Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Geisha

Episode 303 – A History of the Geisha

Finally, a long overdue look at one of the most romanticized and exocitized parts of traditional Japanese culture. What are geisha? Where do they come from? Aren’t they basically fancy prostitutes? And haven’t I learned everything I need to know about them from reading Memoirs of a Geisha?

Sources

Dahlby, Liza Crihfield. Geisha

Iwasaki, Mineko. Geisha: A Life

Masuda, Sayo. Autobiography of a Geisha.

Yamamura, Kozo, ed. The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 3: Medieval Japan. 

Images

 

An Edo period print of the shirabyoshi Shizuka.

A maiko named Fumino.

Geisha entertaining clients, c. mid-Taisho period.

Miehina, a maiko of Miyagawacho.

The geisha Kimiha from the Miyagawacho hanamachi, dressed in traditional style.

The maiko Katsumi and Mameteru practicing a traditionald ance.

Episode 10 – A Day in the Life of Edo Japan

This week, we’ll be discussing the life of your average city-dweller in Edo Japan. This is a huge topic, and a fun one as well. Among the exciting things we will be discussing today:

  • Schooling in the Edo Period (mostly just for samurai, but since it was based mostly on rote memorization you wouldn’t be missing out on much)
  • The life of merchant families (often boiled down to ‘make money and damn the rest’)
  • Entertainment of the period, from kabuki to the seedy world of prostitution (not that there was much of a distinction between the two)
  • And other forms of flagrant immorality!

I had a lot of fun writing this episode, and I hope you enjoy listening to it!

Direct link to the show is available here.

Sources

Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan

Hanley, Everyday Things in Premodern Japan.

Iwasaki, Mineko. Geisha: A Life. New York: Washington Square Press, 2003.

Takeda, Izumo; Miyoshi, Shoraku, and Senryu, Namiki. Chushingura. Trans. Donald Keene. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

Media (Courtesy Wikimedia Foundation unless otherwise specified)

 

This is an Edo-period depiction of Sugura street. It should give you some idea of what the merchant-dominated markets of the Edo period looked like.

This is an Edo-period depiction of Sugura street. It should give you some idea of what the merchant-dominated markets of the Edo period looked like.

This is the same Sugura street today, showing the global headquarters of the Mitsui Group (which was founded in the 1640s).

This is the same Sugura street today, showing the global headquarters of the Mitsui Group (which was founded in the 1640s).

An Edo kabuki performance in the Kabukiza theater. Note the actor moving up the hanamichi on the left side. This should give you an idea of how close kabuki actors got to their audiences.

An Edo kabuki performance in the Kabukiza theater. Note the actor moving up the hanamichi on the left side. This should give you an idea of how close kabuki actors got to their audiences.

This is an example of a puppet used in a bunraku show.

This is an example of a puppet used in a bunraku show.

This is a colorized photo of prostitutes on display to patrons in Edo period Japan. the use of the bamboo cage behind which to display them was eventually banned (though the practice of prostitution would remain legal until after World War II).

This is a colorized photo of prostitutes on display to patrons in Edo period Japan. the use of the bamboo cage behind which to display them was eventually banned (though the practice of prostitution would remain legal until after World War II).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67-bgSFJiKc&w=420&h=315]
The above video was put together by UNESCO, and contains a description of the history of kabuki as well as recordings of modern performances.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEUQNvn8EJQ&w=420&h=315]
Also from UNESCO, this video should give you an idea of how Bunraku shows are performed. Pay special attention to the way the puppets are manipulated; it’s all very impressive!

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