Saturday, June 16, 2007

Classy Hookers

Shortly after reading Memoirs of a Geisha in highschool, I was trying to explain to a friend the difference between Oiran, Geisha, and Tayuu. This particular friend, who happens to have an aptitude for bawdy lyrics summarized my explanation with the following.

Tokyo ghetto whore
Get a little less, pay a little more
When she's out goin' on the hunt
Gotta remember: tie kimono at the front.
She's a ten-yen Tokyo ghetto whore...

Aside from the price (which might not be so off given inflation), she got a lot of things right. A lot of the time, when we see pictures Japanese Jolly Ladies, we tend to peg them all as "geisha". Given that geisha have been romanticized since Commodore Perry stormed into Tokyo Bay, and that quite a few ten-yen Tokyo Ghetto Whores claimed to be geisha whilst having a good time with American GIs during WWII, it's not surprising that we make this mistake.
Geisha, however, are not prostitutes. Their job was similar to that of today's hostess club hostesses: entertain male clients with talk, games, music and dancing. Sex might happen on the side for a little extra, but it wasn't in the official job least for the city geisha. The Japanese themselves tended to blurr the lines between geisha and prostitutes in more rural areas. Sex was part of the contract for geisha at the
hotsprings, for example. Anyone wanting to know about this should read Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata.
Many of the dolls and pictures we see, and some of the more diabolical looking women in ukiyoe are Oiran. Oiran are very, very classy hookers, and the highest ranked among them were the Tayuu. They had to be talented artists and dancers, but sex was definitely a big part of the job description. And it didn't come cheap. You can spot an oiran because she has her kimono tied in the front, and her elaborate hairdo is a virtual pincushion for things that dangle and jingle and stick out at odd angles. Her hair is often done up in a structure resembling butterfly wings (which was supposed to remind men of certain things), and her geta (shoes) are so tall that one famous Oiran of the Edo period became famous for her peculiar walk--swinging her legs out to the side in order to accommodate her shoes in her tight kimono. Oiran almost always have bare feet in the pictures and prints that you see of them. The purpose was to remind men that beneath the elaborate clothing, big hair, and thick makeup was a real woman....and SEX. TO. BE. HAD.

For some modernized oiran with unconventional hair colours, go here.
For more information on geisha (and the forums from which I stole that picture) click here.
For some vintage pictures of oiran, go here.
To see the full sized versions of the above pictures, click on them. They're worth it.


Kiyoshi said...

All this talk makes me want to post some pics.

Obviously Yuna isn't a pleasure quarters girl but modified Kimonos seem like the rage. :)

Sara said...

I couldn't help but feel some frustration at your post, because it is misinformed. I am not trying to ridicule you, for I have made the same mistake in the past.
The fault lies not with you, but with the author of Memoirs of a Geisha Arther Golden. Though of all the "Geisha" novels on the market, his is perhaps the most correct. But it wasn't intended to be informitive, for if it was he wouldn't have trod on so many toes; at least this is my theory.
Tayuu and Orian are the same thing. And although Arther Golden portrayed them as whores and prostitutes, it is not the case entirely. True their sexual services were for sale, but that didn't mean they were solely whores. No, infact there are Tayuu and Orian in Japan still today.
So if they were simple whores why would they be kept in preservation? Simple, because like the Geisha of Kyoto and Tokyo they too practice traits of art. The Orain and Tayuu of today no longer practice prostitution, seeing as it was banned in the mid 50s, but when they did it was under strict governmental jursidiction.
Which leads to another myth presented by Arther Golden, the obi tied in the front. This is not because they were having sex all night; in fact they would not have sex all that often a night. The reason they tie their obies in the front is because this was the way all courtisans wore their shashes. If you look at many oriental art dating before the late 19th century, you will notice that the ornate robes are held shut by a sash (obi) in the front. This makes sense, seeing as it is quite easier to work with, and eliviates the need of many dressers. After all, we button our pants in the front, but does that make us prostitutes?
As for the obi being tied in the back by all today except for the Orian and Tayuu, simple. When Geisha first appeared on the scene of a Shoguni Japan, they too were prostitutes tying there shash in the front, as everyone did at the time. This enraged the Tayuu and Orian, and rightly so. The soul artisans of preforming art in Japan up until this time were getting less and less business. Why? The new, hit Geishas were stealing it from them. Those who ran and were in the business of being Tayuu and Orian appealed to the Japanese leaders of the time. The officials agreed, these new, and then, less classy gals needed to be stopped. So Geishas were not allowed to partake in sexual activity for pay. They were to wear their obies tied in the back, showing that they were different from courtisans. And they were asked to were simple hair ornaments, no more than four or five.
Considering the fashions and tastes of the time it is surprising that the proffesion of Geisha ever survied. But as we know, it has survived the test of time, and hopefully will continue on for centuries to come.
This is just a watered down version, but I hope you found it informitive. There are alot of books out there you can read to learn about these proffessions besides Arthur Golden. If you are truly interested, I would hope that you would. Arthur Golden was looking for money, so he wrote a great story. And, no lie, it is. However he didn't care to consider the people he discredited on his way to stardom. A formadable ex-geisha of the Geon district, Miniko Iwasaki, reputation was torn to shreds in the making of his novel. She had commeted a taboo by helping him write his novel, and she was blamed for the many mistakes his novel put in print. Many Geisha and Tea House Mothers asked her to commet supuku, saying it was the only honor she would have left her name. And as if this wasn't bad enough, he went about to press talks, saying she had had misuake, or the selling of virginity. (I cannot remeber the Japanese word.) This topic is usually a comedic one amoung the women of the Flower and Willow world, seeing as they have not preformed this ritual since WWII. It was a slap in the face to Miniko however, for Golden had portrayed her as a common whore to all the world.
Perhaps this was not his intent, as it was not your intent, to misrepresent such a delicate and beautiful society. But the damage was done.
I don't blame you however, for I used to think the same thing. But Golden's Novel as a refrence to culture needs to be put to an end. Please don't portray it as anything but a great story. To do otherwise is to do the World of Geishas a devastating blow; and trust me, seeing as they are on their last leg already, this is the last thing they need.

