The high culture of the geisha developed over centuries in Japan. Joyful, lifelong education made the geishas stylish, tradition-maintaining “persons of the arts.” When a child is given to become a geisha, the young girl first becomes a Maiko—or apprentice—for her own geisha.
Geisha take lessons for most of their lives, learning and practicing the basics of the Japanese arts until they are stylishly perfect: playing music instruments such as the shamise, the hayashi flute, and the tsuzumi drum, singing, dancing classic Japanese dances, doing calligraphy and ikebana, and perfecting understanding of literature and poetry. A geisha mastered the art of conversation, and—as a perfect hostess—the tea ceremony as well, of course.
An extensive traditional education also dictated becoming skilled in the perfect appearance. The color, pattern, and style of the traditional silk kimono were always carefully chosen along with belt and ties depending on the season. The same attention to detail was dedicated to the various hair styles and makeup, which also displayed a geisha’s rank.
During the seventeenth century, the geishas began to put their hair up in an especially artistic manner, and it was during this time that the traditional hairstyle, shimada, emerged. The hair was embellished with elaborate combs and pins, often symbolizing status.
The origin of the white face makeup originated in China and was adopted by the Japanese court in the eighth century. Instead of keeping eyebrows as they grew, they were artistically painted high on the forehead. For a long time, geishas blackened their teeth and painted their lips bright red and very small. Historically, this mask-like makeup was considered very sensual and especially attractive.
Only after many years of education and learning, can a geisha pupil pass many tests to become an independent geisha. She needs to be graceful, charming, educated, witty, and beautiful as well as perfectly master the rules of etiquette to be successful. She entertains her visitors in a stylish manner with her arts, dedicating herself to her guests with élan: blue bloods, dukes, and emperors have counted among these guests through the years. Geishas often continue learning for their whole lives for the pure joy of art and tradition and to serve her guests as well as possible.
Today, geishas maintain the traditional arts of Japan. In their company, the passage of time is easily forgotten.