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Japan's Geishas Are Forced to Go Undercover to Get Their Fast Food Fix

According to Asia One, Kyoto’s geiko—the regional title for geisha—have hatched a rather Hollywood-esque ploy for acquiring the object of their desire. They have started wearing disguises so as to not be “outed” as geisha while getting their French fry...

Alex Swerdloff

Photo via Flickr user shitsuren

Japan's dwindling population of geishas—the traditional embodiment of refinement, who elegantly straddle the line between performance artists and hostesses—have a pretty bum deal. To put it simply, they are tasked with carrying the cultural history of an entire nation on their ethereal shoulders, all while being actively and regularly segregated from a modern society, because it is deemed by to be wrought with barbarism.

So it should really come as little to no shock that modern geishas are increasingly forced to devise solutions to maintain the dignity of their craft, while still enjoying the pleasures of modern society that the rest of us take for granted. Like fast food.

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Yes, all the way up at the top of the list of modern vices that geisha are willing to risk their livelihood over is that bastion of opulence known as French fries. But you best believe they aren't going to let you catch them in the grease-stained act.

According to Asia One, Kyoto's geiko—the regional title for geisha—have hatched a rather Hollywood-esque ploy for acquiring the object of their desire. They have started wearing disguises so as to not be "outed" as geisha while visiting fast food spots.

In an interview with AFP, renowned geisha Kikumaru stated, "It's necessary to be very careful about the image we project." She went on to explain that geisha are "basically banned from going into fast-food restaurants, or trendy stores selling short skirts. But sometimes they just crave fried potatoes." Who doesn't? Off comes the elaborate kimono and obi. The nagajuban or under-kimono is also left behind. The special wood clogs, the okobo, identified with Kyoto geisha, are removed.

While this might seem like a hell of a lot of effort for some French fries, Japan's geisha are perpetually trapped in the amber resin of a time long gone. Little, if anything, has changed since the 17th century for modern geisha inhabiting one of Kyoto's five hanamachi districts; entire portions of the city are segregated for geishas and those in-training.

"It is a geiko's duty to protect Japanese customs and culture which are dying out, and to continue those traditions," she said. "When we go outside, we must always be careful about how we walk, our posture, our behavior. No, we're not allowed to be on Facebook or things like that," Kikumaru elaborated.

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So what disguise do geishas put on in order to satisfy their yen (sorry, pun intended) for fast food?

"When they [want to get fast food, they] have to put on a pair of jeans and go and buy them some, and . . . eat at home in secret."

So if you find yourself in a Kyoto McDonald's, the young lady in front of you in line—the one dressed like everyone else—may really be a geisha in disguise.