Gender Discrimination of Women in the Film "Sisters of the Gion"

The research is about women in the film Sisters of the Gion, a Japanese film widely discussed in the East Asia and around the world. The paper provides research of the Japanese society based on a few books published about the literature of Japanese society in 1936. The authors placed Japanese literature into the historical context by discussing lives of geisha girls. Despite extensive research of the journal articles and web pages, there is not much information about one of the important elements of the Japanese society in 1936 before World War II, gender discrimination, to be precise. This issue implies that women have no right to choose a person to date, have sex with, and are governed by the need for financial freedom and love that betrays them. Women are left hopeless due to the lack of physical power and the freedom of expression. The main purpose of this paper is to describe the elements of sexual and job discrimination existing in the Japanese society and to connect it to the history of the geisha girls who lived in the 1930s.


To achieve this purpose, the paper is divides into four sections. The first section has a subsection and it includes the Sisters of the Gion analysis, which discusses the film expression in detail. The sub-section expounds on the lives of geisha and the culture in the Japanese society in the 1930s. This section describes how they lived in the society, their cultural principles, and how they performed their duties to men mostly before World War II. The second section of the paper investigates the fundamentals of gender discrimination of women in the Japanese society in 1930s based on the film. This section contains there sub-sections, the sexual discrimination by Japanese men, gender discrimination at workplace, and the outcomes of the both types of discrimination mentioned above. The research paper will connect the literature of gender discrimination with the history of geisha girls in the Japanese society in 1930s. The third section will provide research questions to assist in future development of this topic. The fourth section draws a conclusion, which emphasizes the importance of further research on the topic of gender discrimination in the modern Japanese society. Before describing the two elements (sexual and job discrimination) of gender discrimination, the research paper will provide an analysis of the film Sisters of the Gion and the lives of geisha girls in Japanese society in 1930s historical context.

The Analysis of "Sisters of the Gion"

The film Sisters of the Gion is about two geisha girls who were sisters working in an area known as Gion. According to Doug Johnson, the film Sisters of the Gion was directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. The main actors are Isuzu Yamada, Famio Okura, Yoko Umemura, and Benkei Shiganoya. The film was first released in October 1936 by Mizoguchi (Kirihara 116). The film is 96 minutes long, and its original version is in Japanese and has English subtitles. The story of the film is about the urban life in Kyoto. It concerns the lives of the now modern geisha girls in the Japanese society. It was set in the quarters in Gion where lower class and geisha lived.

The main characters are two sisters, who were geishas. The part of the older sister, Umekichi, is played by Yoko Umemura, and Isuza Yamada plays the younger sister, Omocha (Kirihara 116). The older sister Umekichi has a perception of relationship with men that is different from her younger sister’s one. She adheres to the Japanese tradition, and her convictions about love to men are inherent to her. Omocha is her contemporary and she was constrained to live by the code of geisha during the years before 1930s (Kirihara 116). Umekichi grew up doing dances and attending music lessons to become the ideal geisha to work in Gion, Kyoto, the city of licensed pleasure for Japanese men. She is loyal to the patron in the house and wears a kimono . Her younger sister Omocha despises the patron Furusawa, who is played by Benkei Shiganayo, and prefers the richer patron Jarakudo, performed by the actor Famio Okura (Kirihara 117). Omocha is reluctant to trust men and believes that geisha should not have relations with men. She manipulates men and takes advantages of what they offer through lying to them (Kirihara 117).

The conflict existing between a man and a woman in Japanese society. Furusawa is a man who leaves his child and wife, and seeks to live with a geisha girl Umekichi in Gion. Omocha does not like the poor man and tried to ensure that Furusawa is sent out to her sister geisha’s quarters (Kirihara 117). She wants to impose a new patron to Umekichi and uses Jarakudo, a business acquaintance of Furusawa, to flush the latter out and take his place of the patron. She pays money to Furusawa to evict him without the notice of the older sister Umekichi. Furusawa takes the money but does not leave. He wastes it all on the drinks and resides in the place of the former clerk Kimura (Kirihara 117). Omocha chooses a patron for herself, who is the owner of a kimono cloth shop. Omocha takes advantage of the owner clerk in the kimono trade, resulting in hatred between them (Kirihara 118). Umekichi later on learns about her sister, leaves Jarakudo and rejoins with Furusawa, whom she cares a lot for their relationship.

