Living in “the Town of Women”: What Can Be Viewed from the Research on Hana-machi (花街)

published: 2012-07-01Japanese

*I have been conducting research on the Hana-machi (花街), a traditional entertainment area, in Kyoto City, Japan. Hana-machi (花街) is the area where Japanese restaurants and traditional geisha teahouses (お茶屋) exist in order for geiko to entertain people. There are five kinds of Hana-machi (花街) in Kyoto City and as of the year 2012 about 300 geiko exist there. Although Hana-machi (花街) in Kyoto has been famous for the only area where geiko under 18 years old entertain, its essence has not been known outside Hana-machi (花街) very much. Then, what kinds of roles has Hana-machi (花街) been anticipated in urban space of Kyoto?

I have focused on geiko in the modern history of Kyoto and the process of historical formation of Hana-machi (花街) and analyzed them through historical sources. Geiko are mysterious existence. There has not been any law which clearly stipulates who geiko are. Geiko have been positioned as the ones equivalent to prostitutes in the modern public prostitution system since the meiji era. The reason comes from the fact that geiko have worked based on indentures under the premises of advances of money, which has been same as that of prostitutes. However, geiko are different from prostitutes in that there is no unified standard of control for geiko and it depends on each prefecture concerning how to deal with geiko. Therefore, the definition of job of geiko and places for their activities are very different, depending on each region. Concerning the historical change of the lawful position over the work of geiko, my paper, “Repositioning of Labor of Geiko: Laws which Protect Workers' Rights,” which is written in Japanese, partly contributes to Interdisciplinary Approach from the History to the Present, a report issued by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi of Ritsumeikan University.

*The analysis of its historical sources enabled me to have interests in how geiko in Kyoto and Hana-machi (花街) could be perceived and it led to my interviewing geiko and the teahouse mistress. Geiko in Kyoto City are professionals who provide entertainment not sexual services and their activities are basically conducted only at traditional geisha teahouses (お茶屋). The banquet geiko wait at is “a high-class place” used for business entertainment in business space of Kyoto. Traditional geisha teahouses (お茶屋), which provide such occasions, are run by women and its history is over several generations. Hana-machi (花街) is an unusual region because it has been run by women in business space in Kyoto, where it has been a men's society. Thus, it is called “the town of women.” Amazingly, business in Hana-machi (花街) is totally different from that in general. Not only entertainment but business customs and the human relationship based on “sources,” and “traditional” landscape etc. are succeeded as its independent local norms. In other words, it can be said that women in Hana-machi (花街) are obsessed with various norms. However, these traditional norms themselves attract new customers today.

How can they find their own values in this severe situation? I think that I will follow struggles of women in Hana-machi (花街) for their survival.

MATSUDA Yukiko Global COE Program for Ars Vivendi

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