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Geisha are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses, mainly to entertain male customers. Their skills include performing a variety of Japanese arts such as classical music, dance, games, and conversation.

Like all Japanese nouns, geisha has no distinct singular or plural variants. In English, the most literal translation of geisha would be "artist," "performing artist," or "artisan." Geiko is another name for geisha, which is usually used to refer to geisha from western Japan, including Kyoto.

Maiko is an apprentice geisha, translating to “dance child”. They are also referred as hangyoku, or "half-jewel", meaning that they are paid half of the wage of a full geisha. A more generic term is o-shaku, "one who pours (alcohol)".

The white make-up, maiko hair, and elaborate kimono is the popular image held of geisha. A woman does not have to begin as a maiko when entering the geisha community, having the chance to begin her career as a full geisha. Nonetheless, a year's training is usually involved before debuting either as a maiko or geisha.

A woman above 21 is no longer considered to be a maiko, and upon her initiation into the geisha community, she becomes a full geisha.

Only in Kyoto can a modern maiko apprentice before the age of 18. On average, Tokyo maiko typically begin at age 18. They are slightly older than their Kyoto counterparts, who usually start at 15. The stages of geisha training takes years.

Today, it is still said that geisha live in a separate reality, an elegant and high-culture world. They call it the karyūkai, or "the flower and willow world." Before their dissipation, the courtesans were the colorful "flowers" and the geisha "willows" because of their strength, grace, and subtlety.

Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses (okiya), which are in areas called hanamachi ("flower towns"), usually during their apprenticeship. Many experienced geisha are successful enough to have the option of choosing to live independently.

Before the 20th century, geisha training began around age four. Now, girls usually go to school until their teens and then make the personal decision of training to become a geisha. Young women who aspire to be a geisha often begin their training after completing middle school, high school, or college. Adulthood is when many women begin their careers.

Geisha still study traditional instruments, including the shamisen, shakuhachi, and drums. They acquire skill in games, traditional songs, calligraphy, Japanese traditional dances (in the nihonbuyō style), tea ceremony, literature, and poetry.

Women dancers draw their art from butō (a classical Japanese dance) and are trained by the Hanayagi school, whose top dancers perform internationally. With the assistance of the owner of the geisha and from watching other geisha, apprentices become proficient in dealing with clients as well. They also grasp the complex traditions of selecting and wearing kimono, a floor length silk robe embroidered with intricate designs held together by a sash (obi) at the waist. Geisha tradition is considered to prevail in Kyoto, where it is the strongest today, including Gion Kobu. The geisha in these districts are referred as geiko. The Tokyo hanamachi of Shimbashi, Kagurazaka, and Asakusa are also well known districts.

In modern Japan, geisha and maiko are considered a rare sight outside of hanamachi. There were over 80,000 geisha in Japan during the 1920s, but today, there are far fewer. The exact number of geisha is unknown to outsiders. It is estimated to be from 1,000 to 2,000, mostly in the resort town of Atami. The most common sightings are of tourists who pay a fee to be dressed up as maiko.

photo of Japanese geisha one photo of Japanese geisha two photo of Japanese geisha three
photo of Geisha Maiko Dress-Up

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Geisha Maiko Dress-Up

Geisha Maiko Dress-Up can be done for a reasonable price in the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto.

photo of Miyako Odori

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Miyako Odori

Miyako Odori is a special performance that can only be seen in spring when the cherry blossoms are in season.

photo of Kyoto Cuisine with Maiko

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Kyoto Cuisine with Maiko

Kyoto Cuisine with Geisha (artisan) or Maiko (apprentice Geisha) includes entertainment provided by them.

photo of Gion Corner Performance Art Show

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Gion Corner Performance Art Show

The Gion Corner Performance Art Show is less than an hour long and is an opportunity to see multiple traditional crafts.

photo of Gion Geisha District

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Gion Geisha District

Gion is the area where you can see Geisha and have the opportunity to be entertained by them during your meal.

photo of Higashi Chaya District

Chubu | Ishikawa | Kanazawa

Higashi Chaya District

The Higashi Chaya District is where guests where once entertained by Geisha inside the various teahouses.

photo of Pontocho

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City


Pontocho is a narrow alley lined with a variety of restaurants ranging from inexpensive to breaking the wallet.

photo of Miyagawacho

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City


Miyagawacho is located south west of Gion and is one of the six major entertainment districts in Kyoto.

photo of Kamishichiken

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City


Kamishichiken is one of the oldest of the five geisha districts in Kyoto and least famous.