In the novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” written by Author Golden, it is clear that the geisha plays a very important role in Japanese culture. Geishas are a staple to Japanese culture because of their history.
The first geisha in Japan were seen during the 7th century and the popularity of the geisha continued to grow up until the 1920’s which was around the time that World War II began. World War II took a toll on Japan and it’s economy and society. This is evident in the novel when all the geisha districts were closed down and the protagonist, Sayuri, who was once a geisha, was forced to work as a kimono maker instead. This essay will outline the history and importance of geisha in Japan and compare geishas in the past to geishas now.
The first female entertainers appeared in Japan during the 7th century. They were known as Saburuko (or “serving girls”) and their jobs were to wait tables, and make conversation. Although they weren’t prostitutes, some of them sold sexual favors while others entertained at exclusive social gatherings.
Around the 16th century, Saburuko divided into many different groups of courtesans and Japanese cities developed “pleasure quarters” where these courtesans could be found. Two very well known groups of courtesans were Oiran and Tayuu. Oiran were not only courtesans but also kabuki theatre actresses. They became known for their erotic dances and the intimate relationships that they had with their customers.
Tayuu were also courtesans however they were much lower-class than Oiran. The first entertainers to call themselves geishas were originally male and they appeared around 1730. The initial role of the geisha was to help courtesans (primarily Oiran) and accompany them to parties. They were to entertain the clients while they waited to see the courtesans. 20 years later, female geisha began appear as dancers and shamisen players and they were much more successful.
Since Oiran were so high-class and expensive, people began to drift towards the less-expensive geisha. By the 1800s, geishas had began to replace Oiran at parties.