Have you ever wondered why geishas they paint their faces white? Why they wear those elaborate hairstyles? How about the history behind their traditional kimono garments? I know I have. So I went ahead and did some research. Here’s what I found:
A BRIEF HISTORY
Let’s begin with a bit of history. Geisha’s originated in the 17th century. For nearly 400 years, the life of a geisha was desired by Japanese women. One hundred years ago, 80,000 geisha existed in Japan. However, today, there are only 2,000 of them. There used to be 42 geisha districts in Tokyo. Now, there are only six. But despite the alarming drop in numbers, the upside is that there’s still significant demand for the services of a geisha. Their sole purpose is to entertain business professionals and tourists. They are the ultimate conversationalist. They can also dance and sing. Talents that come about from years of training!
WHY THEY PAINT THEIR FACES WHITE
Research reveals that many years ago when they would meet their patrons and perform, the only lighting was a candle and a lantern light. The white face make-up reflected light well, making them more visible in a dim room. It is also said that the white make-up is used to hide the blush of young inexperienced Maiko. In addition to this, it is a belief within their culture that white make-up makes them attractive. It is also believed that noble women paint their faces with white powder known as oshiroi.
WHY THEY WEAR RED LIPSTICK ALL THE TIME
The red lipstick is used to denote rank. Very young maiko only paint their bottom lip. It’s one way of identifying women that are going through their first year working as a maiko. When they start painting the upper lip as well, that’s how you know they’re no longer a rookie.
FUN FACT! The oldest geisha living is 98 yrs old! Her name is Kimoko
AN INSIDE LOOK AT GEISHA FASHION
How kimonos are made
A really unique method is used to make kimonos. A piece of fabric 12 to 13 meters long and 36 to 40 centimeters wide is cut into eight pieces. These pieces are then sewn back together to create the basic form of the kimono. All of the fabric is used, nothing is thrown away. Most often, the fabric used is silk, but yukata (informal summer kimonos) are often made of cotton. The use of eight separate panels makes it easy to take the kimono apart so that it can be used to replace or repair old, faded, or damaged panels of fabric.
Click here to get a visual of this process.
In addition to this, kimonos get their colors in one of two ways: The fabric is either woven from different colored threads or dyed.
The origin of kimonos
Kimonos came into being during the Heian period (794-1192). During this period, there was a gradual decline of Chinese influence. From the Nara period (710-794) until then, Japanese people typically wore one of two ensembles. One consisting of separate upper and lower garments (trousers or skirts) or one-piece garments. But in the Heian period, a new kimono-making technique was developed—the straight-line-cut method. It involved cutting pieces of fabric in straight lines and sewing them together. With this technique, kimono makers didn’t have to concern themselves with the shape of the wearer’s body.
Over time, as the trend of wearing kimonos in layers became more fashionable, Japanese people began paying attention to how different colored kimonos looked together. Color combinations represented either seasonal colors or the political class to which one belonged. It was during this time that what we now think of as traditional Japanese color combinations developed.
Japanese people always keep the season in mind when deciding which kimono to wear. Pale colors such as light green are appropriate for spring. Cool colors such as lavender or dark blue are good for summer. Autumn calls for colors that imitate the hues of the turning leaves, and winter is the season for strong colors like black and red. In the summer, Japanese people enjoy lighting fireworks and attending summer festivals. At these times, they wear informal summer kimonos known as yukata.
These days Japanese people rarely wear kimonos in everyday life. They reserve them for special events or occasions such as weddings, funerals, or festivals.
And that’s all I have. I hope you enjoyed learning about this intriguing culture as much as I did!