Japanese Geisha’s tradition in art



         ‘Night Rain’ by Kitagawa Utamaro



(Sarusawa-Pond-in-Nara),-by-Koitsu,-Tsuchiya,-1930's geisha at the link in the snow

‘Sarusawa Pond in Nara’ by Koitsu Tsuchiya



The distinctive facial decoration and hairstyles, refined kimonos made of silks with exquisite colorful designs and the graceful demeanor of the Geisha have presented an entrancing subject for Japanese artists over the centuries.
The tradition of the geisha is still deeply entrenched in Japanese culture. The selection process starts at a young age of around 15 and training is fairly rigorous over several years. Known as a Maiko in the beginning, the young women observe and train after being accepted into an Okiya ( Geisha house) – where they live and are taught the art of Geisha by an Okasan (Japanese for mother).
They are taught the subtleties of Japanese culture including tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy, poetry and performing Japanese traditional music and dance. When they turn 20 and are acknowledged to be skillful in art and service, they become Geiko, a full-fledged Geisha. As a hostess they are expected to carry themselves with grace and poise and they only appear in public wearing their traditional make up and elaborate kiminos. During their service as a geisha they have to renounce most modern trappings, live together with other Geishas and mentor a Maiko.
The are also trained in the art of conversation and service for the entertainment of their male customers. The most literal translation of geisha into English would be “performing artist” or “artisan.” The elegant, high-culture world that geisha are a part of is called karyūkai – “the flower and willow world” which is a metaphor for “beauty and strength” Gentle movement, avoiding direct eye contact by looking downwards and walking slowly, were encouraged to support yin/feminine traits. Their adherence to subservience and mystery was regarded by the geisha to be a statement of passive yin femininity, which to them was a display of empowerment, as their centuries old tradition believed that their well being, strength and balance depended on it.



Art Deco Japonaise Veilleuse Brule perfume incense burner by Robj, Paris


Historically, Japanese feminists have seen geisha as exploited women but some modern geisha see themselves as liberated feminists.” We find our own way, without doing family responsibilities. Isn’t that what feminists are?” It is known for geisha girls to sometimes marry their clients but their marriage necessitates retirement, as there are never married geisha.
The submissive appearance of the geisha doesn’t betray the full picture as some of the strongest and most financially successful women in Japan have come from a geisha background, and traditionally this has also been so. Mineko Iwasaki, in a Boston Phoenix interview, claimed “The geisha system was founded, actually, to promote the independence and economic self-sufficiency of women. And that was its stated purpose, and it actually accomplished this quite admirably, in Japanese society where there were very few routes for women to achieve that sort of independence.”
The elevated status, mystique and refinement of the Japanese geisha all served to reinforce her unique yin/feminine qualities and contribute to the preservation of the traditional Japanese aesthetic. The are rightly taught to believe they are a living work of art and an affirmation of Japanese ‘iki’ (artistic chic)




‘Woman playing with a Cat’ – Antique Japanese woodblock print by Utamaro Bijinga.

Circa 1890



Geisha girls performing music

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco





A Geisha with tea ceremony implements




‘Hanaogi of the Ogiya’  – Ukiyo e woodblock print by Keisai Eisen

about 1830’s, Japan




'Fan-Dancer'-designed-by-Alexander-A-Danel for Austin Sculptures

Geisha ‘Fan Dancer’ – Alexander A. Danel design for Austin Sculptures




Geisha-Craig-Schaffer abstract cubist sculpture

‘Geisha’ –  Craig Schaffer, USA




SATSUMA-MINI-GEISHA-VASE with twin handles

Small Satsuma Geisha and Maiko vase




geisha-tokyo photo Robbie Hood

Spirit of Geisha – 1995

I took this photo with a Canon F1 film camera. The Japanese girl was an amatuer model, but a very instinctive and natural muse.





Geisha playing the Koto by Agence Mondial





Hand-painted Satsuma vase, Kyoto ware

Meiji 1900




‘Woman with Umbrella in Snow’ – Attributed to Kitagawa Utamaro I

Japan, 1806




Fin DAC street art on a wall in London

Geisha street art in London by Fin DAC



Vintage photo of a Geisha preparing hair

Vintage image of Geisha in preparation



A-Beauty-in-Snow---by-Koryusai---1770's japanese painting

‘A Beauty in Snow’ — by Koryusai






‘Rōka no geigi (Entertainer standing on a veranda) ‘- Eizan Kikukawa (1787-1867)





