Oiran, Or Neko Diva?

Clothed like a rare tropical bird, with sophisticated education, culture, etiquette, and the demeanor of a diva: meet the Oiran of Edo era Japan.

Careful you don’t confuse this breathtaking, kimono-clad beauty with a Geisha my friends, lest you incur her wrath and a thousand bamboo canings. Although Geisha and Oiran were admired for similar attributes, the Oiran was at an entirely different level.

What set her apart? Let’s start with the visuals: layers of brightly colored, heavy silken robes (being able to wear multiple kimono indicated wealth); more golden hair ornaments and tassels than a shrine (bountiful accoutrements indicated status); not to mention a pair of thickly lacquered, incredibly high-platform koma geta (which symbolically elevated her above everyone else). Photo below courtesy of ajpscs.

Next let’s move on to her attitude. Just like a diva, the Oiran never traveled discretely. Her every appearance was heralded by a formal “dochu” — an iconic procession in full regalia making its stately, colorful, and often noisy way to the esteemed customer’s location.

This flashy parade included male servants, musicians, and a host of elegantly dressed tenjin (lower ranked girls). At the head of the procession a young kamuro (girl in training) bore a mysteriously inlaid box. What might you find inside? Supposedly special “gifts” for the customer…  in the form of the Oiran’s private collection of… sex toys.

Because that’s what these processions were all about my friends: courtesans on display, with the Oiran representing the most ostentatiously showy, highest ranking peacock of them all. Thus the biggest difference between an Oiran and a Geisha was that the Oiran provided sexual favors that a Geisha would not (although this topic has often been debated).

Whereas Geisha would typically entertain in groups of two or three, going from one teahouse party to another, Oiran would almost always be the only entertainer at the party (unless it was a particularly large gathering). This was due not only to cost, which was far more than a Geisha, but because far more was expected of an Oiran: entertainment plus sexual favors.

Yet expectations weren’t always met. Unlike a typical courtesan, the Oiran always had the last say. Her rank allowed her to pick and choose when and to whom her favors might be bestowed, and she was well within her rights to delay or even refuse a customer if he wasn’t to her liking or status.

The rise of the Oiran began roughly 400 years ago in the Edo period, and continued through the early 1900s. Today only a few remain, providing elaborate, traditional entertainment (rather than sexual favors) at ceremonies, for tourists, and fortunately also for those of us who exist in Second Life…

Aisiya Destiny and the Shinmachi Performers

Aisya Destiny is the founder and owner of Shinmachi in Second Life, a Japanese themed, English speaking roleplay and performance sim for Tayuu / Oiran* and Yakusha (Kabuki actors).

*Note: “Oiran” was the term used in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter (the largest and most famous red light district of Edo period Japan); “Tayuu” was the term used in the Shinmachi and Shimabara districts. Oiran and Tayuu always refer only to the highest ranked courtesans.

(The above photo of Aisya was taken by Katsumiyo Kahane, the current musume at Little Yoshiwara okiya).

Aisya’s interest in all things Oiran / Tayuu actually began during a Geisha performance at Little Yoshiwara okiya in Second Life. She immediately joined to begin training, eventually ascending to the rank of musume — second in command to the Okaasan (the head of the okiya).

A dancer performing in Aisya Destiny’s Shinmachi teahouse

During that time, continued research led Aisya to information about Oiran and Tayuu. Initially she thought that Oiran were merely Geisha who had sex. Upon delving further, she uncovered so much more to their culture, that it eventually inspired to create her very own Shinmachi district in Second Life.

I’ve personally attended three performances at Shinmachi, and enjoyed each one immensely. My hat (and kanzashi) is off to Aisya, for her talent and dedication in giving us a rare taste of something few would ever experience in first life.

