Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Geisha Tradition in Second Life


What a lovely place this world would be if only people would feel affection for everyone else, and all the ugliness of the human heart were to vanish - our envy of those better off than ourselves and our scorn for those worse off.

Sayo Masuda, Autobiography of a Geisha



          Recently, while off exploring other social media as part of my efforts to expand beyond Second Life (SL) with social media, I met an interesting woman on the Avatar Social Network (ASN).   

          In ASN she’s known as Gemini P.  In SL, she’s known as Kikuyumi (“Yumi” for short.) and she’s a maiko.  Or, for those not familiar with the world of Japanese geisha, a student geisha.

          After our initial introduction, I learned about Yumi’s SL profession and also that this was more than mere roleplaying.   Yumi is part of an active geisha community inworld.

          Naturally, not being one to miss an opportunity to bring a new story back to my readers, I asked if I might visit with and interview her for my blog.  Yumi happily agreed and I also offered to have me meet the Onee-san and Okaa-san of Hanafusa okiya, Geiko Kikuyu, who is Yumi’s teacher. 

          OK, now, before I lose everyone because I just laid a lot of Japanese on you (Significant Other accuses me of intellectual elitism at times.) this what I said.

          “Onee-san” means older sister and is how members of this matriarchal society address one another.  “Okaa-san” is the familiar term for mother and is also used as a term of respect.  “Okiya” is a geisha house. “Hanafusa” happens to be the proper name of the one my hosts are associated with.  Geiko is a senior geisha who trains others.  And, yes, these are all Japanese terms.

          Got all that?  (If you didn’t please just humor me and lie.)

          I arrive for our interview in front of the ochaya (teahouse) where I’ll meet Yumi and Kikiyu-san.  Having spent considerable time among the Japanese and in Japan on Real Life (RL), I’m impressed by the detail and accuracy of the building.  (Significant Other is amazed that US-Japanese relations have survived me but suspects this having something to do with the Japanese having a soft spot for lost travelers and small dogs.) 

          The entrance slides open and the light comes out into the evening.  Yumi is standing inside the door in traditional geisha dress and invites me in.  She asks that I remove my shoes which I do.  (I understand the reason for the request and do it all the time in RL.  Unfortunately, I don’t do it as often in SL and fumble with their removal.  Yumi tells me not to worry about, apparently most SL residents have trouble taking their shoes off.)

          Yumi then takes me down a short hallway to a small room with a sliding screen door.  Kikiyu-san waits inside for us.  I’m invited in and offered a seat at a traditional table where one sits on the floor.  (And, yes, I’ve done this in RL too!  How much of an ugly American do you think I am?)

          I’m offered tea and Yumi sits next to me on the floor.  (Please don’t comment about sexism, I’m sitting on the floor too!)

          The tea appears as well as repast of ujikintoki which is a delightful dessert of shaved ice.  (Full disclosure here, I am a Japan-ophile especially where their cuisine is concerned.)  This is turning out to be one of my more enjoyable interviews!  (I don’t think I ever told my readers about the time I fell among cannibals inworld?   Some other time.)

          The room is in classic Japanese style with shoji screens, bonsai trees, lamps, and prints hanging on the walls.  The attention to detail that I noticed on the exterior carries into the interior.

          My hosts and I begin a discussion about their geisha community inworld.

          When I ask Yumi what drew her to become a maiko and ultimately a geisha, she replied that her understanding of the similarities between Japanese traditions and her own RL ones strengthened her resolve to stay with Kikiyu-san and learn more.  Yumi’s first introduction to this world (of geisha) was through a friend whom she worked with in RL and whose mother was a Geiko.

          Yumi’s first level as a geisha at the Okiya was as a shikomi.  She’s advanced to her current level of junior maiko with several more levels to go until she becomes a senior maiko.  Her aspiration is to become a geiko herself someday. 

          I ask Yumi what she enjoys best about the geisha life inworld.  She tells me that for her the best part is doing what I can’t in RL. Yumi personally loves dance, ikebana (the art of flower arranging) and the events which are held.

          What Yumi likes least is the time it takes to master the skills of being a geisha.  She also practices some of her skills in RL.

          One of the events that Yumi likes is the Ozashiki held weekly.  Patrons can come and enjoy some nice chat, a little food and drink or even a banquet.  They’ll dance or tell stories and poetry.  Games and music occur as well.  Yumi stresses that strict RL protocols are followed.  An Ozashiki generally lasts for forty-five minutes but by arrangement they can be longer. 

I ask if patrons are respectful of the traditions or just curious about them?  Yumi states that some follow traditions shall we call them, of times gone by.  But, that in the main they are very respectful. Very rarely a person thinks that maiko and Geiko are still involved in the sexual side of life but most people know that’s not true nowadays.

They also perform a traditional tea ceremony at their chashitsu (tea house).  I’m invited back with friends and I’ll be going!

          When questioned about kimonos and other traditional accessories, Yumi replies that they only work with two creators given the complexities of the designs. Likewise, authentic dance scripts are difficult to obtain but one creator works hard to meet their needs. 

          As our allotted time draws to a close, Yumi explains how their okiya is not just roleplay but the participants actually are creating the matriarchal society inworld.  They spend many hours in RL honing their skills.  She also believes that it would be advantageous if more people embraced cultural diversity and not just Japanese culture. 

          We end the interview by standing and bowing.  I thank both my hosts and Yumi escorts me to the front entrance.  She offers to give me a tour of their neighborhood, Miyagawacho, which is modeled on a RL Kyoto district.

          I accept and wait while Yumi changes to street clothes. 

          Upon her return, we walk down the street and I do feel like I’m back in Japan.

          Yumi shows me the onsen (hot springs), the Nyokoba (geisha school), a local shrine, and shops.

          By now I must return to RL myself and I thank Yumi for all hospitality and time.  She graciously offers to show me around the town some more and I promise to return.  There’s here I have to see!

          I take my leave and return home.

          I’d like to thank both Yumi and Kikiyu-san for taking the time to meet with me and answer all my questions.  They went to great trouble to prepare for my visit.  They and their sisters at Hanafusa okiya are doing an amazing task in keeping these traditions alive.  As they told me this is no mere roleplay.  This is real.

          What I also find fascinating is here’s another group who are using a virtual world to enhance a RL experience otherwise unavailable to many of them. 

          If anyone is interested in visiting and attending any of the events I recommend contacting either Yumi or Kikiyu-san for details.  I only ask that you be respectful of them and their lifestyle. 

           I’ve included pictures from my visit but I encourage everyone to go and see these wonderful places for yourselves.  I’m about as good inworld with a camera as I am in RL so checking for yourself is highly recommended.  (Significant Other nods violently in agreement.)

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

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          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.



Photo No. 2 Tearoom

Photo No. 3 Refreshments

Photo No. 4 Kikuyuu-san

Photo No. 5 Wall Painting

Photo No. 6 Shoji Screen

Photo No. 7 Bonsai Trees

Photo No. 8 At Table



Kikumaru of Hanafusa Okiya said...

They have a new blog now
And one on google+:

Kikumaru of Hanafusa Okiya said...

They have a new blog now
And one on google+: