Monday, January 23, 2023

What about geisha? [Kimono Mom]

A week from now I will be posting an article about Kimono Mom (Moe) to 3 Quarks Daily. I thought I’d get ready for that with some preparatory posts here. Since she was a geisha – or geiko, since she is from Kyoto – earlier in her life I thought I’d start there.

Let’s look at a book: Liza Dalby, Geisha (1983). Dalby is an anthropologist who spent a year in Japan in the mid-1970s where she entered a geisha community (Wikipedia):

During her Ph.D. studies about the geisha community, conducted first in Tokyo and then Ponto-chō in Kyoto, she was invited to join a geisha house in Kyoto, after her primary contact in the city, a former geisha who had gone by the name of Ichiraku in her working days, suggested it. As such, Dalby began attending banquets under the name Ichigiku, with another geisha, Ichiume, acting as her ceremonial "older sister".

Though Dalby was fluent in Japanese and skilled at playing the shamisen, she performed at geisha parties and banquets, collectively referred to as ozashiki, in an unofficial capacity, having never undergone the rites of debuting as a geisha due to the temporary nature of her stay in Japan. As such, she was not paid for her performances, though guests and various geisha "mothers" within the community would not uncommonly give her a tip for her time.

Here is a passage from the preface to Geisha:

I do not view geisha as constituting a microcosm, a symbol, or a typification of the larger entity: Japanese society. But neither are they a marginal subculture. Geisha are embedded in Japanese culture–Japanese regard them as “more Japanese” than almost any other definable group–but only in showing how they differ from other Japanese does their multifaceted identity become clear.

Most important, geisha are different from wives. They are categorically different, in fact, and the categories are mutually exclusive. If a geisha marries, she ceases being a geisha. From the vantage point of a Japanese man, the role of wife and that of geisha are complementary. Although wives frequently work outside the home, socially they are still confined to it. In contrast to Americans, Japanese married do very little entertaining as a couple. Further, romance is not necessarily a concomitant of marriage, even as an ideal.

Here's the passage I was looking for – I read the book years ago:

Although geisha can hardly be labeled feminists, ironically they are among the few Japanese women who have managed to attain economic self-sufficiency and positions of authority and influence on their own merits. Geisha have a great deal of freedom not permitted to wives, and they are dedicated to a career they can pursue without fear of being jettisoned from the payroll when they reach age thirty-five.

With that we can begin to understand and appreciate Moe, aka Kimono Mom. She is married – Moto is her second husband (her first died) – and she has a young child, Sutan. Like a traditional Japanese housewife she spends most of her day with Sutan, though Sutan is now old enough to spend part of her day in daycare.

At the same time she is a thoroughly 21st century woman, the proprietor of a very successful YouTube channel that has reached 1.48M subscribers in just under three years (she joined YouTube on Feb. 21, 2020). Her channel is so successful that her husband has recently quit his job after 20 years so that he can help her run the business. They now have an online store and have opened a storefront in a restored house in Tokyo:

Think of that: Twenty-first century technology allows a traditional Japanese housewife and mother to enjoy the economic self-sufficiency and freedom of a geisha so that she has her own business that supports her family.



  2. Hmm. Well, it is a clip on youtube of a maiko's "erikae" i.e. coming out as geisha