The Role of the Geisha in Japanese Culture Japan, located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the Asian Continent, is a nation composed of almost 7,000 islands, many are small. The four main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Japan has the seventh largest population in the world. With approximately 125 million inhabitants, the only countries with a higher population are China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. The population which is about half of the United States, lives on only 1/25 as much total land mass, this computes to being one of the highest population densities in the world. These conditions reflect in the Japanese cultural values and their desire for being a collective society.1 The Japanese style of conducting business differs greatly from the western model.
It has grown out of the nations unique history cultured philosophy. The Japanese people are isolated in an island nations unique history, culture, and philosophy. The island nation is under constant bombardment by the harsh forces of nature, have traditionally placed a strong emphasis on working together as a group in order to survive. Their culture is deeply influenced by Confucianism, with its rigid rules governing conduct and its emphasis on trust, consensus, and hierarchy. These ancient roots have influenced every aspect of Japanese business; from the way formal meetings are conducted to the importance placed on after-hours socializing. It has shaped a business culture in which long-term, mutually beneficial relationships are of paramount importance. By understanding and adapting to this business culture, Western executives eager to do business in Japan will be able to be enlightened to be more productive associations with their Japanese colleagues and will increase the probability of achieving the goals of their meetings there.
It is important to understand the role of the female entertainer in Japanese culture. That is why the Geisha has a specific role.2 The geisha is described as a century old professional entertainer the geisha is an important part of traditional Japanese social life. Geisha are masters in the arts, trained in music, calligraphy, Sado (tea ceremony) poetry, conversation and social graces as well as three stringed instruments called Shamisen. They dress in traditional kimonos, stunning in their elegance. Basic wooden geta clogs are worn for footwear, and hair is up in bun type coiffures trimmed with metallic accessories.
Geisha literally translated means beauty person or person who lives by the arts.3 The geisha emerged around the mid-Edo period (1600- 1868). The first geisha appeared at parties in the 1600s. Surprisingly, they were men. Beating drums and making jokes, they entertained the guests and warriors. As time passed this type of entertaining became a female occupation.
By the 1780s female geisha out numbered men and inspired artists, writers, and musicians with their majestic lives in the flower and willow setting. From the end of the Edo period to the present geisha have had connections with businessmen and even with government officials. They were not only revered in Japan, but also fascinated most of western culture. Their fees are rather exorbitantly expensive so they are primarily reserved for the elite. Instead of being calculated by the hour it is referred to in units of sticks, since the fee was formally figured by the lengths of time it took a stick of incense to burn down. One hour generally consists of four sticks, which is the minimum amount of payment.4 Most people hear about Geisha and believe that they are all prostitutes.
Geisha is an art.5 The geisha is not a prostitute, but an entertainer trying to make a living.6 The mystic geisha, at one time admired for purity in keeping with men, is inevitably still a source of desire.7A Geisha is a high-class professional who exists on the same continuum as a prostitute. These women who become geishas not out of love but because opportunity affords them this life. Men hire women to entertain them, and the principal role of a geisha is to provide female companionship. At times that entails just being arm candy, and unfortunately at other times it also involves sex.8 These women are professional hostesses in a variation. The geisha primarily entertain the higher class.
These women are extensively trained in many of the traditional Japanese arts.9 Men have sought women of another type (instead of their wives) to entertain them in public, to break the ice of social convention-thicker in Japan than elsewhere, to pour sake, to sing, dance, play the sansien and to make conversation.10 The Japanese do not typically engage in business lunches, but if invited to dinner after the formal meetings (which is likely to occur), if possible an acceptance is necessary. A nightclub, karaoke bar, or hostess club follows dinner. For the Japanese these social interactions that take place after business hours are all a part of conducting any business. It is what some consider, the most important interaction in Japan. It is the way the Japanese asses who they are in business with and determine whether one can be trusted in a long-term relationship.11 Informal socializing is a chance to relax, be less guarded, and exchange thoughts and feeling that cannot be expressed in the office.
