

Shut up and enjoy them.

From: gaeus@yahoo.com (Jul 22, 2005 19:14)
I have heard this discussion before and in the 1.5 years these commenta have said little.
I have never seen it said that geisha are celibet which means they were having sex with someone.
Next question, is the goal of a geisha to become an oiren like maiko desire to become geisha?
I can not imagine a maiko refusing to become a geisha. Similarly I don't think a geisha would turn down the chance to become an oiren.
Eitherway, the conflict here is not what did geisha do but people prudish concepts of sex. If is the ignorant idea that a woman recieved money for sex she must be some type of (...). It is this thinking that is insulting not the idea that they had sex.
Lose your prudish hang-ups about sex and the question of did geisha get paid for sex is no longer important.

From: O-REN ISHI (Nov 07, 2005 18:00)
Comments   [Sep 19, 2008 at 02:02 AM]
From: greatjob! (Apr 23, 2004 03:00)
I have learned much from this site. Thank you for leaving the caption as is. I find it interesting that the high platform shoes (for lack of a betterword) that she is wearing are very similar in idea to the ones worn by Venetian courtesans (calles chopines)during the Italian Renaissance period. Thanks for all of the constructive corrections, too.

From: natalie (May 03, 2004 22:42)
pretty picture....
whats this obsession with prostitutes?There are kids on this picture people watch your language!

From: flash (Aug 08, 2004 16:08)
I've done a lot of research into the various roles women play in both modern and ancient societies, and there is only one real conclusion that can be reached--you all a bunch of hoes.

From: Frank (Sep 12, 2004 21:14)
A "Flash" to Flash - As they say, it takes one to know one. If there were any "ignorant" comments on this page - without a doubt, the one by Flash is the "MOST!!!"

From: Lauren (Knucklessanwitch@aol.com) (Sep 21, 2004 05:53)
OUch... reading all of this made my head hurt. I do have a question though. All of you seem well informed. Do you know of any websites that show how to tie the obi in the longer hanging style of the Maiko?

Drop me a line if you can help. Thanks.

From: Chris(chriskyra@yahoo.com (Oct 10, 2004 23:44)
Yes. Please let me know how you tie the Obi also. Thank you.

From: Ash (Feb 14, 2005 00:27)
Okay guys, someone made a mistake. They are human, get over it!

From: yoshiwara (Mar 07, 2005 17:55)
The description 'The highest-ranking geisha is called an oiran or tayu' should be corrected to 'The highest-ranking courtesan is called an oiran or tayu'. The distinction is quite clear, whether or not a geisha sells sexual favours. The image is in no way an image of a geisha.

From: senggana@yahoo.com (Jun 09, 2005 05:08)
can i find information about art of sex from geisha?please i nedd to my study.

From: Japanese Fan (Jul 03, 2005 21:05)
Geishas are awesome, they are truly the highlight of Japanese Culture in my opinion. If you look at logic, Why would any prostitute go through so much trouble for sex? Geishas are entertainers. They play music and dance. Perhaps a wealty prostitute took that the wrong way and word spread that Geishas are prostitutes. That is only a theory though. Maybe the media has made them appear to be prostitutes. What ever the case, geishas are not prostitutes. That be like saying Elvis was a prostitute because he was an entertainer who wore "Unusual" clothing.
philbert   [Sep 19, 2008 at 02:01 AM]
From: philbert (Apr 01, 2004 03:09)
Thanks for all your notes. I could correct the innocently-written caption for this postcard, but then all these notes would become invalid. So I'll leave the caption as is and have this debate continue for everyone's amusement (and sometimes education).
Kiki   [Sep 19, 2008 at 02:00 AM]
From: Kiki (Mar 12, 2004 01:12)
*ahem* I am not going to point out the obvious, as many people before me have. I am going to agree with many other commenters on this note: please, please, please research your information BEFORE you put it up. There is plenty of information out there on the correct meanings of both geisha and tayu(also known as oiran, I do believe). Oh and real quick: the first recorded geisha was a MAN. Yes, the geisha and prostitutes came out of the same world, but their world diverged after that. One world offered sex, the other offered art and entertainment.

Now as for why I think so many people were outraged at this misleading mistake, is the extreme difference between a prositute and a geisha. A prostitute (tayu, oiran,kamuru, etc)sold her body for sex and company. She dressed ostentaiously, flamboyantly, and yes,with her obi tied in front.

A geisha was a woman her sold her time...she was like the perfect dinner companion. The best geisha are not the prettiest, but the most intelligent, wittiest ones. It is not easy to become a geisha. In fact, a girl used to have to spend 7-12 years as an apprentice, and then a maiko, before she could "turn her collar" and become a geisha. She would spend that time perfecting her competance in playing instruments, dancing, painting, conversations, and dressing herself. After she became a geisha, a geisha did not stop learning or practicing...she spent the rest of her life continuing her classes in instrument playing and other classes to keep up her art. Geisha are not always young women, many geisha still practicing today are older women, some as old as in their 70's. Also, being a geisha was incrediably expensive. The kimono and obi alone could cost easily upwards of US $10,000. And a geisha/maiko had to have many different ones for the different seasons. Geisha entertain men at parties and teahouses, and charge exorbiant amounts of money for that honor. The reason geisha and maiko are fading in modern times, is not because of the supposed taint of sex, but because the costs of being a geisha are too great, and the costs of being entertained by a geisha are too great. People cannot afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on one evening party of conversation with a few geisha. And women cannot afford to live the geisha lifestyle, with its beautiful, luxurious, hand-made kimonos, wigs, hairdressers, stunning obis, makeup, shamisan lessons, etc.

