Today the make-up of geisha is one of the most recognizable characteristics about them, but historically this has not always been the case. The origins of white face make-up in Japanese culture are largely disputed. Some believe that the Japanese were inspired by "pale faced" European women, while others believe that it originated in China and was later adopted by the women in the Japanese court. The use of white make-up in Japanese history can be dated back as early as the Heian Era (794-1185 AD), a time Chinese influence was high; leading historians to believe the second story is more likely.
Women during the Heian period, and ever now, used rice-flour powder or lead-based powder mixed with water which turned into a thin paste and applied to this paste to their faces as a foundation. They then would remove their eyebrows with tweezers and paint in thick faked eyebrows high on their forehead. To redden their lips, the women used juice from benibana or sallflower (beni). After this they would then blacken their teeth. The women did this by staining their teeth with a mixture of oxidized iron filings steeped in an acidic solution. The black colouring was not permanent and would have to be reapplied every few days or so. The blackened teeth custom ended during the Meiji period. The Heian make-up and appearance was later adopted by courtesans in the pleasure quarters.
When geisha began to emerge from the pleasure quarters, they did not apply their make-up like the courtesans did, their look was much more low key. The geisha make-up was simple and light, to match their kimono which was made with plain patterns. The geisha's low key look was mostly due to government regulations which were created to stop the geisha from competing with the courtesans. The geisha's style and make-up would soon become to be seen as chic, while the courtesans' appearance to be seen as old fashion.
Maiko (apprentice geisha) at the beginning wear heavy white make-up almost all the...
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