Bebe Taian: Becoming Jimae Geisha Now Subsidized!

March 26, 2014

Becoming Jimae Geisha Now Subsidized!

From Asahi Shinbun, 25-03-2014

Keeping Tradition Alive: Geisha to Get Subsidies for Clothing
Tomoyoshi Kubo

KYOTO--Young geisha starting out can easily splurge as much as 10 million yen (nearly $100,000) on exquisite kimono and accessories in their first year as a free agent.

Not surprisingly, the ranks of geisha, called "geiko," are thinning.

Alarmed at the dwindling number of professional geiko plying their art in Kyoto's Gion and other districts of the ancient capital, the Foundation Ookini, a Kyoto organization for promotion of traditional performing arts, decided to subsidize kimono expenses for young independent geiko from April.

Officials said their aim was to ease the women's financial burden so that the venerable geisha tradition will continue.

According to the foundation, eligible geiko are "jimae-san"--independent free agents, so to speak--who are in their early 20s.

The subsidy will cover 50 percent of clothing expenses, or up to 500,000 yen, between the three months prior to the time leaving her geisha house and the five years after becoming independent. The foundation set a limit of one purchase per year and three purchases over a five-year period.

A geisha house will take care of clothing, food and housing for a girl from the time she joins the establishment upon graduating from junior high school until she transitions from "maiko" apprentice-level position to geiko and independence.

After reaching jimae-san status, a geiko must procure her own garments and other items. An inexpensive kimono will run between 700,000 yen and 800,000 yen while the "obi," or sash, ranges from 300,000 yen to 400,000 yen. If an independent geiko buys a new outfit for each season, her expenses can easily nudge the 10 million yen mark in her first year.

As of the end of January there were 181 geiko in Kyoto's five geisha quarters, a drop of 21 women from 2006.

Over the five years, 59 women apparently retired upon becoming geiko or jimae-san.

The foundation was established by the Kyoto City Tourism Association and the city's geisha quarters. Until now, it has provided financial incentives for veteran geiko who are well-versed in the performing arts.

An official of the foundation noted that the geisha tradition will fade without an influx of young people. The subsidy is intended "to provide some encouragement to young women who are hesitant about becoming independent."

Fumisono, 26, a geiko who has gone independent, says, "There are many cases of women quitting because they're worried about whether they can make it financially. The subsidy will help."

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