However, once back in the meeting room after a night of socializing, everyone returns to the formal means of addressing each other and refrains from referring to what was said the previous evening. If invited to Japanese drinking party one should feel honored because to the Japanese this is a sign that a casual or personal relationship is desired. The Japanese believe that drinking together establishes trust, cements relationships, that allows tensions to dissipate. Nominikeshon, communication through drinking, is a recently coined word. The Japanese feel that alcohol allows an opportunity to blow off steam and talk candidly about their feeling. One of the advantages to drinking is that inappropriate behavior is now excused, or at least not to be taken with complete seriousness.
It is important to realize that personal questions will be asked of you during this time such as income, personal life, and the worth of your possessions. These questions in Japan are not viewed as taboo.12 Westerners have typically been outraged by the idea of the geisha. Certainly, from an outside perspective, which by almost any lights shows Japan as an egregiously male dominated society, an obedient and serving women seems unfair.13 Traditionally, the place of the Japanese wife has for so long been in the seclusion of the home.14 That is why most of the late night drinking activities are done without their spouses. That is why men find comfort within a geisha. The Geisha is trained to show no emotions that are negative. They are trained to hide behind their Kabuki white face and maintain a look that is to evoke an emotion that they are consistently pleased.15 Ironically, they are among the few Japanese women who have managed to attain economic self sufficiently and influence on their own merits. Women have dominated the role of the geisha for the past 250 yrs.
They have served relief to career driven businessmen or stately officials.16 . The use of the geisha as a type of entertainment at business meetings, and some may even take it further. This is the price they pay for more of an independent lifestyle that the wife of the businessman.17 Price of entertainment of for five men at a first class tea house for an evening entertainment by a couple geisha, including dinner and a couple of drinks, would run probably upward of $10,000. The geishas make a sizable income to support themselves. Although one has to remember their Kimonos and hairstyles are rather costly as well.
They also allot a certain amount to the teahouse in which they entertain the gentlemen.18 In fact, it is mainly successful businessmen and high-ranking politicians who can afford to keep a geisha. Geisha is to be neat and pleasant and above all to keep their mouth shut. They often hear business and state secrets from their clients.19 Today the number of geishas has greatly declined, their role taken over by the bar hostesses. It is recently estimated that there were half a million bar hostesses in Japan. Some of the bar hostesses are prostitutes but they are not all willing to do sexual favors in exchange for money.
One needs to be cautious about making this mistake. The customer is assigned a hostess who will sit with him, pour drinks, and entertain in a flirtatious manner. The clientele are almost always men. Hostess clubs are expensive and overpriced. An evening could cost a minimum of $200.
Never bring a bar hostess to social events where you will see your business associates. Yet it is acceptable to bring a geisha.20 Today geishas number fewer than a thousand found mostly in Osaka and Kyoto.21 Geisha dont have any counterpart in our own culture because here in the West, men and women socialize together freely. In Japan they dont. Men hire a geisha to entertain them. They are also a vital part of the Japanese culture.
If one should have to do business in Japan it is important that the role of the geisha is understood as a part of socializing. One also must remember the importance of socializing as medium through goodwill and business is conducted to this Asian culture. Bibliography Chat Transcripts: Thursday November 5, 1998 7 pm ET the author of Memoirs of a Geisha author Arthur Golden. bn.com. Geisha: A Japanese Tradition http;//www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/5783/geisha.ht m.
October 20, 1999 Kuzirian, Stephanie, Geisha, http:www.ric.edu/pamental/womenjapan/kazerianpaper .html. October 20, 1999. The Mystic Geisha, http:www.nyu.edu/classes/blais/mg1/geisha/geishas. html. October 20, 1999. Terminology of Japanese Words: Japanese Words Geisha, http:moon.jrn.columbia.edu/~ma297/immortal geisha/term.html.
October 20, 1999. Westerners Doing Business in Japan, http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/research/japan/t2/sup 7art.htm. October 20, 1999.