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Geishas’ identity seen through time

Rebecca Bravo
Staff Writer

“Geisha” means artist in Japanese, but throughout the history its meaning has also been tied to prostitution.

The lecture, “Geisha: Artists or Prostitutes,” was given by Gloria Montebruno-Saller at 10:20 a.m. March 31 in the University of La Verne Campus Center Ballroom.

Through much research Montebruno-Saller was able to answer the question of what geishas really are.

“A geisha is either a prostitute or an artist depending on what specific period of time we are talking about,” Montebruno-Saller said.

Through her research Montebruno-Saller found that between the years of 1603 and 1867, which is considered Japan’s Renaissance period, was the time Japan’s Pleasure Headquarters were constructed. The Pleasure Headquarters was the main entertainment of military men. During this time period there were no wars so the soldiers had plenty of free time and indulged in these headquarters.

The headquarters was also home to politician’s and regular men seeking entertainment by geishas and also prostitutes. During this time, geishas were not allowed to have sex with their customers—they were just there to entertain.
“I thought that the Pleasure Headquarters were equivalent to the Red Light District but it actually had pleasures in all aspects of life,” said honors student Oscar Bauman.

Geisha women would cater to men, recite poetry, play instruments and engage them in witty and intelligent conversation.

Montebruno-Saller explained that if a geisha was to have sexual relations with a customer she would then have to resort to prostitution.

It was not until later years that Geisha’s began to have sexual relations with their customers. Important politicians were well-known for having a wife and a Geisha as their mistress. The politicians chose geishas because they were trained and taught to be very secretive and also to cater to the male ego bringing them food, fluffing their pillow and doing what they ask.

Montebruno-Saller explained how Hollywood has glamorized the idea of how a geisha is defined. In the film, “Memoirs of a Geisha,” citizens of Japan were outraged at how geishas were portrayed as prostitutes. Not to mention the film had a Chinese actress play the leading role, and was mainly filmed in the Los Angeles area using the Huntington Library.

“They just threw some cherry blossoms in the pond and the scene is obviously fake,” Montebruno-Saller said.
The original book was written by Arthur Golden after he traveled to Japan and claimed that Iwasaki Mineko, a geisha, told him all the secrets of being a geisha and how it tied to the prostitution business.

Montebruno-Saller explained how this was a doubtful claim since geishas are trained to keep secrets. After Golden published the book with Iwasaki Mineko’s listed as a source, Mineko sued Golden claiming he violated her wish to remain anonymous. She then published her own version of what a geisha is in the book titled, “Geisha, My Life.”

“I thought geishas were only prostitutes, it shocked me that they were also entertainers,” honors student Danielle Burgess said.

“With the lectures mysterious title of artists or prostitutes it was interesting to find out they were both and to see the artist side of the geisha and also the prostitution side,” said Al Clark, associate vice president for academic affairs.

Rebecca Bravo can be reached at rebecca.bravo@laverne.edu.

Correction
In the story “Geishas’ identity seen through time,” which ran on page 2 of the April 9 edition, the Japanese Pleasure Quarters, were mistakenly referred to as “headquarters.” In that same article, the phrase  “if a geisha was to have sexual relations with a customer, she would have to resort to prostitution” should have read “a geisha could lose her job for having a sexual relationship with a customer.”

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