I think it is a shame that people continuously make the mistake of considering geisha to be women who sell their bodies for sex. The reason that geisha became so popular is because sex wasn't part of the equation. They "entertained" men through witty conversation, stylized dancing, playing musical instruments, singing, and generally being "fun" and "cool" to party with. In those days, marriages were arranged, and most japanese women were taught to be subsurvient, not to be witty talkers. Geisha were a class onto themselves, an art form that is unfortuantly dying out in this high-tech, modern world.

For those who would like to learn more about geisha...this site has excellent information: http://www.immortalgeisha.com/ig/index.html

what's the deal?   [Sep 19, 2008 at 01:59 AM]
From: what's the deal? (Feb 11, 2004 12:15)
Why all the anger? People doth protesteh too much! Anytime you have young attractive women and wealthy older men, sex is usually some part of the bargain...be it realized, hoped for, or implied. Obviously both the geisha/geiko and licensed courtesan traditions had their start in the mizo shobai...along w/ kabuki. In the heyday of the licensed quarters, both geisha/geiko (many, but certainly not all) and courtesans worked many of the same beats....the licensed quarters.

The record stands that the bakufu issued many laws concerning and restricting both geisha and unlicensed prositiutes...so one can conclude that there was reason to do so. In short, while geisha/geiko practiced gei, many offered other services as well.

As for later times in geisha/geiko and courtsean history, girls were routinely "recruited" (ie bought from their families) and then "contracted" (ie sold) to geisha houses or brothels by zegen (ie pimps) at extremely tender ages, both groups had to endure extended training periods as maiko/kamuro, made to undergo mizuage, and both labored under heavy debt burdens that made it unlikely many would easily turn away a man w/ alot of money....considering all this, one wouldn't be too off in concluding that art wasn't the only thing on the agenda for most women in this position.

As for tayu being "sluts" and geisha being "artisans".....who's giving out misinformation? Tayu and high ranking courtseans WERE trained in many of the same arts as the geisha...shaimesen playing, dancing, singing, incense and tea ceremony, etc.....what's w/ the revisionist history?

As for the post 1958 era, licensed prostitution and the debt issues were a thing of the past...this affected geisha/geiko in that they were no longer compelled to undergo mizuage as a part of paying off their "contracts". They could and can, in theory, choose w/ whom and under what circumstances they have sex, BUT this being so.....why is it that most (post 1958 era) parents of girls who have considered or chosen to become geisha/geiko are opposed (if not outraged and appalled) by the idea?

As much as many people enjoy the whole geisha/geiko image and culture, one still can't get away from the fact that the exchange is HER time (whoever and whatever she does) and HIS money. Obviously many men simply enjoy the compainionship of beautiful/witty women, but it would be naive to believe that sex doesn't have it's place in the equation, especially when one considers how expensive and exclusive the flower and willow world has become. How and under what circumstances it's done these days is the business of the people involved, but there's no denying that the geisha/geiko tradition has been steadily in decline since 1958. As for why...isn't the answer obvious?
Claire   [Sep 19, 2008 at 01:58 AM]
From: Claire (Nov 26, 2003 14:07)
i am appalled at the lack of research that has gone into this page.
geisha are NOT prostitutes they are artists which is why the name itslef incorporates the japanese word for art 'gei'
this type of confusion is only likely to do more harm than good


oiran/yujo were prostitutes
geisha/geiko are artists
naomi@immortalgeisha.com   [Sep 19, 2008 at 01:57 AM]
From: naomi@immortalgeisha.com (Nov 12, 2003 21:19)
I am a little astounded at the rather venomous comments left here. Whilst I personally do get a bit irked when people seem not to have done their research, I try to explain to them in a nice pleasant way why I feel their information is incorrect. People are more likely to learn, or at least, explore whether they may have been incorrect when approached in this manner, rather than having something glaringly shoved in their faces like this.

The confusion that geisha and tayuu are one and the same arises directly from their close proximity to the pleasure quarters during the feudal era. Geisha DID originate from the quarters. Geisha also entertained along side tayuu. In addition there were many women of dubious nature who claimed to be geisha, but slept around, directly competing with the courtesans for their customers. Some tayuu became geisha, some geisha probably became tayuu. It is only natural that the wires might get crossed at some point, and confusion arises. Not everyone is as informed as those who have done research. Also, everyone starts somewhere. I am nearly 100% positive that before anyone here started reading about geisha and courtesans you probably never knew the difference. I certainly am not above saying that when I first started researching geisha many years ago - I was confused at first myself!

In relation to geiko vs geisha: geiko is the Kyoto dialect of the word, and geisha is the Tokyo dialect. The word Geisha itself is not loaded with many different applications - it simply means "Art person". The wide spread use to country towns could quite simply be because the word originated from the rapidly growing Edo (present day Tokyo) and with the popularity of Edo in the feudal era - they adopted the word. The term "Geisha Girl" though, has a more derogatory sound to it, as it is what US Service Men used to call prostitutes after WWII.

Furthermore - in relation to the geta, it appears that the trend started by a courtesan called Fuyo, who started wearing koma-geta (a type of matted geta used for rainy weather) just for the sake of putting on a large display. Not to be outdone, all the other courtesan's adopted and competed with each other with who had the most outlandish geta and hence - the big chunky ones of today. So it sounds more like a fashion trend that got a little out of hand due to jealousy and competitiveness, rather than of practical reasons :]
anonymous   [Sep 19, 2008 at 01:57 AM]
From: anonymous (Nov 09, 2003 15:36) i think that the person who wrote this site now knows that a geisha is not a prostitute. I must thank all the people who have written notes about geishas as it has been very useful to my research

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