2012年6月19日 星期二

Kyoto geisha

Kyoto's geisha rehearse before major dance performance

photoGeisha and apprentice geisha take part in a joint practice on June 14 ahead of a major dance pageant. (Kazunori Takahashi)
KYOTO -- Just in time to brighten the spirits of locals during rainy season, geisha and "maiko" apprentice geisha from Kyoto's five major districts, where the geisha tradition lives on, are working hard in preparation for their annual showcase event.

Kyoto geisha are picture perfect ahead of festival


photoElaborately dressed geiko and maiko dancers from Kyoto's Gion Higashi district gather for a fitting session for the Gion Odori festival. (Shigetaka Kodama)
KYOTO--Fourteen geisha and apprentices known as maiko posed for photographers while dressed in glamorous kimono on Aug. 31 at a fitting and photo session for the 54th Gion Odori festival, slated for Nov. 1-10.
The festival is an annual autumn event put on by geisha and maiko from Gion Higashi, one of the five entertainment districts in Kyoto.
The photo session was held at Gion Kaikan in Higashiyama Ward, where the festival will take place.
Their performance will be based on a story about dolls who come to life and start moving on their own after their owner, a maiko, goes out for a dance lesson.
For information, call Gion Higashi Kabukai at 075-561-0224.

 "geisha profession"

Bowing to modernity ... Anzu leaves a Tokyo restaurant. Once rarely seen outside exclusive restaurants, many geishas now entertain tourists.

December 4, 2007
Traditionalists are mourning as geishas look beyond Japan's elite, Chisa Fujioka writes in Tokyo.

Her face creased with age and her hearing faltering, 98-year-old Kokin is proud to have dedicated her life to being a geisha, feted by men for her charm, wit and beauty.
But the world's oldest geisha mourns a time before World War II, when Japan's geisha districts would burst into life as the sun set - geishas in silk kimonos would rush by rickshaw to elite, discreet ryotei restaurants, where they would entertain wealthy men at parties that went on until the small hours.
These days the streets of geisha districts are quiet in Japan's neon-light cities, where nightlife is more about dance clubs, hostess bars and karaoke joints than traditional Japanese entertainment, leaving many geishas nostalgic - and unemployed.
"Customers long ago had so much to talk about," says Kokin, who uses only her stage name, as is customary among geishas. The customers now, young people, they don't have anything to talk about with us. They go straight to karaoke."
Kokin, who wears a green kimono with a pink sash and freshly coiffured hair, still plays the three-stringed shamisen and sings at parties in the geisha district of Atami, near Tokyo.
She has no children to take care of her in her old age. But she has memories of her heyday as a geisha, when men hired her according to the time it took an incense stick to burn out.
"I would be cooling myself on a bench in the summer with nothing to do, and someone would ask me if I was free and offer to pay for one incense stick," says Kokin, whose photos were published in newspapers across Japan when she turned 98, in September.
"People would ask for me, even if it was just for an hour."
These days there are only a few geishas left in a fading profession in which female entertainers sing, dance and engage in witty conversation at dinner parties for exorbitant prices.
Geisha numbers across Japan peaked at 80,000 in 1928 - Kokin began her career about that time - but only 1000 are left. In Tokyo there are 300.
Contrary to perceptions that geishas are prostitutes, they are entertainers. While some in the past had patrons, and perhaps married them, most now live independently on modest incomes. With their clientele of elite businessmen and politicians shrinking, geishas are grappling with the need to branch out of their exclusive "flower and willow world" and look for new clients such as tourists, and even women.
A downturn in the 1990s forced businessmen to cut back on entertainment expenses and high-profile scandals in recent years have made politicians eschew excessive spending.