Indeed, the conflict between a man and a woman exists and arises when the owner found out about his clerk’s relations with the geisha girl Omocha. The owner fired him. In return, the clerk reveals the infidelity existing between Omocha and his employer and takes revenge on Omocha for taking advantage of him, abducts her and causes her serious injury (Kirihara 117). At the end both sisters loose, in their fight for a gender right and choice of a better live after they lose their patrons. Umekichi, the older sister, loses Furusawa, who she deeply cared for and was loyal to him. Furusawa abandons her after becoming indifferent about his wife’s job and where she is. Omocha is injured and requires hospital attention due to her injuries (Kirihara 118). Umekichi ends up caring for her sister.

The next section of the paper will provide a discussion of the lives of geisha girls in the Japanese society in 1930s.

Geisha Culture in the Japanese Society in 1930s

The article about geisha by Sarah Pradt and Terry Kawashima explains geisha culture and gender image according to Japanese society in 1930s (27). The gender and culture provide stereotypes surrounding geisha cultural critique. Pradt and Kawashima contemplate on how the cultural boundaries need to be drawn and who is responsible for drawing the boundaries (27). They use different representations of people, which assists in explaining where the gender falls in the Japanese society.

Geisha in the Society. Geisha were mainly female entertainers who invited Japanese men to geisha quarters and performed a dance or music for them. The men were referred to as patrons, and they gave a money reward for entertainment (Pradt and Kawashima 27). The services offered in the 1930s by geisha extended to sexual favors, as portrayed in Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s by Donald Kirihara, where geisha were bought and sold for playthings (Kirihara 118).

There were the apprentice geisha and full geisha who had different payment depending on their level of customer satisfaction and age. In the Japanese society in 1930s, men were allowed to enjoy sexual favors apart from their wife’s, and thus they received the sex service mainly from geisha. The geisha would live in pleasure quarters where sex and other forms of entertainment were offered, including dancing, playing music, and singing (Pradt and Kawashima 27). The roles of geisha during the first instances of entertainment facilities included offering men services as the best entertainers, known as courtesans (Pradt and Kawashima 27).

Cultural Principles of Geisha. Geisha principles depend on the level of work one did within the geisha quarters. The women in the pleasure quarter did not provide sex and lived a life full of restrictions imposed by other men to ensure the protection of the business of the Oiran (Courtesans) . Some geisha had principles of no sex with male counterparts while others did everything to entertain the customers.

Duties of Geisha before World War II. Geisha duties of entertaining men through music performance lost their meaning after World War II erupted (Pradt and Kawashima 27). Full geishas, who could entertain, sing and dance to customers, went to work in war factories and were later replaced by prostitutes. The prostitutes referred to themselves as ‘geisha girls’ entertaining the incoming military men from America (Pradt and Kawashima 27). There was a rise of instances of geisha prostitution, when geisha girls offered themselves in exchange for shelter and food. Traditional geishas, who were highly professional entertainers in art performance and transacted for sexual offers altered due to the western culture, which sorted out sex services from the ‘geisha girls’ in 1930s (Pradt and Kawashima 26).

Gender Discrimination of Women in the Japanese Society in 1930s

According to Mehrotra and Kapoor, there is pervasive gender inequality in the Asian regions (197). Women are responsible for their life rights, however, the rights to freedom from discrimination and sexual harassment, and equal salaries for men and women are violated. Women are responsible for the population of a nation (Mehrotra and Kapoor 198). General health and the education level of the population influence the economy. Women are involved in the growth of the economy, but due to the difference in education received by a girl child and a male child, women are usually engaged in agriculture sectors and additionally in the provision of labor in factories (Mehrotra and Kapoor 199).

The paper will describe the two types of gender discrimination (sexual harassment and job overburdening) as provided in the elements of the Sisters of the Gion portraying the women life in the Japanese society in 1930s.

Gender Discrimination in Terms of Sex in the Film

Furusawa’s wife is discriminated by her husband, who does not care about her and seeks the refugee of Umekichi to offer him sexual services (Kirihara 120). Umekichi as a woman used to provide sexual services for a little pay to a man who does not care about her. Once Furusawa finds a job (his wife found him a job in a factory, where she had retired from), he leaves Umekichi. The fact that he left geisha portrays how Furusawa used Umekichi as a sex slave only, but not has a lover. He disowns her, even though Umekichi takes care of him after Omocha sends him away.

