Geisha tattoos are a very popular design.
The Japanese Geisha has captured people’s attention worldwide, especially in the West.
It’s easy to see why people are so fascinated with Geisha.
They wear elaborate up-dos, striking makeup, and ornate kimono.
Outsiders admire the beauty of the Geisha, but have trouble understanding their role.
If you are not steeped in Japanese culture, it can be hard to wrap your mind around the idea of a Geisha.
A Geisha is part performance artist, part hostess, part court jester, part scholar, part political advisor, and even part ornamental fixture.
They create an atmosphere for their clients that feels special, magical, otherworldly.
There is no equal to this role in other cultures, so people often draw inaccurate comparisons.
Because of this lack of understanding, there are plenty of misconceptions about Geisha.
If you are looking into a Geisha tattoo, it behooves you to properly understand them.
After all, getting a tattoo in homage to something you do not understand can have the opposite effect.
Outsiders Stories About Geisha
If you are not from Japan, you likely heard about Geisha through pop culture.
While writings about Geisha have celebratory intent, they often miss the mark.
This Opera, written by Giacomo Puccini, was staged for the first time in Milan in 1904.
It features American Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, and his wife Cio-Cio-San / Madam Butterfly.
We open as Pinkerton enters his marriage with Butterfly.
He has decided to marry her but, knowing the divorce laws in Japan are lax, wants to find an American wife later.
Meanwhile, Butterfly, a 15-year-old girl, has fallen in love with Pinkerton.
She even converts religions for him.
In the Opera, Butterfly’s father has died from suicide.
She is under orders from the Emperor to work as a Geisha.
Pinkerton abandons her and their child.
He then returns with an American wife and asks if he can raise the baby with her instead.
Devastated, Butterfly chooses the same fate as her father.
It’s not a happy story, but many Opera companies jump at the chance to stage it.
The dramatic plot, along with an opportunity for elaborate costuming, is too good to pass up.
But the story is wildly inaccurate when it comes to Geisha.
Misconceptions in Madama Butterfly
A Geisha is highly skilled in many areas and needs to train for 6 years to achieve their title.
It is a prestigious position and it isn’t taken lightly.
To imply that an orphan would be forced to work as a Geisha to make ends meet makes it sound demoralizing.
What’s more, Butterfly would be too young to have completed the proper training.
In a way, the story can serve as a metaphor for the US soldiers.
When stationed in Japan, they fetishized the Geisha they encountered.
Then returned home without ever understanding them.
Be sure you do a lot of research about Geisha before getting your tattoo!
Do not rely on all the interpretations of the subject.
Memoirs of a Geisha
This book, and subsequent movie, shattered one of Japan’s greatest retired Geishas.
Unfortunately for Iwasaki, Golden twisted details of her life to suit his narrative.
Because the world of Geisha is secretive to begin with, the community was outraged at the book.
Not only was Golden revealing their secrets- he was making them up.
Iwasaki suffered a backlash from the book.
Her name is in the acknowledgments, so many people assume that Memoirs is her life story. It’s not.
Golden was surprised at the reaction, claiming he always meant it as historical fiction.
Iwasaki, who spent hours consulting Golden on accuracy, felt betrayed.
He ignored their interviews for more salacious and fabricated details.
She was criticized for having spoken to Golden in the first place.
Some people thought she had told him the inaccurate details herself.
More controversy sprung up around the book when it became a movie.
The main actresses cast were not Japanese.
The oversight in casting was a slap in the face.
It implied that Asian ethnicities are interchangeable.
Misconceptions in Memoirs of a Geisha
Iwasaki has a lot to say about the inaccuracies in the book.
Golden confused some small details about Geisha’s home life.
Things like what outfits she might wear for which occasion.
But the biggest misconception is the storyline surrounding her Mizuage.
In Memoirs, the Mizuage is so an apprentice Geisha can pay back what she owes to her training center.
She does this by losing her virginity to the highest bidder.
In the plot of the book and movie, the main character engages in a little sexy trickery to get the attention of a desired patron.
In real life, Geisha are not sex workers.
Though the lines may have been blurred long ago, there is a clear line between sex workers and Geisha.
Iwasaki is adamant that, while some Geisha may have physical contact with their patrons, she never did.
And it is not part of the job description.
In real life, a Mizuage is a graduation ceremony for an apprentice Geisha (Maiko).
This involves a change of hairstyle, and some visits to potential benefactors.
Geisha may be sexy work (people are very attracted to Geisha,) but it is not sex work.
Courtesans (high-class sex workers) are called Oiran and their apprentices are Kamuro.
When a Kamuro has her Mizuage ceremony, she has likely already had sex.
The ceremony is for her first customer as an official Oiran.
Like many Westerners before him, Arthur Golden decided to conflate the two despite being told otherwise.
Again, be careful of this when planning your Geisha tattoo.
Golden thought he created a loving tribute, and ended up insulting a good friend.
How Did Westerners Get Geishas So Wrong?
The original Geisha were actually men.
Women were not permitted to perform in public, and Geisha were an opening act in many shows.
The way Geisha became what they are today is somewhat mysterious.
There is some debate about how it all went down, but now Geisha is considered a female profession.
Early female Geisha were, at times, sex workers who decided to go in another direction.
This posed a threat to the local brothels, because they didn’t see any of the money the Geisha were making.
Eventually, strict laws were put in place to separate sex work from Geisha work.
Guidelines were put in place for Geisha, which is why they behave and style themselves the way they do today.
