Former geisha apprentice Kiyoha Kiritaka stated she witnessed her “mother” advise her how much her virginity could be auctioned for after removing her red silk and white face paint.
She had been a trainee geisha for eight months at this point. When she began her coaching at the age of 15, she was eager to start practicing classical music and traditional dance. She said that her mother, the head geisha, and her employer neglected to explain to her how she would be left to fight for herself if clients made unwanted sexual attempts.
The struggle of Geisha Apprentice
“They thought they could do whatever they wanted with me as I was regarded below them—like I wasn’t human,” she told VICE World News.
The idea of trading her virginity, according to her, was the last straw after 8 months of sexual abuse and violence. She recalled the chilly February day in 2016 when she decided she needed to plot her escape—again, saying, “I really cannot imagine this was occurring in the 21st century.”
Many people in Japan felt that sexist customs in this closed-off realm of Japanese traditional arts had long since been discarded, particularly since the Anti-Prostitution Act of 1956 declared sex work illegal. Kiritaka’s charges have stunned countless people in Japan. Her message has received over 311,000 likes since she initially shared it on her own Twitter account in June describing her experience as a maiko, or geisha in training.
Government employees and proponents of women’s rights were drawn to it, which sparked discussions about what goes on in the geisha business in Japan, one of the country’s most iconic cultural arts that are still performed today.
The geisha neighborhood where Kiritaka stayed and trained, Pondo-Cho, hasn’t verified or rejected her charges of mistreatment, though, since she made them public. Many are wondering how much sexist customs could have been concealed from the public for such a long time because the geisha community has mainly remained mute in response. Critics contend that Kiritaka was only unfortunate to work for someone who didn’t care about her.
But ex-geisha Fumika Tamura, who also spoke up about the torture she suffered 30 years ago, strongly believes in Kiritaka. The mistreatment Kiritaka claimed to have experienced is not a unique instance, according to her; rather, it serves as an illustration of how the secrecy that Japan’s geisha culture is renowned for serves as a barrier to keeping harmful customs concealed and unaffected.
Tamura, who was raised by her single mother, started working as a trainee at the age of 18. She was aware at the time that geisha may start earning considerable money at an early age. The benefits of the job—meeting wealthy individuals and learning Japanese art—also attracted her. She didn’t anticipate feeling so stuck after joining, though.
As was typical, she lived with her “sisters,” the other maiko and geisha. She hardly ever had any free time and was required to always suppress her emotions, even in front of her friends. It was prohibited to cry, display any shows of vulnerability, or grumble about their jobs. If she disagreed with her elder sisters’ assertions, such as claiming the grass was pink, she would be shouted at.
It took Tamura a while to recover from the strain of working long hours and never being allowed to be herself. Her menstrual cycles started to halt. She informed VICE World News that when she questioned the mother about whether she should see a doctor, she was shooed away and told that everything occurs for a reason. She said that throughout her nearly 6-year career, she had only experienced her menstruation either once or twice a year.
She had symptoms of anorexia, sleeplessness, and depression as well, but she never obtained treatment since she was forbidden from seeing a doctor. Her dinners would shrink with time, and her face would narrow, her cheekbones jutting out from beneath her tense skin. She recalled how she used to stuff towels into her wig since it had grown so large on her.
She is shocked she made it through the experience looking back. Tamura, who is now 51 and whose virginity was also almost sold to a client, implores people to accept Kiritaka’s account. “Based on the internet responses to her claims, it appears that several individuals believed she was fabricating these charges because the tales are simply too heinous. But to be quite honest, this is typical,” she remarked.
Since the Edo era, which lasted from 1603 to 1868, geisha—a symbol of Japan—has performed as expert and professional performers.
After completing their six-year training program, geisha work in teahouses as entertainers and servers. They have a clever conversation and are skilled musicians who play the three-stringed shamisen, dance and sing. In the 18th century, poor families would sell teenage girls into the geisha industry. To pay off their obligations, Maiko would train and perform for the geisha house they belonged. Seeking a patron, who would provide financial support in exchange for company and, typically, their virginity, was the ultimate objective.
Clients would compete for the chance to steal a maiko’s virginity, which would also mark her entry into the geisha world. The women never received any of the money. According to Mariko Okada, a geisha expert at Japan’s Oberlin University, “the girls had no say in the issue, so you may call it sex slavery in that sense,” VICE World News said. Mizuage was, however, legal until Japan passed its “Anti-Prostitution Law” in 1956, which made it a crime to pay for sexual activity. At least usually, that’s how it appeared to people outside of Japan.
Okada, who has spent years investigating the Gion Maiko neighborhood, claimed that Kiritaka’s accusations astounded her. She remarked, “I never would have thought that the ladies employed there were expected to cater to every sexual desire of the male clients.
She stated, “It’s inexcusable, and I also believe that these districts ought to have a suitable support structure for individuals like Kiritaka who encountered these issues.
Kiritaka, a 23-year-old mother, is concerned about the fate of geisha and trainees in the long term.
She remembers how during her 8 months as a maiko, she always felt alone. Her “mother” was never present for her, she claimed, when she was forced to drink with customers or was grabbed by inebriated male customers who put their hands inside her kimono. Instead, she received criticism for her complaints. She was constantly informed that she required plastic surgery and that she looked like a bug.
However, unlike a legitimate job, she was unable to simply terminate her employment because official paperwork was never signed. It is famously challenging to leave the geisha world, particularly when one is still a trainee.
“Mothers” invest thousands of dollars in the education of their “daughters,” such as the cost of their living costs as well as the purchase of silk kimonos, designer wigs, and cosmetics. Women are expected to labor hard for many years to repay their debts as a way of saying thank you to their “mothers” for raising them.
In the early years, Kiritaka frequently heard tales of trainees who would sneak away at night. She had also tried to flee, but her “mother” had caught her right away.
It took her weeks of apologies and letter-writing to the persons who had been in charge of her before she was able to officially resign. She remarked, “I suppose I would have killed myself if I had stayed; it’s so smothering.”
She hopes that her claims will be a warning to younger girls like her before they enter Japan’s geisha culture, even if she doesn’t believe they will stop centuries-old customs. She remarked, “I just can’t tolerate a society where this is allowed to happen. The boundaries are purposefully kept vague so that older guys may flirt with young females in their teens.
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