Mizuage (水揚げ, lit. "hoisting from water") was a ceremony undergone by a Japanese maiko (apprentice geisha) to signify her coming of age. When the older geisha (in charge of the maiko's training) considered the young maiko ready to come of age, the topknot of her hair was symbolically cut. A maiko undergoing mizuage was often sponsored by a patron who then had the right of taking the maiko's virginity. Mizuage has been long connected with the loss of virginity of a maiko, but this practice was made illegal along with other acts of prostitution in 1959. Afterward, a party would be held for the maiko.
According to anthropologist Liza Dalby, mizuage was an important initiation to womanhood and the geisha world. Mizuage gave way to the next stage of training, the senior maiko. Once the mizuage patron's function (of deflowering the young maiko) was served, he was to have no further relations with the girl.
The money acquired for a maiko’s mizuage was a great sum and it was used to promote her debut as a geisha.
Mineko Iwasaki, a geisha that Arthur Golden met while writing Memoirs of a Geisha, described her experience of mizuage in her autobiography as being an initiation party, symbolized on the geisha-to-be by a change in hairstyle rather than the loss of virginity. Iwasaki describes it as a celebration of the passage of girl (maiko) to woman (geisha), and associated it with the Erikae (turning the collar) ceremony when a maiko graduates to dressing as a geisha.
In Autobiography of a Geisha, Sayo Masuda describes her experiences of mizuage as sexual exploitation. Writing in 1956, she explained that she was sold multiple times by her okiya to men for mizuage, in the pretence that she had not yet undergone it, to make them a larger profit. The transaction was explicitly a sexual arrangement. However, as a writer Masuda argued against the outlawing of prostitution in Japan, explaining it could be a valuable way for women to make an independent living and would merely be driven underground.
After having finished the mizuage, the Kyoto's maiko changed their hairstyle from a girl's bun to a mature entertainer's hairstyle. Over time various hair styles such as the girl's bun and the sakko have signified the transition of a maiko to a geisha. In present day, the ritual of mizuage and the changing of hair occurs without sex. Additionally the transitioning of a maiko to a geisha is no longer associated with de-flowering.
Arthur Golden's novel Memoirs of a Geisha portrays the mizuage as a financial arrangement in which a girl's virginity is sold to a "mizuage patron", generally someone who particularly enjoys sex with virgin girls, or merely enjoys the charms of some individual maiko.
- Seigle, Cecilia Segawa (1993). Yoshiwara: the glittering world of the Japanese courtesan. [Honolulu]: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1488-6.page 179.
- Melissa Hope Ditmore (2006). Encyclopedia of prostitution and sex work. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-32969-9., page 184 
- Japan encyclopedia. Belknap Pr of Harvard U. 2005. ISBN 0-674-01753-6.page 234
- Reynolds, Wayne; Gallagher, John (2003). Geisha : A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance and Art. PRC Publishing. ISBN 1-85648-697-4. page 135
- Liza Crihfield Dalby. Geisha. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998
- Lesley Downer. Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World. (London: Headline Book Publishing, 2000) Pages 256-266.
- Mineko Iwasaki. Geisha, A Life. (New York: Washington Square Press, 2002)Page 206-210.
- 相原恭子『京都 舞妓と芸妓の奥座敷（文春新書、平成13年）』184-185頁。溝縁ひろし「舞妓さんの持ち物と髪型」『祇をん市寿々（小学館、2000年）』、京都上七軒市まめ『舞妓のお作法（大和書房、2007年）』56頁、岩崎峰子『芸妓峰子の花いくさ（講談社、2001年）』170-171、192頁、杉田博明『祇園の女 文芸芸妓磯田多佳（新潮社、平成3年）』62頁、杉田博明『京の花街 祇園（淡交社、2003年）』65頁、「衿替え」宮川町小糸『（宮川町 芸妓さん舞妓さんのページ』、参照。
- 岩崎峰子『芸妓峰子の花いくさ（講談社、2001年）』170-171頁。なお、「旦那について」宮川町小糸『宮川町 芸妓さん舞妓さんのページ』 では、初めて旦那を持つことを水揚げだと定義している
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