Indeed, there is a divergence of heart matter and commerce quest. The geisha women are depicted as commodities of commerce that are trapped in the circumstances of Japanese woman geisha life in the years before World War II (Johnson). The circumstances leading to such life of geishas are confined to commodity of fulfilling men pleasure. Umekichi wants financial stability, uses love to get financial freedom, but passion is not allowed for Japanese geishas (Johnson). Omocha is trying to find the suitor to assist her sister financially, however her strategy of getting Kudo, the owner of kimono shop, fails after the owner discover her relationship with his employee (Kimura).

In the Japanese society in 1930s, men’s attitude toward female gender was brutal and discriminating (Mehrotra and Kapoor 119). Men would leave their wives to carry the household and take care of children and go to the geisha quarters to enjoy sexual services (Kirihara 120). Men were selfish and focused only on their needs, as in case of Furusawa who walks out of the door, leaving his wife behind looking after a child.

Mizoguchi film helps to critically evaluate the social order and superior status of men in the Japanese society. Sisters of the Gion portrays women victimization in terms of love, sex, and marriage by cruel masters. Umekichi never gets the love she desires from Furusawa, Omocha does not get Kudo, who could become a financially stable parton, and wife of Furusawa and Kudo never get the marriages they wish due to infidelity of their husbands (Johnson).

According to Mehrotra and Kapoor, gender inequality in the film is showcased by men who can do harm to a defenseless girl (198). Omocha is badly hurt after been thrown out of a moving car, and only her sister Umekichi looks after her in the hospital bed. The men Omocha loved and spent time with did not come to her rescue; no one cared for her expect for her sister (Johnson). Umekichi is left hopeless after Furusawa gets a job, and despite her unwavering devotion to the man, there was no recognition for her efforts to return him (Johnson). Gender discrimination against the two sisters reveals sex rations in Asia, where there are fewer women than men, which encourages sexual victimization of women (Mehrotra and Kapoor 201).

Job Gender Harassment of the Women in the Sisters of the Gion

According to Kirihara (120), in the film Sisters of the Gion, the life cycle of a woman was altered during the 1930s, when many men joined the work of factory workers. Women were forced to join the factories when war started, and thus could no longer carry out their household duties (Kirihara 120). The migration of men to urban areas leads to feminization in terms of agriculture farming. The ratio of women to men decreased, forcing the few remaining women to be geisha and offer sexual services. The job opportunities of women in the Sisters of the Gion are disadvantaged in the part when Omocha needs to fight to retain from her job in the quarters after one of the Kimura decides to revenge on her (Kirihara 120).

Furthermore, the job system of geisha was highly discriminated, and Japanese men never respected geisha job and viewed it has prostitution. Prosperous businesspersons used geisha girls who were vulnerable in their jobs, which was not a secure environment. Kimura was able to capture Omocha in his car and cause injuries to her (Kirihara 118). There also was an issue of women unemployment in the Japanese society in 1930s.

Indeed, the only by-product that Umekichi could offer to gain financial stability was love, which betrayed her. Economic positions of men and women differed considerably in 1930s, and most jobs were not available for Japanese women. Women were forced to accept job opportunities offered by the government, when the war erupted even though the importance of their job was undervalued (Johnson). The jobs that were readily available for the sisters were geisha jobs. Most Japanese women were perceived to be sexual commodities and the only job they were supposed to be involved in was entertainment of men in geisha pleasure bars (Kirihara 118).

Research Questions for Future Development of the Topic

According to Kirihara (117), the research questions that will be most helpful in the development of the topic of discrimination of women in the film Sisters of the Gion are:

  1. What was the role of Japanese men in the advancement of gender discrimination?
  2. What was the influence of women in promoting gender discrimination to other women in the geisha quarters?
  3. What was the role of the government in influencing gender discrimination in the Japanese society in the 1930s in terms of women employment?

Further Research of Gender Discrimination in the Modern Japanese Society

The paper encourages further research on the role of a geisha woman in influencing gender discrimination during her performance of the traditional music and dance for a geisha. Was the bad sexual treatment of woman the catalyst for gender discrimination or was it caused by Japanese men? The further research would benefit the readers in understanding the role each individual or body played in combating gender discrimination in the Japanese society.


In conclusion, Japanese men had stereotypes about geisha, whom they viewed as a commodity. Geisha were used as sexual slave and their love, sex, and marriage wishes were never granted to them. Indeed, the difference in the girl and boy child development resulted in the growth of women discrimination in Asia as women experience difficulties with pregnancy, sexual harassment and lack of equal job opportunities. The film Sisters of the Gion concludes that the Japanese society discriminated women and geishas were used for sexual satisfaction in the male dominated society in the 1930s.

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