One cultural aspect of Japan that is pretty much universally recognisable are these beautifully dressed female social escorts, face painted white, called Geishas. They’re mostly called up to tea houses to entertain expensive business parties with their tales, dancing and music and, even though their numbers have decreased drastically along the years, they constitute one of the oldest traditions in Japan.
However, it might come as a surprise that this tradition was a lot different back in the day when it first started, as the long lost cousins of Geishas weren’t women, but men! Yes, they were called Houkan (Taikomochi being an informal term for them) and they served Feudal lords in the 13th century, not only as a form of entertainment, but as actual war strategists and advisors, sometimes even fighting alongside their masters on the battlefield.
The word houkan is a formal term for ‘jester’, whereas Taikomochi means ‘drum bearer’ as to signify their musical abilities, even though not all of them played the drum.
Their services in warfare became obsolete by the 17th century, as a peaceful era settled in, so they began to focus more on their artistic skills and humorous conversation, becoming expert actors, musicians and dancers. Nevertheless, the beginning of the end for the Taikomochi came on the mid 1700, when their female counterpart (the Geiko) began sprouting up, quickly outnumbering the Taikomochi.
In 1971, the first female Geisha appeared, a prostitute with impressive artistic talents, causing quite the stir among this community and inspiring more red light female workers to pursue a career that didn’t rely solely on sexual favors. They became even more popular than the Taikomochi, who were forced to take a back seat and work as helpers for their more successful partners at parties. The Taikomochi were relegated so much that they even began adopting the name ‘otoko geisha’ or ‘male geisha’, to avoid getting confused with their female counterparts.
Because of World War II, most people were sent to work in factories causing many entertainment districts to close down, and the numbers of both Geishas and Taikomochi went down, even after some of them reopened once the war was over since only a few people came back to their old jobs. Recently, their numbers have decreased even further,with the rising popularity of maid cafés and host clubs and the general disinterest from youth on becoming Taikomochi, leaving only five of them remaining in Japan today.
The bright side to the sad tale about this endangered trade is that the remaining Taikomochi value their profession very much, working incessantly in a wide array of venues besides parties, like radio shows, books and public speeches, to keep the Houkan tradition of beauty and entertainment alive.
Japan has successfully managed to keep most of its cultural heritage alive, despite the calamities that have befallen the country. Therefore, there’s still hope these funny, sentimental and wondrous people will still be around for years to come, although it all depends on the wishes of the following generations if they so choose to take this unique and interesting career path.
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