Arts and Culture
Often confused with 'yūjo' courtesans of the early modern period, the conceptual and visual transformation of 'geisha' image through the Meiji period (1868-1912) has not yet been fully discussed so far, especially in regards to the shifting perception of ideal femininity in Meiji Japan. This paper explores the evolving image of geisha in Meiji visual culture by focusing on three key issues: 1) socio-cultural transformation of geisha; 2) geisha and the emergence of modern visualizing media; 3) ubiquitous geisha image and the problematic of unlimited access to the female image. I will also address several relevant topics such as the rise of jogakusei (female school students), shifting concepts of ideal femininity, and multiple modes of visual technologies available in Meiji Japan. Paying close attention to the diverse commercial media of visual reproduction such as prints, lithography, print photography, callotype and ambrotype, my paper will demonstrate the complexities of Meiji images of geisha in ways how visuality and visibility of image intersect with contemporary ideologies and the socio-cultural discourse on women in Meiji Japan.