Posts Tagged ‘Japanese feudal customs’

“The Geisha”

June 26, 2018


Computer really screwed up today: If I am slow (or swimming in the wrong direction) please be patient with me.  I don’t know what happened but perhaps if I go eat ice cream it will self-correct?  Dogs want some, too.  93 today. Ugh.

Toni Spencer (from d’ and other sites) and I have been recently discussing jisei, death poems of samurai and others. At the end is a further explanation of this ritual and definitions.  Toni is an expert on Japanese poetry and culture.

Lady Nyo


Moon sits low
above solemn pines.
The night is cold.
As dawn breaks
the geisha kneels, waiting.

Plum tea kimono wraps
her tightly-
white would be right
color of mourning,
color of death.

Her lover, disgraced
has embraced
blood the sacrifice
to wipe clean a
particular stain.

She to follow
Honor fulfilled,
death follows death
rigid path of decree.

A life mostly of sorrow.

Opening her gown,
she exposes white skin,
her maid, quietly weeps
slides back the shoji
exposing a winter landscape-
white snow on rocks
white snow like her skin
soft, soon to disappear,
one to melt,
one to white ash.

Yes, life mostly of sorrow.

winter is silent,
no wind at all,
snow falling like silken petals
Ah! She will never see spring
or cherry blossom time!

Floating over muted,
glassine air
comes the sound-
two monks
playing flutes
welcome the day.
Shakuhachi artists,
mournful sound,
sound that brings
peace to an anxious heart.


She bows her head,
picks up the tanto-
and opens the vein.

Blood of her line
answers to that
of another.

So full of sorrow.

I wrote this short poem listening to Shakuhachi artists. The sound of their intertwining flutes, poignant, heartbreaking, set this poem going. The raw, alien nature of their music was transporting, bringing peace.

There are a few issues to explain. This is a ritual suicide, (for women, called jigai) not uncommon in feudal and even modern Japan. A geisha, an entertainer, could take lovers, and even become a favored member of a family. She could not get married and remain a geisha.

This geisha has decided to follow her disgraced lover into death. However, she is wearing a kimono that is not ‘proper’ for a ritual suicide. I think she does this to embarrass the officials. Perhaps it is a personal protest. The tea ceremony is imbued with its own ritual and I link these two together.

Depending on the original offense of her lover, his death and the death of part of his family would restore the honor of the family. She chose to sacrifice her life for his honor.

A tanto is a short knife. A woman would not cut her abdomen (seppuku), but would open the main vein in her neck. She would have tied together her legs at the knees, over her kimono, so she would have some modesty in death.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2018


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