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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.
During the Edo period, courtesans undergoing mizuage were sponsored by a patron who had the right of taking their virginity. Mizuage has also historically been connected with loss of virginity of maiko, but this practice became illegal 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.
Mineko Iwasaki, a geisha that Arthur Golden met while writing Memoirs of a Geisha described 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. It is a celebration of the passage of girl (maiko) to woman (geisha).
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.
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