For the years from the time that I started this blog, I branded myself for many years as the “Urban Geisha,” an “Educated Whore Revolutionary.” I knew even then, that I was nothing near a “real geisha” but I was fascinated with the idea that part of the geishas art, aside from enticing men was to learn instruments, dances and traditional arts, including the art of conversation. I prided myself at being the Urban artist of conversation because in honest reflection, I was never really that great at sexual acts during my escort years. Unless of course, I was attracted to the client or sometimes a client would surprise me with his abilities which didn’t match my usual “type.” This is what I liked about prostitution. It allowed me to experience people I wouldn’t usually allow in and, they had a 50/50 chance of doing me right despite the attraction factor. The majority of time, I was really being the “2pac of prostitution (activist/musician)” character and many of my clients were urban homies, non violent criminals, drug users and other exiles of society, like I was. We would do a bunch of lines until the sunrise and I would entertain them with my art of conversation while making money. Sex was maybe 25% of the SEX work that I did. Drug users were my favorites because of the fact that sex wasn’t so much a big part of it but keeping their lonely heart company while playing a facade was. And this was my definition of urban geisha. The other part that made me adopt the geisha moniker was because I was of Japanese heritage and I had the PASS TO CLAIM rights to my ancestry in America that the political activist community fights so hard to own and protect according to whichever heritage you can say you are part of. I HAD THIS PASS AND KIMONO CLAD KATIE PERRY DIDN’T as far as I was concerned. But, I was no different than any other displaced descendant of a home country than the Black African American who tries to remember Africa by wearing an emblem around his neck and changing his name to something more African. The reasons we do this in racist America are evident but often our efforts fall short of accuracy. I actually wasn’t any different than a disrespectfully appropriating Katy Perry who was just taking something she thought was exotic (and geisha are indeed RARE and Mysterious, even to Japanese today) and beautiful and creating a show around it for your pop culture entertainment and for you to be attracted to. But when white American people do it on stage though…!!
Now that I’ve spent some time in Japan, in actual observance and research of the true Japan and its culture I can see that many foreigners wear kimonos and the Japanese people are renting them to them for profit, but also to SHARE their culture correctly. Most Japanese would probabaly be happy and proud that Katy Perry were wearing kimono on a big U.S award show, except maybe for the fact that she is mixing a Chinese brocade neckline and high cut waist of a cheongsam with a Japanese kimono in her outfit. Hey, shes mixing BOTH OF MY ETHNICITIES! I should steal that dress from her! Did Katy wear white face and try to imitate a geisha, or is that what the media called it (because all kimono clad women are geisha apparently)? She was actually just a white foreigner appropriating Asian fashions and aesthetic, something that can be super controversial and oversimplified on both sides of racist America. Tourists rent kimono 100s if not 500 times on a good busy day throughout Japan as part of their sightseeing activities. Most of the kimono clad tourists in Japan these days are not even white folks, they are Chinese from China or Taiwan, but the point being that Japanese are happy to share and teach their kimono NOT their geisha customs. There are dressers in tourist shops who help foreigners put kimono on and they style all the accessories so the foreigner doesn’t fuck it up. It’s not a cheap Halloween costume by any means, and its usually very authentic. It is meant to be completely respectful sharing for tourists of Japan, as well as a profitable business to be in.
