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What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 1 (Edo Period)

Updated: 5 days ago


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 1 (Edo Period)


What Does a Geisha Do during the Edo Period?


In the Edo period (1603-1868), it was customary for Yoshiwara to host banquets with Taiko-Mochi (male entertainers) and Geisha to welcome high-ranking courtesans known as Oiran. The roles of courtesans and Geisha were clearly distinguished: courtesans sold sex, while Geisha sold their artistic performances. These were entirely separate professions. But what does a Geisha do exactly?


The term "Geisha" originally meant "a person of the arts," and it referred to men who played the shamisen and performed at banquets to entertain guests. These male entertainers were known as Taiko-Mochi or Hōkan. The history of Hōkan is said to date back to a witty samurai named Sorori Shinzaemon, who served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) and is also considered the ancestor of Rakugo performers. By the mid-Edo period, women began to take on the role of Geisha, and this eventually became the norm.


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 1 (Edo Period)


The Origins of Geisha: From Unofficial Beginnings to Cultural Icons


The roots of Geisha in Tokyo (Edo) can be traced back to the Fukagawa Geisha, who were not officially recognized by the shogunate. After the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657, many people moved to the outskirts of Fukagawa (now the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa area in Koto-ku, Tokyo) to avoid future fires.


Fukagawa, with its proximity to the river and fewer fires, attracted many temples, samurai residences, and merchants. Consequently, many restaurants and unofficial red-light districts known as Okabasho emerged. The dancers who gathered in these Okabasho became the roots of Fukagawa Geisha.


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 1 (Edo Period)

Defining the Role of Geisha: Entertainers, Musicians (Shamisen)


So, what does a Geisha do? At that time, Geisha were singers, entertainers, and hostesses, but their role as shamisen players was particularly important. Music was needed to liven up the atmosphere, so the presence of skilled performers was highly valued. Therefore, the skill level of a Geisha greatly influenced how much they could earn.


To distinguish the roles of courtesans and Geisha clearly, the "Kenban" system was created. Each Geisha's stage name was written on a board and prominently displayed, which led to the term "Kenban" (from "Kenban" meaning "display board"). The main role of the kenban was to oversee registered Geisha and dispatch the requested Geisha in response to client orders.


Additionally, rules regarding clothing and hairstyles were established to differentiate Geisha from courtesans visually. Courtesans tied their obi (sash) at the front (mae-obi), while Geisha tied their obi at the back and let it hang down. This ensured that Geisha and courtesans were entirely distinct.


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 1 (Edo Period)


Experience the Art of Hōkan and Geisha at Ryotei "Yukimoto"


The Kagurazaka Ryotei restaurant "Yukimoto" will host the "Enjoy Hōkan Arts Event" on Wednesday, July 17th, and Friday, July 19th. This is a rare opportunity to enjoy interactions between the remaining six Hōkan and Geisha. If you are interested in the history of Geisha in the Edo period, don't miss this chance.


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 1 (Edo Period)


17th Kagura Goyomi: Enjoy Hōkan Arts Event


Date and Time:

Wednesday, July 17th: 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM

Friday, July 19th: 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM


Price:

¥35,000 yen per person (including tax)

*Drinks include all-you-can-drink beer, sake, shochu, and highballs.

*Enjoy a course meal featuring seasonal ingredients.

*Kagurazaka Geisha will be present to serve and entertain guests.


For reservations and inquiries, please contact "Yukimoto."

Tel: 03-3260-1576


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 1 (Edo Period)

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How to Access Kagurazaka


The Kagurazaka area is conveniently located within 30 minutes from any major station in Tokyo. This is because Kagurazaka is situated in the heart of Tokyo, at the center of the Yamanote Line. Please come and visit this convenient and charming Kagurazaka.






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