Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Tenmasa opens up the mystery of the geisha world to Macau

Posted by Kimberly on October 1, 2008

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
October 01, 2008 (989 words)

When asked to comment on one’s knowledge of the world of geishas, inevitably, the mention of that popular, yet somewhat inaccurate, Hollywood film will crop up. Yet, glamour aside, the world of geishas is still as mysterious today as it has been for hundreds of years. In Kyoto, considered to be where the geisha tradition is the strongest, this mystery can still be witnessed. It is a constant source of frustration for travellers wanting to experience the world of the geisha, to know where in Kyoto they may do so. If ever a woman needed to learn how to say no tactfully, look no further than the way a geisha responds to a passer-by’s question of which restaurant houses one of them.
Over the next week, guests need look no further than Crown Macau to not only see the way geishas express themselves but learn more about their world. Tenmasa at Crown have brought over Lady Mariko, her daughter Maika and her son Eitaro from the famed Matsunoya Geisha House in Tokyo, to entertain guests until October 6.
And while the idea of a male geisha might seem at odds with what is usually portrayed, Eitaro is quite possibly the only male geisha in Japan. Yet during the 19th century, they were all too common, performing the roles of women when women themselves were not allowed to. It can be compared with Shakespeare’s England, where male actors often portrayed female characters because women were not allowed on stage.
Mariko’s daughter Maika is 18 years old and referred to as a maiko or an apprentice geisha. It is this style of geisha most westerners tend to be familiar with. A maiko is usually the one adorned with floral hairpieces, as well as the customary wig and white makeup. Interestingly, the maiko’s costume differs in certain significant ways to that of the geisha, particularly in the sash, sleeves and length of the dress.
Mariko points out that her daughter’s sleeves are far longer than her own, down to her knees, while Mariko’s has been cut off at the ribs. This is the first indication for male guests to ascertain whether the geisha is unmarried. The long sleeves show she is single, but it also provides her with the means of refusing an offer silently. Maika demonstrates this by gently swinging her sleeves from side to side, with Mariko explaining that geisha’s were expected to be shy and discreet and so never responded vocally.
21-year-old Eitaro meanwhile doesn’t have a separate costume to that of Maika, nor is his makeup and hair setting any different.
The length of the gown, Mariko explains rather amusedly, prevents the geisha from being able to run away. Her gown trails behind her while her daughter’s is at floor length. She demonstrates how she stops her daughter running away by stepping on the back of her dress, causing peals of laughter from the guests.
With her family’s geisha tradition firmly entrenched for over 100 years, Mariko’s children were expected to follow in their ancestor’s footsteps. In fact, the idea of doing so is quite common in Japan, particularly within the creative industry and can also be seen in Tenmasa’s founder Hashii Yoshiaki being the third generation owner in his family.
The first mistake people tend to make when discussing geishas is assuming that it’s a form of prostitution, or oiran, as they dress rather similarly. Yet geishas are only entertainers, often singing, dancing, playing games or paying an instrument such as their usual shamisan (three strings), which they are taught to play at a very young age. There is no set score and the music is entirely self-created with geishas in training beginning study at 3-5 years and learning instruments between 5-6 years old.
With the world of the geisha being so strict, Mariko at one stage decided to leave it and enter the outside world, at which time she also married. Yet at the age of 30, she made the decision to return and has been ensconced ever since.
Mariko and her family are actually from Tokyo, where geishas are also popular. She had attempted to send her daughter to Kyoto but their closed nature meant her request was rejected.
The world of the geisha is shrinking rapidly as Japanese choose to follow the western way of life. This, coupled with the incredible expense of maintaining the geisha lifestyle mean that, where once there were groups of about 100-200 across Japan, now they only exist groups of 30-40. As well, where before guests frequented their world on a monthly basis, now they tend to do so annually, during important festivals.
In the past, geishas tended to be housed at a chosen restaurant which was their abode while these days you are more likely to see a production house of geishas with restaurants calling and requesting one when they need to. The world is opening up greatly these days, particularly to young Japanese girls who are fascinated by their lifestyle and wish to learn some aspects of it without dedicating themselves to the cause.
Coming to Macau was a new experience for all three as none had ever left Japan and they had their clients to consider. The latter is intending to visit them here on October 3, along with four other guests.
Mariko and her children will be available to exclusively entertain select parties at four-hour dinners while lunch events are arranged upon requests.
Groups of up to 12 guests are provided with the services of the geisha on a complimentary basis but a minimum charge of MOP80,000 will be made per party of 12 for a customised menu prepared by Tenmasa’s founder Hashii Yoshiaki and resident chef de cuisine Noguchi Takenori.
Each guest will receive a kanzashi (classic geisha hairpiece given to their best patrons) as a symbol of affection and desire to see them again.
For reservations call Tenmasa on +853 8803 6611.

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