by Lady Carlton née Katie O’Roarke, heroine of “The Blonde Samurai”
Is she geisha or courtesan?
I do not believe I am out of order if I mention that you admitted you believed both geisha and courtesan use their bodies to entertain men in a sexual manner. You have since crossed that threshold and know that not to be the case.
Only the courtesan grants sexual favors (the tayū or high class courtesan can indeed turn down a customer if she deems him not worthy of her).
Yet I imagine you may yet have questions in your mind as to how a gentleman can tell the difference between a geisha and a courtesan (a lady would never bring up such a question in polite conversation). As in so many things Japanese, the subtle visual cues clearly define the answer.
I shall confess I made the same mistake when first I came to Japan as to the way the geisha functions in Oriental society:
“I remember quite vividly the day we saw a woman with her red underslip showing under her kimono, her gigantic sash tied in front, her black-lacquered, foot-high clogs zigzagging down the street in a bizarre pattern, a young girl holding a parasol over the woman’s head with a male servant following them.
“No, she was not, dear lady reader. Even I was fooled.”
Here, then, is the information you seek:
- Kimono styled in a simple manner in subdued colors changed according to the season.
- Obi or sash tied in back in a style befitting her status; e.g. taiko or drum shape.
- Geta or clogs worn with tabi or white stockings.
- White make–up covering her face, neck, hands; lips painted a peony red; eyes outlined with subtle pink-red shading and deep black kohl.
- Hairstyle subdued and devoid of many ornaments; dramatic and based more on the traditional than the outlandish.
- Kimono–long, long robe in outlandish colors and design, often padded with many layers and a thick, padded hem.
- Obi or overly long sash tied in front for a “pillow effect.”
- Black clogs 12-15 inches in height, used to perform her figure-eight walk (a zig-zag walking pattern); no tabi or stockings; toenails painted.
- White make-up on her face, throat, hands and feet; white makeup on her face is styled into a “peak” on the forehead: in times past, her lower lip was painted with iridescent green rouge.
- Hairstyle–needles, ribbons, cords tied in fancy knots; an array of “jewel-like” sparkling ornaments often added to produce a “weighty” effect.
Before I finish, I shall not forget to mention the outrageous sashes and long sleeves worn by the young maiko or apprentice geisha. They wear these overly ornate costumes as a way of making up for their lack of accomplishments until they become geisha.
So the next time you chance to overhear a conversation in a Mayfair drawing room between bewhiskered gentlemen from the Foreign Office about “geisha girls” and how they compare to the girls in Madame Moiret’s brothel, you can speak up with confidence and say:
“Geisha do not sleep with their customers, milords. Only courtesans do.”
I wish I could see their faces.
You shall shine like the reigning geisha at a banquet when you remind them that like a sophisticated lady such as yourself, a geisha has other assets that shall remain hidden to a gentleman’s naked eye.
The Blonde Samurai
“She embraced the way of the warrior. Two swords. Two loves.”