The Japanese archipelago still has two hundred geishas, nearly half of them in Kyoto. Their training requires many years of work, and the job of geisha has its teachers and schools.
First you have to change your name, as for a new birth. Then leave your parents, to live in a yakata, a house in the geisha neighborhood.
The maiko, or apprentice-geisha, leaves school at the age of fifteen to spend many years working on the tea ceremony, floral art, as well as the geisha dialect, somewhat different from classical Japanese. Very early, she learns to master a thousand aspects of the gesture and posture that confer politeness and gentleness, and to monitor each of its movements: the way she walks, she behaves … All her actions are very early codified, and sign both her degree of education and her elegance.
She then starts as a maid before quickly becoming maiko, or apprentice geisha. The next five years then consist of intense training in Japan’s ancestral arts, traditional dance, singing, Japanese instruments, the three-stringed lute and shamisen, but also the art of conversation.
When she reaches a level of excellence of Japanese art and refinement, she becomes a geiko at the end of a grand ceremony and years of hardship. More than a profession, it becomes an art of living based on every small details of her being.
Having duty to protect the Japanese culture and traditions that are gradually disappearing, she must first and foremost ensure the image she projects. It is forbidden for her to appear on social networks, to enter some restaurants or some shops that do not satisfy Japanese propriety.
Becoming a companion for the elite, her activity consists of entertaining distinguished guests, most often at dinners or banquets, and sometimes leading parties organized by rich businessmen. Wanted for their wit and their sense of conversation, the geishas are thus in the image of the perfect woman in Japanese culture, which embodies voluptuousness, a living work of art, respected and admired, that gives exclusivity to the richest and most powerful men in Japan. But beware ! Talking about money is not permitted: the customer only finds out what he owes when he receives his bill at the end of the month. To hand him the evening of the performance would be an offense to the refinement and grace of the moment …
We are lucky tonight. We meet two other geikos, this time accompanied by their customers in suit and tie, and attaché case in hand.
I can not help but looking back after passing them. It’s a mixture of curiosity, admiration but also sadness that I feel for these women. From their early childhood to the end of their activity, they live an ascetic life, a life of control and sacrifices for the respect of the millennial tradition … A lifetime of renunciation subjected to the craziest requirements. Fortunately, I understand that it’s also a source of joy and honor for them.
An honor as big as the accumulated exhaustion…
The best of our trip is available in video !