GEISHA ARE NOT PROSTITUTES and this was the biggest mistake I and other foreigners (mostly men who wish they were) make. They might get together with one wealthy client who becomes her sponsor/partner but mostly they are true entertainers, who are definitely erotic objects of desire but whose austerity around sexual partners makes her that much MORE attractive to seekers. An Urban geisha might be similar to a true burlesque entertainer who could climb a 50 foot pole and do gymnastics tricks to entertain in a g string and feather costume but who also never really had sex with those they entertain. Certainly that was NOT what I was trying to do. i was turning TRICKS. Having quick and dirty sex for profit and I saw my HUSTLING (business street and survival savvy) also as part of MY ART. The other part of my art came into play through writing my blog, speaking my activist truth, performing songs from the Whore Revolution. THAT WAS ALL MY GEISHA-NESS, as I saw it then. I only recently learned about the OIRAN, the kimono white faced entertainers that resembled the geisha in many ways except they were FLASHIER and THEY HAD SEX! Now THAT was more MARIKO PASSION for certainly. To my pleasant surprise, the Oiran traditional shoes were 8” platforms that required a male assistant to walk, which I would often recruit a random “escort” to help me not eat shit in heels on concrete. I regularly performed in 6” platforms in those days and I even had some “taka geta” (tall wooden slippers) of my own that I just threw away before I came to Japan but had owned since I was in my 20s before I even knew about Oiran (unconscious cultural memory!). In Japan, there are regular parades celebrating the Oiran Dochu and Edo period costumes without shame around the association with prostitution because many of the Oiran and Geisha at the time were sold by poverty stricken parents who had no choice for survival. The sad truth behind these parades is that they do not reference the truth of the women who lived these lives of sexual slavery, yes I really called it that.
The Oiran lived in a gated area, and they were not allowed to leave except to view cherry blossoms once a year. The photos that I’ve seen show them behind wooden bars over the windows. Many of them died of venereal diseases and were wrapped in straw and dumped in unmarked graves at the Buddhist temple Jokan Ji. Jokanji temple has the spirits of 25,000 Edo era sex workers buried there. i have plans to visit and report on it in a future blog. The Japanese government is known for the war crime of making Korean women into sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, but what is also not said alongside the comfort women stories is that Karayuki San were the Japanese women who were indentured sex workers that were sent to other countries to service Japanese soldiers and other races of men overseas. I believe that karayuki san were also used for a short time to serve U.S military soldiers during their occupation in government sanctioned brothels as well. Many feminists in Korea and the U.S demanded the Japanese government apologize to the Korean comfort women, which occurred just in January of this year, 2016 but really, the Japanese should have to apologize and give reparations to the Karyukisans as well, but that would probably never happen as it was hard enough to get the apology and reparations to the Korean women. The government did actually put an end to the pleasure quarters of the Edo era, probably much in the same way that the sexual woodblock Ukiyoe prints became outlawed and banned so did the Oiran houses. The mizu shobai, or sex industry of course never died in Japan, it just changed form.
But there is ALWAYS MUCH BEAUTY in the darkness, darkness and light, yin and yang, just like in African slavery there were rich cultural traditions that survived and remained as a result of the struggle, oppression and captivity. If you are not allowed to leave an area and can’t choose the amount or safety of your clients or you will be punished with death or a beat down, you are or were a sexual slave.
I did an Oiran portrait at a Kyoto amusement park and I was excited and am excited still about looking into getting involved in participating in the parades in April 2017 but in reading more about the truth of the lives of the women and girls I wanted to ALSO be sure not to gloss over the facts, the way the Japanese government and many people who are fans of Oiran Dochu do so often. Having lived the beautiful struggle of a FREE and INDEPENDENT URBAN OIRAN for years, you can see just by scrolling through my escort entries that my life was no parade, but it wasnt slavery, and I suffered and struggled through some of it but there was much JOY, TRIUMPHS, LESSONS AND PLEASURE TOO. Music, art, activism and community WERE the things that I loved in sex work, FUCK THE SEX. Perhaps this was also the attitude of the Oiran and they poured their PASSION and life force into their arts in spite of it all.
What used to be the Yoshiwara Dori of the Edo Era is now Soaplands (kinda like massage parlors but soapier and mostly only for Japanese clients not foreigners). the women are free sex workers NOT and I say this too, NOT SEX SLAVES. They freely come and go to work, have families, test themselves and have safe sex so they don’t have the same UNHAPPY ENDING as the OIRAN of Edo did.