The uniformness and discipline of the position made them that much more appealing.
During WW2, when American soldiers came to town, they got confused about the whole thing.
There were some sex workers who would do a Geisha look to attract clients.
And this caused a lot of the modern confusion between the two professions.
So, What is a Geisha Anyway?
If you’re going to get a Geisha tattoo, you need to understand what a Geisha does.
Then, when people ask about it, you can be part of the solution to years of misconceptions.
Geisha translates to “artist.”
A good parallel in the Western world would be ballet dancers.
While art is often seen as fluid, ballet takes an incredible amount of discipline.
Just as not everybody is fit to be a ballet dancer, there are restrictions on who can become Geisha.
A person who performs as a Geisha may live a somewhat “normal” life outside of their job.
But their time as a Geisha is strictly defined.
They must be beautiful, intelligent, and artistic.
They will be skilled dancers, musicians, and calligraphers.
Many high powered people will consult a Geisha on their business affairs.
She must have knowledge in every area of life.
A Geisha is sort of like a hotel concierge, who can help you navigate and give you suggestions.
A Geisha is a fantasy figure. While she’s highly respected, she isn’t seen as entirely human.
She is otherworldly, untouchable, perfect.
This is part of why it’s absurd to think of Geisha as sex workers.
Once the kimono comes off, the mystery is gone.
Geisha need to remain dream-like in the minds of their patrons.
You may see Geisha as similar to drag queens, who sell you a beautiful illusion.
You go to a drag show knowing things aren’t as they seem, but you surrender and enjoy the pageantry.
What Does a Geisha Tattoo Symbolize?
Geisha tattoos serve as an ode to the Geisha, and the feminine mystique at large.
It can symbolize artistry, mystery, and perfectionism.
These may be qualities the tattoo wearer wants to cultivate for themselves.
Artists like to play up the illusion side of the Geisha world.
They will draw Geisha with partially covered faces, or even masks.
Symbolism in a Geisha’s Look
Everything a Geisha puts on her body is done with care, and there is meaning behind each piece of clothing she wears.
Keep this symbolism in mind when you design your Geisha tattoo.
Geisha’s skin must look smooth and fine like porcelain.
Not only does this add to their mysterious perfection, it once served a practical purpose as well.
In a time when bright electronic light was not a possibility, people in China and Japan would wear white makeup for important meetings and theatrical productions.
The white makeup made people more visible, and it enhanced their facial expressions.
A Geisha primes her skin with a kind of wax that creates a smooth, pore-less canvas to work on.
A Geisha’s red lips are not that of a Western movie star.
The Geisha covers only the middle part of her lips, giving them a bee-stung or rosebud effect.
The symbolism of the color red in Japan is vitality, prosperity, and sometimes sexual attraction.
In the Shinto tradition, red wards off evil spirits.
Meanings of Geisha Kimono Tattoo Colors
If you are getting a Geisha tattoo, consider how you’d like her to dress.
A Geisha chooses a certain kimono for a reason.
Everything must be planned out to the smallest detail.
She will likely wear something with a pattern and color that goes with the current season, and the tone of the event she attends.
Pink is a symbol of youthful, delicate beauty and will likely be worn by young Geisha.
Green represents fertility and growth.
Blue represents purity and a sense of calm.
Black can be a formal color, and a solemn one. As in the Western world, it is often worn at funerals.
White is a color of optimism and is often paired with red for celebrations.
A Geisha’s kimono may also be embroidered with symbolic imagery such as cherry blossoms for spring, cranes for fidelity and turtles for protection.
Geisha Tattoo Designs
Unless you go for a more simple cartoonish look, Geisha tattoos are going to take up some space.
They are pieces that require an enormous amount of detail, and can’t be done on a small scale.
Traditional Japanese Geisha Tattoos
These woodblock inspired tattoos are beautiful to behold.
They can be done in color, black and grey, or sepia tones.
Neo-traditional Geisha Tattoos
If you’ve fallen in love with a Geisha’s striking makeup and colorful robes, this may be the style for you.
Neo-traditional tattoos can have a cartoonish look while remaining elegant and beautiful.
This will really play up the bursts of red in a Geisha’s exaggerated lips and eye makeup.
American Traditional Geisha Tattoos
Realistic Geisha Tattoos
Black-work Geisha Tattoos
Watercolor Geisha Tattoos
Sketchy Geisha Tattoos
Illustrative Geisha Tattoos
New School Geisha Tattoos
Geisha Tattoo Ideas
A Geisha is a noble profession, regarded with as much reverence as a Samurai.
Keep this in mind when planning your geisha tattoo.
Intrigued by Geisha tattoos, but not sure what you’d like to get?
Explore our gallery for some elegant inspiration!
Black and Grey Geisha Tattoos
Simple Geisha Tattoos
Geisha Portrait Tattoos
For someone who wants a more “real” and less stylized looking Geisha, a Geisha portrait tattoo is a great choice.
These can capture the beauty and detail of a Geisha’s makeup, kimono, and accessories.
Samurai Geisha Tattoos
Anime Geisha Tattoos
Small Geisha Tattoos
Zombie Geisha Tattoos
Robotic Geisha Tattoos
Dead Geisha Tattoos
Geisha Tattoo Sleeve
Evil Geisha Tattoos
Geisha Tattoo Placement
Back-piece Geisha Tattoos
Geisha Tattoos on the Upper Arm
Geisha Tattoos on Thigh
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