They seemed to be an endangered species, relics of an era of delicacy and refinement doomed to extinction in the modern world. But now the geisha, the traditional female entertainers of Japan, have found new job opportunities through the internet. Geisha houses in the ancient capital Kyoto are flourishing once more after going online to recruit a new generation of apprentices.
Geisha numbers have been in decline since before the SecondWorldWar, and recently it has become more and more difficult to recruit the maiko, or apprentice geisha, who spend at least five years studying the arts of music, dance and witty conversation. In the mid-19th century, the “flower and willow world” of Kyoto’s riverside teahouses was home to about 1,000 maiko and geiko, as fully qualified geisha are known in the local dialect. A hundred years later, the number had decreased to 500, including 200 maiko. Two years ago there were only 58 apprentices left. In desperation, several of the geisha houses established websites in an attempt to recruit newcomers.
Now there are 80 maiko in training and teahouses are turning applicants away.
In the old days, the geisha houses were a means for poor families to ensure a livelihood for daughters whom they could no longer support or marry off. Later, maiko were recruited locally by word of mouth. Nowadays girls hear about it through the internet from all over Japan. The website of the Ichi Geisha House includes photographs of young maiko in their white make-up and a web log by an 18-year-old named Mame, describing her daily life.
Despite the allure of their white make-up and exquisite kimono, the life of a trainee geisha is far from glamorous. Recruited at the age of 15, they must live in the okiya, or geisha house, sharing rooms with fellow maiko, and sleeping on futon mattresses and tatami mats — a hardship to modern teenagers used to western-style beds in their own rooms. They rise early and spend the morning mastering the traditional accomplishments of the geisha —dance, singing, the playing of the stringed shamisen and the bamboo shakuhachi flute, and the art of make-up and the kimono. Basic English conversation is also required for foreign guests who are sometimes brought to parties. In the afternoons they visit the teahouses where the parties are held, networking with the owners. Accompanied by an older geisha “sister”, they attend parties from 6 pm until midnight.
But as well as online recruiting, the rise in maiko numbers is connected with a revived interest among young Japanese in traditional customs. On summer evenings, the streets of Japan’s cities are filled with women and men dressed in yukata, lightweight cotton kimonos.
Japanese food and native drinks such as saké and shochu spirit are competing once again with foreign food, beer and whisky. “It’s cool to be Japanese again, and this is part of the trend. A lot of girls these days don’t want to work for boring companies. If you’re a maiko, people pay a lot of money to see you and talk to you; you get to meet movie stars, and wherever you go people are taking your picture. It’s a pretty good life,” said Peter Macintosh, a Canadian who organises geisha evenings for foreign visitors to Kyoto.
The Times. Adapted
- doomed: destinat a desaparèixer / destinado a desaparecer
- witty: enginyós / ingenioso
- livelihood: vida, mitjà de subsistència / vida, sustento
- allure: atractiu, encant / atractivo, encanto
- hardship: tràngol, privació / pena, privación
- trend: tendència, moda / tendencia, moda
Part 1: Reading comprehensionChoose the correct answer. Only ONE answer is possible.
1. Trainee geishas are named
a) maiko.2. Geisha houses were also known as
a) a willow world.3. According to the text, geisha houses used to be the home for
b) a new lease of life.
d) Ichi (number “one” in Japanese).
a) stepdaughters.4. The training of a geisha girl does not include
b) poor girls.
c) over 1,000 flourishing newcomers.
d) 18-year-old riverside women.
a) making up their kimonos themselves.5. For a geisha girl witty conversation is
b) learning some English.
c) playing traditional instruments.
d) mastering dancing and singing.
a) only possible with foreign guests.6. How long can a geisha’s working day be?
b) a hard job that demands less than five years of studying.
c) a qualification when applying for the job.
d) an art.
a) Six hours.7. Today you can find geisha houses
b) From morning till 6 p.m.
c) All day from morning to midnight.
d) About eight long hours.
a) in Tokyo only.8. Modern geisha girls seem to enjoy a pretty good life because
b) in Kyoto.
c) in worldwide web logs and websites.
d) only in summer.
a) it’s more exciting than working in a company.
b) it’s part of the trend of online jobs, which are poorly paid.
c) they can spend all the money they make on shochu.
d) they all want to become movie stars.