One-of-a-Pair-of-Sliding-Doors with geisha dancing painting

Dancing geisha decoration on door






‘Flowers of Edo’ – Young Woman’s Narrative Chanting to the Shamisen by Kitagawa Utamaro

c. 1800




Antique Japanese Satsuma vase



snowy-day-by-Eizan - Japanese painting

‘Snowy day’ by Eizan





Japanese Satsuma female figurine




Over a century old hand coloured geisha photo




 Japanese  Satsuma porcelain decorated pitcher with scroll handle and scenes of 2 women and floral design

19th century


Nakai-Omiya-Hanshiro-Iwai - Utagawa Toyokuni I Japanese art

‘Nakai Omiya Hanshiro Iwai’ – Utagawa Toyokuni I


Waseda University Theatre Museum





 Hand tinted half-stereoview image of Geisha’s by T. Enami of Yokohama.






Geisha-girl-in-red ku-ma-Iwai-half-Shiro---Utagawa-Toyokuni-I

 Ku ma Iwai half Shiro – Utagawa Toyokuni I







‘Yearning at dawn in Yoshiwara’ – Toyohara Kunichika

Edo 1867





‘Evening Snow at Edo River’  woodblock print by Hasui Kawase


Plum leaves on Flickr





Geisha Girl Panel Handpainted Vintage Chocolate or Coffee Pot

bellefleurantiques on Etsy





‘Geisha Memories’ – Mariko






‘Geisha on a morning walk by a river’ – vintage photo

Okinawa Soba – Flickr



Group of Geishas - Satsuma-vase

Japanese porcelain Satsuma vase



 ‘The Pine Tree of Success on the Sumida River’  – Hiroaki Takahashi





‘Snow at Nezu Shrine’ – Koitsu





Japanese-print - 1920-25 'Heron Maiden' - Nakamura Daizaburo

‘Heron Maiden‘ – Nakamura Daizaburo






Mid-Century Geisha girl with iridescent glaze by Hedi Schoop






The spirit of the heron maiden woodblock print by Taniguchi Kokyo (1864-1915), dated 1925

From a Japanese folktale





Japanese porcelain figurine Japanese Geisha Girl Kutani Musician





Japanese Satsuma Vase





Japanese Sumida Gawa earthenware teapot. The finial depicts a seated male figure. Raised crab and sea motif.





Japanese woodblock print postcard –  ‘Butterfly Obi’





Geisha instruction





‘Katsushino of the Aka-Tsutaya’. Ukiyo-e woodblock print,  by artist Kikugawa Eizan

early 1800’s, Japan



Lake Biwa by Koho-Shoda-(Japanese-Woodblock-Prints)

‘Lake Biwa’ – Koho Shoda





Japanese geisha figurine – Miguel Angel Santaeulalia for Lladro, Spain




Kutani--Porcelain-Figure-of-a-Woman-with-Kitten,-circa-1870 - MEMPHIS-ONE-PL

Kutani–porcelain-figure – Woman with Kitten

circa 1870  – Memphis One, 1stDibs



Greetings at the Gate —- Japanese girls in kimono at the entrance to Genkyu en Gardens in Hikone

Okinawa soba, Flickr




Golden Geisha-dancing-with-a-fan.-National-Library-of-France,-Public-Domain

Geisha dancing with a fan

National Library of France




Miss Taiko, Miss Tzumi, Miss Samisen----Three Geisha playing music in Old Meiji- Era-Japan

Miss Taiko, Miss Tzumi, Miss Samisen—-Three Geisha playing music

Meiji Era Japan





Plate, Edo period (1615–1868), 1760 Japan, Hizen Province, Arita kiln Porcelain decorated with the figure of Ononokomachi in blue and brilliant enamels – Met




okinawa-soba----three Geisha girls at the garden gate

Geisha girls at the garden

Okinawa Soba, flickr





Geisha girl reading a scroll – Mosaic Studio




Chinese Porcelain Imari  hand painted vase




Reclining-Geisha figurine by Lladro

‘Reclining Geisha’ – Lladro





Vintage-geisha-photo of an Oiran girl wearing her obi at the front

Japanese Oiran (courtesan) with her Obi tied to the front ( as opposed to the geisha who tie them to their back)





Unusual Kinkozan Satsuma vase with geisha fan motif, earthenware vessel of cylindrical form, with rounded shoulder

Tall Geisha Kinkozan Satsuma vase




Vases-japonais-porcelain satsuma

 Satsuma footed ovoid pair of vases





Jap-Birdimal-vase-by-Weller-Pottery by Frederick Hurten Rhead

 Weller Pottery –  Birdimal Orange Japanese vase with geisha girl motif by Frederick Hurten Rhead






NEXT POST  —  Sevres 5th Biennial of Contemporary Ceramics


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