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The Meaning of Geisha Tattoos. Is It Disrespectful to Japanese Culture?

what's the meaning of geisha tattoos?Japanese Life & Travel

Hi, Junko from Japan here! Are you thinking about having a Japanese Geisha tattoo and wondering if it’s good or bad? I’ll solve your questions about the meaning of traditional Geisha tattoos as a Japanese!

Is It Offensive or Disrespectful to Get a Geisha Tattoo?

I don’t think so at all. I’m simply glad to see foreign people choose and have Geisha tattoos on their bodies. You must choose something you find cool or precious for your tattoo design. It’s honored you regard Geisha as valuable enough to carve on your body.

Of course, it depends on the person, but I’m sure most Japanese people don’t consider it offensive or disrespectful for foreign people to get Japanese tattoos. I feel like Japanese culture is recognized worldwide.

What Is Geisha Originally?

Geisha is sometimes confused with prostitutes called YUJO. However, Geisha and Yujo are different since what they sell is different. Geisha girls sell entertainment such as Japanese dance, playing traditional musical instruments, and singing. They attend banquets and serve guests to entertain them while Yujo sells their bodies. The word Geisha represents “those who show entertainment” in Japanese Kanji characters, and they’re like party waitresses.

A Geisha girls under training wear gorgeous Kimono and put white makeup on their face. They’re called MAIKO or HANGYOKU. Here are typical Maiko girls in Kyoto wearing vivid Kimonos and white makeup. Vibrant colors catch your eye.

photo: two maiko girls in vivid kimonos
Maiko girls in Kyoto

After finishing their training terms, Maiko girls become GEISHA or GEIGI ladies. Maiko girls use hair wigs but Geisha ladies tie their own hair. Therefore their hairstyle gets more mature, and their fashion and makeup also become conservative compared to the ones of Maiko. The picture below shoots HAKATA GEIGI ladies in Fukuoka prefecture in Japan. They all wear black Kimonos.

Geigi women in black Kimonos in Fukuoka prefecture

What Is Oiran?

I wonder if some people regard OIRAN as Geisha. Here are the pictures of the Oiran ladies. They wear vivid colored Kimonos and put on a lot of Kanzashi pins on their hair. Isn’t it a woman you think Geisha?

Gorgeous Oiran lady in Oita prefecture
photo: an oiran lady walking with samurai-like japanese men
A parade called OIRAN GYORETSU

Oiran is the title for the highest-ranked prostitutes in Japanese red-light districts. Oiran ladies were sophisticated ladies who learned and mastered calligraphy, playing musical instruments, Japanese poem writing, and things like that. Simple beauty doesn’t deserve the Oiran title, but refined education was essential. It’s said you needed more than $5,000 to spend a night together with an Oiran lady. Ordinary men even can’t meet them.

What Does a Geisha Symbolize in Japanese Culture?

There’s no precise definition of what Geisha symbolize in Japanese culture. Even in Japan, Geisha, Maiko, Yujo, and Oiran are occasionally mistaken and viewed as being the same. But I can say that Geisha women are a symbol of beauty for the majority of Japanese people. 

In the Edo period in Japan (the 1600s to 1800s), Geisha women were popular models for Ukiyo-e art. Many famous Ukiyo-e artists described their beauties in unique touch and sold them as BIJINGA, meaning “drawings of beauty” in Japanese. Geisha and Oiran were like celebrities or fashion leaders at that age. 

illustration: two ukiyo-e illstrations of japanese oiran ladies in gorgeous kimono
Oiran women in Bijinga drawings

It’s interesting that Japanese Bijinga Ukiyo-e didn’t necessarily value how realistic the drawings were. Each Ukiyo-e artist had his own style for expressing the “beauty of women” for them, and people enjoyed that. That’s why most Japanese Geisha women in Ukiyo-e art have similar faces with slanted eyes and long faces.

I think Geisha was a symbol of the ideal beauty everyone dreamt of. Not only sweet looks but the way they expressed beauty were also important.

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