There wasn’t a big difference between prostitute and trendsetter in Edo-Japan – this is what the film “Geisha” told us. But what we mistakenly see as a geisha (芸者) is actually something different – the so-called oiran (花魁). Find out more about the fashion icon in old Japan!
Geisha means literally “woman of arts“ and has therefore nothing to do with prostitution. She was an entertainer who soothed parties with performances and games. That, what a geisha is thought to be outside of Japan, is actually the oiran – the highest rank a prostitute could earn. However, it was an open secret that some geisha sold their bodies, too. There was a silent war between the two occupation groups. Anyway, in Yoshiwara (吉原), Edo’s red-light district, the oiran outranked a geisha.
Who could become an oiran?
The oiran wasn’t only a prostitute but also a professional entertainer. She was drilled in Japanese dance, singing, tea ceremony, ikebana, koto and shamisen (both are traditional Japanese instuments) until she got 15 years old. Only girls with such a high-class cultural education and outstanding beauty became an oiran.
Oiran – Edo’s fashion icon
Oiran had many attendants, who fulfilled all of her wishes. These servants also escorted her, when she went out to pick up her tricks. She wore her best kimono and Japanese sandals (geta 下駄) with a 20cm high and three-toothed heels.
New oiran candidates – the so-called furisode-shinzō (振袖新造) and even younger girls in training (kamuro 禿) walked slowly behind her. When more oiran went out, they lined up in order of hierarchy and popularity. These parades (oiran-dōchū 花魁道中) aroused attention and attracted lots of spectators. The kimono the oiran wore during oiran-dōchū set new trends in Edo (now: Tokyo).
Come and see old Japan
In 1957 prostitution was prohibited by law and the 340 year old culture of the oiran disappeared. However, here and there in Japan you still can see professionally re-enacted oiran-dōchū. In Kumamoto you can see it twice a year: during Golden Week (first week of May) and Light Festival (second weekend in October) at Sakura no baba Jōsaien. Come, see, and be enchanted by the magical elegance of oiran!
Adress: Ninomaru 1-1-1, Chūō-ku, Kumamoto-shi
All pictures are taken by Hiro Photography. See more of his beautiful pictures of Japan and Kyūshū on his Instagram (@hiro_photograph_)!
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Read more about kimono, Kumamoto, and me at japandigest.de