Dressing Up as a Neko Oiran (click photo to enlarge)

A feline attitude can come awfully close to the diva demeanor of an Oiran. Try dressing up like this and just watch the affectation set in…

| Hair | Sweetaholic: Oiran hair (includes golden ornaments; part of the full Oiran 1.0 package that includes an amazingly textured kimono, geta, shape, skin, eyes and hair; hair was edited to cover human ears)
| Kanzashi (Hair Ornaments) with ribbons | Bare Rose: Thorn of Beauty Kanzashi Hair Pin (part of the full Thorn of Beauty package that includes kimono, hair, AO, shoes, and necklace)
| Hairline / hair base | Fior di Perle: Hairbase Tattoo black (this added just enough additional hairline for a realistic look)
| Skin | Tuty’s: Traditional Kita skin – wearing flower, face and neck (this affordable package of geisha and maiko skins includes multiple make-up options, each one in your choice of white all over, or white face/neck, with or without cleavage; it comes with natural hairline details and the proper geisha makeup lines at the nape of the neck) (Look for the pink wall marked “Oriente” — the skin is at the top of the wall.)
| Ears | {P/A} PERTURB/ation: Rose Ears (opening gift over a year ago; store currently unavailable in SL)
| Eyelashes | Redgrave: Eyelashes 39 Luscious
| Kimono | FallnAngel: Oiran Kimono, Gold Fans and Peonies, with the “Elaborate” Obi (two other Obi styles included in the outfit, and geta which I did not wear)
| Kiseru (pipe) | RMK / Rokumeikan: Kiseru, hand type (includes an animation that alternates your avatar between holding to smoking; pipe exudes wispy smoke)
| Tail | {P/A} PERTURB/ation: Rose Tail (opening gift over a year ago; store currently unavailable in SL). For extra flashy effect, try Simply Whimsey’s Exotique Fan Tail.
| Socks | Milky House: Tabi socks (these come with every kimono you buy from Milky)
| Geta | Sweetaholic: Geta, part of the full Oiran 1.0 package as mentioned above

Complete List of Second Life Kimono Stores:
Note: Oiran-style kimono can be found at Ancient Tree Kimono shop, Bare Rose, Falln Angel, La Dulce Vida, Mare, Milky House, Oiran Elegance (Aisya’s store!) Ryushosha, and Sweetaholic, all of which (and more) are listed on this page:

Visit Aisya’s Shinmachi for Tayuu and Oiran Performances:

Visit Maneki Neko Teahouse for Geisha Performances:

View Some Beautiful Old Oiran Prints (scroll down a bit):

View Photos of a Modern-Day Oiran Dochu (images by Philbert Ono)

Learn More about Oiran:

Learn More about Geisha (forums, gallery, and Oiran info too):

Explore Second Life Japan Chubu (where our photos were taken):

Explore Second Life Japan Kansai / Josoi Mura Edo

Explore Second Life Edo Japan Kitamachi / Gennado Honpo
Village area: http://slurl.com/secondlife/EDO%20JAPAN/170/111/27
Temple / Castle: http://slurl.com/secondlife/EDO%20JAPAN/81/153/61

Final photo courtesy of D.H. Chen

Domo arigato gozaimasu, watashi no saiai Bobby Yoshikawa-san, for your lovely photography <3***

© Stacia Villota / Virtual Neko in Second Life – 2011


12 Responses to “Oiran, Or Neko Diva?”

  1. […] Careful you don’t confuse this breathtaking, kimono-clad beauty with a Geisha my friends, lest you incur her wrath and a thousand bamboo canings. What sets an Oiran apart? Where can you find the most complete list of Second Life kimono stores? It’s all here, on my Virtual Neko blog > […]

  2. Great post. Always love that culture.

  3. Excellent post. The pictures are just breathtaking.

  4. What they said! Stacia, you mind if I include the lead shot in a lecture I’m doing on virtual photography? It’s a RL lecture, but I’ll credit you full on.

    Great writing too, just in case it’s forgotten in the eye candy.

  5. As always, amazing post dear Stacia. Congratulations :)))

  6. Very interesting article!!! どうもありがとうございます!

  7. The box actually contained her makeup.. combs, etc.

  8. Though I’m Californian American, I find the Oirans very beautiful and graceful once I get to know them and I’m glad that they don’t do the sexual kind of entertainment anymore because I think it’s degrading to them and their beauty, of course the only time I see those kind of Oirans is in Art,Anime/Manga, and Vocaloid Songs. :-\

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