A dinner can cost around 80,000 yen ($800) a head, depending on the venue and the number of geishas present.
But, even before the '90s, men were steadily giving up on late-night parties at ryotei, the traditional restaurants where geishas entertain, in favour of the modern venues.
As the number of men who have been entertained by geishas dwindle, the profession has scrambled to survive.
Sumi Asahara, the author of several books on geishas, says: "A president of a company, if he is 50 years old, may have never gone out for a dinner with geishas.
"But without going, you don't know what it's like. And if you don't know, you wouldn't feel bad that this world is vanishing."
Alarmed that geishas are headed for extinction, community groups in Tokyo and tour companies have started making the entertainment more accessible in a trend already seen in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital and the centre of the geisha world.
In Kagurazaka, central Tokyo, a non-profit organisation began offering performances by geishas two years ago - unthinkable in a neighbourhood where once geishas were seen in the ryotei, and rarely on the streets.
Keiko Hioki, the vice-president of the group, Ikimachi Club, says the geisha tradition will survive in the ryotei for people willing to pay the high prices. "But, to preserve the geisha's world as part of our culture, it must be better known to the general public."
The performances are popular with women, and the district is opening to foreign tourists. A travel agent, Michi Travel Japan, offers tourists the chance to experience geisha performances.
Ryotei are also under pressure to change. Like the geishas, they have found that business has become slow and unprofitable. Sakurajaya, a 64-year-old ryotei in Tokyo's Mukojima district, began hosting large groups with a tourism operator, Hato Bus, in 2002. With a group of 30 tourists, one can enjoy a dinner with six geishas for less than 10,000 yen.
The owner of Sakurajaya, Kazuko Amemiya, says: "Back when we were busy, we wouldn't have to do anything and customers would be at our door. We used to choose who came in. Not any more. We let everyone in now."
Sakurajaya also uses its website to recruit new geishas, although young women who join the profession can expect an unglamorous lifestyle of rigorous training in dance, classical instruments and performance of the tea ceremony.
Kokin, who still takes shamisen lessons four times a month, says: "Many people are geishas for 30 years and they don't go to lessons. They can't be called geishas, really. Our world is changing."
Some purists are aghast at the changes afoot*, such as geishas performing for tourist groups. But for Kanae, a geisha from the Asakusa district in Tokyo, saving the profession is about more than preserving traditional arts.
"So much of Japan has become Westernised," she says.
"Many people cannot speak proper Japanese any more. But in our world the best of Japan remains. So I hope more people, both Japanese and foreign, come to experience it."

*afoot Show phonetics
adjective [after verb]
happening or being planned or prepared:
There are plans afoot to launch a new radio station.

 eddangered species : traditional art of geisha

City spends big to preserve traditional art of geisha


photoGeisha entertainers dance "Tojin Okichi" in this file photo from November 2010. (Shoji Sakamoto)
SHIMODA, Shizuoka Prefecture--To save a dying and traditional art, Shimoda city plans to pay the wages of three prospective geisha for six months from October, along with providing training in dance, singing the "nagauta" long epic song and playing the samisen.
The government will submit a bill for 5.23 million yen ($68,000) to the city assembly session that opened Sept. 14.
A citizens group commissioned by the city will seek applicants for geisha through the Hello Work public employment office.
"I am grateful for the support," said Tsuyako Kashiwaya, who represents Kanoya, the only remaining management office for geisha in Shimoda. "I hope the project will contribute to Shimoda's revitalization."
Kashiwaya said there were four such management offices until 30 years ago, and the number of geisha has dwindled today from about 200 to five.
Afraid that Shimoda's traditional art might die out, the city decided to use the central government's subsidy for job creation projects to revitalize it.
The newly trained Shimoda geisha will make their public debut in the Okichi Festival, which will be held in March.
Lessons will be provided at the former Sawamura residence, built in the Taisho Era (1912-1926), and designated as the city's historic building.
The city plans to allow tourists to see the geisha in training so that they can experience the atmosphere of the traditional art, a city official said.
Shimoda's geisha entertainers have performed famous local dances and songs such as "Tojin Okichi" (Okichi, mistress of a foreigner) and the "Shimoda-bushi" shanty.