Saturday, May 29, 2010

Geisha: Objectified Beauty

One of the most common things that come to mind when you think of Japanese culture is Geisha. They dominate Japanese artwork, and represent the ideal of Japanese beauty. They are masters of art, appearance, music, conversation, and style. This is why I felt the strong desire to visit Gion in Kyoto and find one for myself. I was fortunate enough to see two, and when it happened, it was as though time itself had stopped. The two Geisha walked down the street briskly, and after probably about ten seconds, they were out of my sight. A whole group of tourists surrounded the area, cameras out, ready to spot one at any moment. As soon as they were spotted, the entire street began to crowd and buzz, and a kindly older Japanese gentleman beckoned me their way. I ran across the street, focused and ready to capture the moment. The women wore beautiful kimonos, their faces painted a gorgeous white, eyelids and lips a brilliant imperial red. All my life I have wanted to see a real one, and now that moment has passed. It reminded me of mono no aware, loosely translated as “an awareness of the transience of life.” I only saw them for a brief moment, but it was amazing. I will forever remember the first time I saw a geisha. However, I noted a sadness in both Geisha’s eyes, and I felt the inhumanity of it all. After all, they are human beings, and they were being hounded by dozens in the street for a mere glimpse of them. While they were once a revered representation of Japanese ideals of beauty, now they are culturally whored out for tourists. My reverence for the severe lifestyle they lead brought me to feel pity for them. While they have chosen this lifestyle, it cannot be easy. It was like celebrity spotting of sorts, except their work is not seen to the general public. They are objectified just as beautiful people, often misunderstood by others as prostitutes. While I was happy and honored to see them, I felt at the same time intrusive, as I came only to get a glimpse into their private lives.

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