History and Japanese Culture
Who participates in the Geisha Dance?
Originally, men dressed as women to perform the geisha dance. Legend has it that men did so because men were superior to women. However, that tradition is no longer upheld today.
Women who are under 21 who train in the art, music and dancing are called Maiko, meaning “Child Dancer.”
When a woman reaches 21 years of age, they are then referred to as a Geiko, or Geisha Dancer.
There are many sources that offer contradictory information as to the different styles of dance that geishas participate in.
Geisha dance is rooted is Confucianism, meaning, they wanted to create a society of harmony on Earth.
Women were subservient to men. This was thier mantra:
“As a daughter, obey the father.
As a wife, obey the husband.
As a mother, obey the son.”
Many claim that, as part of the role of entertaining, Geisha’s role was to serve
“as elegant slaves.”
Dance Movements of a Geisha
The movements of a geisha involve a lot of emotion. A geisha uses graceful, flowing movements to portray these emotions.
The use of props is helpful in assisting with different expressions.
A snow dance
On December 7th, 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066.
This order allowed the military to go against the Constitution and take legal American citizens and put them into internment camps.
During World War II, the American citizens of Japanese origin were treated with disrespect. They were put into Camps like the one in Topaz, Utah and deprived of all rights. All of this went into effect after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan.
A lot of the Camps were in terrible conditions, cramped spaces, and lots of people. They were taken away from their homes. All of their belongings and their houses became property of the U.S. Government. If they were ever set free from the camps, they would have no home to return to.
In 1944, a few months before the war ended, the Japanese who were kept in camps were finally set free. Unfortunately, not many of the previous interns had any place to go.
What does the Geisha Wear?
Kimonos are the common outfit of a Geisha dancers. Kimonos are long, loose robes with wide sleeves, and typically created using very vibrant colors. They are tied with an obi, or a sash.
Fun Fact: One way to distinguish a True Geisha Dancer from a prostitute is where they tie their obi.
Dancers tie their obi in the back.
Prostitutes tie their obi in the front.
The Stereotypes attached to Geisha Dancers
There is a stigma associated with Geisha dancers. Geisha dancers were/still are believed to be prostitutes.
Back in the mid-1700’s, prostitutes wanted to gain a larger clientele, so they referred to themselvles as geisha dancers. The dancers were known for their grace and elegance. The women who performed for a strictly male audience did a great disservice to this beautiful dance form. The negative association they drew to the geisha dancers still lingers in the culture today.
Geisha used to spend their whole lives in almost a state of servitude learning to become the best they could. It was their entire life and livelihood. Now
being a Geisha is by choice and can be nothing more than a hobby. There is no longer a need to make their own clothes or instruments so they buy whatever is needed. Nude dances/stripping is rare because of western influence. New music from around the world has inspired the creation of new dances, causing the loss of more traditional practices. There are very few able to teach and
pass on what is required to become a Geisha. The hierarchy of Geisha society has forever lost their traditional lifelong training through multiple sources.
Because Geisha are not seen in America there are very few
opportunities to see their influence in our society. Most American’s have never even heard the word Geisha, but would instantly
recognise a beautiful woman in a kimono as being Japanese. The most beautiful of kimonos were mostly worn by the geisha who were taught from a young age to act as elegantly as possible while
wearing them. This is why many people in America get Tattoos of men or women in Kimonos to represent beauty and elegance.
New music from around the world has inspired the creation of new dances to keep this dying culture alive and prevalent. There is no
longer restrictions on who can become geisha as far as race or gender.
Performances are used for business deals between Japan and other nations. Geisha, like samurai, and Mt. Fugi are used to symbolise Japan.
American has not acculturated the Japanese dance; these dances are passed from generation to generation.
Most of the Japanese cultural dances can be seen in the performing arts and in theatres. There are a number of annual events at which Japanese cultural traditions are presented to the public, the largest of which is "Japan Fest," held each fall at the New Orleans Museum of Art and in the adjacent Dreyfous Meadow in City Park.
The largest annual celebration of Japanese culture in the Gulf South. It features traditional music, dancing, martial arts demonstrations, and crafts. The majority of the performers, presenters, artists and craftspeople, and demonstrators are American Japanese.
As the two nations mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August, it is a moment for both the American and Japanese publics to reflect on the past.
Adversaries in World War II, fierce economic competitors in the 1980s and early 1990s, Americans and Japanese nonetheless share a deep mutual respect today.
Roughly two-thirds of Americans trust Japan either a great deal (26 percent) or a fair amount (42 percent), according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Three-quarters of Japanese share a similar degree of trust of the United States, though their intensity is somewhat less (10 percent a great deal, 65 percent a fair amount).
Japan and the United States have deeply rooted economic and strategic bonds.
But, since both nations are functioning democracies, those ties also depend on the attitudes of the Japanese and American people.
Seven decades after a horrific war, and despite serious trade frictions in the past and a new challenge posed by China, Americans and Japanese share a mutual trust and respect that is the glue of the relationship.
Because of Japan’s intense connection to tradition, no changes have been made to the lifestyle of the geisha. Neither discrimination nor technology has changed how the geisha operates in their society. The difference now is in how prevalent geisha are to the Japanese people.
American’s had little cultural knowledge of the Geisha, however from our short time occupying Japanese land negative connotations have been assumed that the Geisha are prostitutes. Japanese living in America were forced to cease practice because they were seen as prostitutes and not performers. Performances in America by Geisha artist are almost non existent and those that do exist are often disconnected from their origins.
How cultural expressions have been denied or changed?
American Citizen League encouraged Japanese to become more Americanized.
The traditional structure of the Japanese family, with it emphasis on close bounds and respect for elders, was undermined by camps informal social milieu, where children could play for hours unsupervised and young people ate their meals with their friends rather than their parents.
Shirley Muramoto Wong, who organized “Hidden Legacy,” the Berkeley staff member and alum is a master of the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument.
Her interest was personal, as she had learned koto from her mother, who studied the instrument as a pre-teen at the Topaz, Utah and Tule Lake, California camps behind barbed wire.
The geisha dance is a beautiful dance, that, although it started out as a form of male dominance, has done wonderful things for females. Women have a way of taking hard things and making them beautiful.
The term geisha translates into “artist.” This dance form is truly one of art and beauty. The amount of training, hard work and dedication required is not something to be taken lightly, and should be recognized and celebrated.
The similarities that we share, both as a society and as contemporary people, is that we are constantly fighting stereotypes. We are constantly battling with discrimination. Whether they are stereotypes created within our own culture, or images that have been cast over us by others, we are always seeking shelter from our oppressors. The trick is to find a way to cope with our trials and make life beautiful, as so perfectly demonstrated by these dancers.
● "Geisha Dance Performances." - Experience Japan. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.
● "Geisha." Japanese Culture -. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.
● Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Print.
● "Life in a Japanese American Internment Camp." Life in an Internment Camp Review. N.p., n.d.
Web. 04 Aug. 2016.
● Memoirs of a Geisha. Dir. Rob Marshall. Prod. Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, and Steven Spielberg. By Robin Swicord and Shizuko Hoshi. Perf. Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, and Michelle Yeoh. N.p., n.d.
● Shibusawa, Naoko. America's Geisha Ally: Reimaging the Japanese Enemy. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard UP, 2006. Print.
● "The History and Culture of Japanese Geisha." History Undressed. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.
● W., Bella. "Japanese Oppression in America." Prezi.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.
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