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Geisha Culture and Arts for Use at

Amatsu Okiya in Second Life

Maiko 3: IKI

The Tao te Ching Chapter 2

When people see some things as beautiful,

other things become ugly.

When people see some things as good,

other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.

Difficult and easy support each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low depend on each other.

Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master

acts without doing anything

and teaches without saying anything.

Things arise and she lets them come;

things disappear and she lets them go.

She has but doesn't possess,

acts but doesn't expect.

When her work is done, she forgets it.

That is why it lasts forever.

What is Iki

Iki is Geisha Chic, style, carriage, demeanor, behavior, dress, spirit.

The history behind the meaning of the word iki is interesting. Iki was derived from ukiyo or "grievous world". Buddhist thought viewed the world as painful and sad, the despair from that broken only by the concept that the world was also an illusion. The grief and pain in the world were considered transitory.

Six hundred years later ukiyo was written with a different character for the uki- part of the word. This new character meant "floating" rather than "sad". The concept then changed from grievous world to floating world. "Though life may be disagreeable and troublesome, changing always, we might as well enjoy it and ourselves in whatever pleasures we may find."

By the 1600's, ukiyo meant modern, worldly and stylish. From grievous to floating to stylish, ukiyo had evolved to better suit the activities in the pleasure quarters of Japan. Style was everything during the Edo period of shogunate rule and the professional women of the licensed quarters as well as the actors of the Kabuki stage were those that essentially dictated "Style". Much like our thespians (actors) of today in the Western world.

Then from this an important development emerged - the aesthetic of understatement. This was a certain type of chic best exemplified by geisha. Their MANNER was iki....Bold yet Alluring. The geisha who knew how to mold her demeanor to the moment was iki. She spent many hours perfecting it through her behavior, body language, verbal exchange, dress, artistry and spirit. A geisha's highest accolade was to be gossiped about as being iki.

Please click the link on the work "iki". It will open up a new window for additional information. 

More About Iki

Edo was the center of a trend-setting merchant culture that prized the fashionable, sophisticated, and up-to-date. One aspect of Edo-period style and fashion was called iki ("refinement"), a quiet sophistication or restrained chic in both appearance and behavior.

The 'Edokko' also recognized three elements within iki. The first was hari ("spirit"), a sharp, direct, and uncompromising social style that was balanced and cool. The Yoshiwara courtesans, so often the subject of ukiyo-e prints, were the epitome of hari. The second aspect was called bitai ("allure"), a flirtatiousness that spoke of a restrained eroticism. Thus a woman possessing bitai was charming but neither vulgar nor wanton. The third element was akanuke ("urbanity"), an unassuming stylishness or polish without pretentiousness. There was an aspect of disinterest in akanuke that suggested the ideal beauty was restrained, not necessarily perfect, and always pleasant.

One other component of iki was especially important for its depiction in ukiyo-e. Iki was imbued with the tension of male-female relations. Erotic charm expressed in 'bitai' existed primarily in the realm of the potential and a state of anticipation. As a woman's allure embodied iki only when she was available, a married woman did not typically possess iki, although ukiyo-e printmakers seemed to enjoy portraying married woman as such, suggesting the spark of illicit relations.

Around the mid-eighteenth century the technique of yûzen (painted resist) dyeing of textiles had freed artistic expression by providing a way to render small, precise details and complicated coloring, but eventually the public seemed to tire from an excess of intricate patterns. While elaborate displays of luxurious kimono and accessories were not abandoned, there was a shift in interest toward more restrained dress consistent with the ideals of iki. The kimono of the skilled entertainers called geisha ("accomplished persons") were simpler than those worn by high-ranking courtesans and their fashions became the measure of restrained chic or iki that others, including courtesans, sometimes emulated.


  • Write a note card explaining the difference between iki ˆ and yabo –ì•é and give it to your mentor, oneesan or okaasan (you will have to research this on the web). It should be in your own words, with references where you obtained your information. This does not have to be long. Two paragraphs in your own words.
  • Part two: in the same note card, describe how you will strive for iki in your SL geisha journey.

More if you are interested

please choose the wonderful essay to read on iki by Yamamoto Yuji

the link is here



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