Pandemic: in Japan, geishas convert the whole of the internet

Pandémie: au Japon, des geishas se convertissent au tout internet

HAKONE | knees, fingertips gently resting on the floor, the geisha “Chacha” bows with grace in front of an audience that follows his gestures, not a few feet away from her, but miles behind a screen.

Under spotlights, the young woman 32-year-old began a traditional dance, moving like a butterfly, opening it, and making flitting her fan with a gesture expert.

His audience is usually made men wealthy mature opinent with admiration, from a small room covered by tatami mats.

But on this day, the spectators of Chacha (pronounced “Chacha”), their eyes glued to their screen, are much more diverse: a young woman with a glass of wine in hand, a family with a group of children fascinated…

“How have you spent the time with you?” if asked about it. “I’ve played Animal Crossing all the time during the state of emergency!”, she says, in reference to a video game from Nintendo has been a huge success worldwide during the confinement.

Although relatively spared by the epidemic, Japan has introduced a state of emergency during the peak of infection, during which leisure and cultural life of the night have ceased.

Songs and dances in small spaces, conversations full of spirit watered wine gently poured into the bowl of the customer: almost everything in the directory of the geishas goes against the rules of social distancing introduced during the pandemic.

“New challenges”

A disaster for Chacha, whose salary has dropped to zero and awaits with impatience the aid of the government.

“We are usually very busy in April, may and June,” she said to the AFP. “But this year, no parties, nothing.”

It is as well that the online service has been introduced. It is the result of another initiative, “Meet Geisha” (experience of the geishas), launched last year by a software company in japan.

Initially, the idea was to discover the performances of the geishas to the tourists, including those of the Tokyo olympics 2020, in an atmosphere less intimidating.

But the coronavirus has caused the postponement of the games and froze the international tourism industry, pushing the company to partner with the geishas of Hakone, approximately 80 kilometres south-west of Tokyo, to offer a virtual version, explains to the AFP responsible for the project to Tamaki Nishimura.

“They are open to new challenges and not be bound up in the traditional styles”, welcomes it. “If it was not for the geishas of Hakone, I probably would not have had a positive response to the online service”.

If the culture of the geisha is strongly associated with the ancient capital of Kyoto, there are other communities throughout Japan, of which approximately 150 geishas active in Hakone.

And unlike the misconception of some in the west, geishas are not prostitutes, but artists are highly skilled.

Public young and female

Chacha says that she was at the beginning a little bit lost: she said to ignore how to use a computer, with only a tablet.

“I had a big question mark above the head”, guffaws-t-it.

“One of the objectives of this service is to reach a new, younger audience” with more attractive prices, according to Ms. Nishimura.

“One day, we had a group of eight people in South Korea who paid for the service as a birthday gift for one of the participants. This went beyond our expectations,” she enthuses.

Michiko Maeda, 65, one of the hosts of the show online Chacha says that this format was encouraged to take the plunge.

“I think a lot of people have the feeling that the evenings geishas are not for women,” she explains.

Now “I am convinced that a greater number of us are going to go into the houses of the geishas of Hakone. Isn’t it everyone?”, she says while other spectators on the screen, shake the head.

“I’d like to get rid of this image stilted,” said Chacha, who ardently hope that the people then come to Hakone “and interact with us for real.”

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