Thanks for your time.

Scrabcake said...

This post really wasn't about Geisha. I'll agree with you there. Geisha were not prostitutes as they were made out to be in Golden's book. Golden's book is in fact a good novel, but I don't mention it at all in this post, and I don't think he mentions Oiran and Tayuu. Thank you for trying to be helpful, though. Tayuu and Oiran were not the same thing. They were products of different eras, and sex was in fact part of their job descriptions, unlike Geisha. Geisha were artists who were discouraged from having sex with their clients. Oiran and Tayuu were free and encouraged to have sex with their clients...but they could also delicately get out of it if they didn't want to do the long as the customer went away happy, things were good, and as long as they didn't turn down too many potential paramours, their reputation and money-making prospects remained intact.
The Tayuu and Oiran of today, from what I've read, are more like a re-enactment club. The ladies dress up and entertain clients, but the sexual component isn't carried forward. I can see how it would be desirable to preserve their unique way of dressing and walking. They are a quintessential part of Japanese history, and the sexual component of their occupation doesn't lessen that.

Scrabcake said...

BTW, if you would like to know more about the difference between geisha and Tayuu/Oiran, you should look here:

DDNow said...

Interesting post. BTW, I had totally forgot about scrabcakes until I saw your name. TY for that. I went and got an emulator to play the Oddworld games. They make me happy :)

justinedorn said...

I just wish that u would remove the word "hookers" from ur post. It is a very offensive, stupid word no matter what context it is used in. Tayu are not hookers, they are courtesans [or used to be, while the last five remaining today only entertain with music, dance, conversation]. This is the difference between Madame Du' Berry & a street walker. Incomparable. "Yujo" were hookers, so please don't confuse the two. Please alter ur blog post if u can...just thinking about it offends me
>.<Besides, modern geisha as we know it originated from the pleasure quarters as serving girls which helped out the tayu. They eventually broke free and formed their own form of entertainment as we know it today. They tie their obi in front because it was the style of the day for married women to wear their obi in the front, this symbolized that they were mature women. Please don't use the word "hooker" and tayu in the same sentence thank you.

Scrabcake said...

Dear justinedorn My normal instinct here would be to appologise, but in the service of honesty, CHILLAX. Are you a Tayu? A Geisha? Then why are you offended? Are you looking for something to be offended by, because if you are, I can point you towards lots of instances of real exploitation happening here and now to real living women. I stand behind my original post. Historically, Tayu and Oiran entertained men with sex. They got money...for sex. That is prostitution, no matter how prettily it's dressed up.
Maybe the word hooker is innacurate in that it implies "street walkers", which Oiran and Tayu were definitely not. However the title was chosen for its provocative quality and dark humour so I think a little innacuracy is allowable.
You may not be comfortable calling Mme. DuBarry a hooker, but I don't doubt that some of her contemporaries, like Marie Antoinette, who was famously disgusted by her immorality, would have been fine with using that word.