Geisha means person of the arts. The ‘gei’ of geisha means ‘arts,’ so the word ‘geisha’ really means ‘artisan’ or ‘artist.’

Geishas were very popular in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. But even today there are still a few Geishas left, living in Japan under the same laws as the Geishas before them did.

Geishas are no prostitutes. Many people, especially in the western world believe that Geishas are prostitutes. But they are not. Their job is to entertain men, dance, serve tea and play instruments.

Geishas have existed for many years now. They have their roots in women who educated the nobility and the emperor’s concubines. Later on, after the civil wars, when many Samurai had the feeling that society didn’t need them any more, many of their daughters went to become Geishas, and the way of performing and entertaining men was remodelled through these girls. Geishas are also seen as the female counterpart of the Samurai, because many girls brought the values of the samurai with them and taught them. Over time the culture changed a lot but it was always a part of Japanese culture.


Memoirs of a Geisha is the wonderful book that would tell you bedtime stories as you drift away to the same world Sayuri’s in. I have been touched so deeply by this book and its simple expression of love and humanity. It’s truly a beautiful book to read.

This book tells of a simple story of an intricate woman. This particular woman is of Japan, and she lives in the world of cultural art (particularly, entertainment) during the enigmatic age of transformation, where the mixture of culture and history will have you stunned,

nonetheless entertained for hours, and a few minutes a day shall guarantee you a wonderful night to sleep. Every one should be conscious of such a gift lying around the bookstore, to be read. Not to mention the famous movie which I have not seen yet.

Traditionally, Geisha begin their training at a very young age. Although some girls were sold to geisha houses ("okiya") as children, this was not common practice in reputable districts. Daughters of geisha were often brought up as geisha themselves, usually as the successor ("atotori" meaning heir) or daughter-role ("musume-bun") to the okiya.

When girls first arrived at the okiya, they would be put to work as maids, or do everything they are told. The work was difficult with the intent to "make" and "break" the new girls. The most junior ‘shikomi’ of the house would have to wait late into the night for the senior geisha to return from engagements, sometimes as late as two or three in the morning. During this stage of training, the shikomi would go to classes at the geisha school. In modern times, this stage still exists, mostly to accustom the girls to the traditional dialect, traditions and dress of the "karyūkai."

Once the recruit became proficient with the geisha arts, and passed a final, difficult dance exam, she would be promoted to the second stage of training: minarai. Minarai are relieved from their housekeeping duties. The minarai stage focuses on training in the field. Their kimono, more elaborate than even a maiko’s, are intended to do the talking for them. Minarai can be hired for parties, but are usually uninvited (yet welcomed) guests at parties that their onee-san ("onee-san" meaning "older sister", and is the Minarai’s senior) attends. The techniques are not taught in school, as skills such as conversation and gaming can only be absorbed through practice. This stage lasts only about a month or so.

After a short period of time, the third (and most famous) stage of training begins, called maiko. Maiko are apprentice geisha, and this stage can last for years. The onee-san/imouto-san (junior) relationship is extremely important. Since the onee-san teaches her maiko everything about working in the hanamachi, her teaching is vital. She will teach her proper ways of serving tea, playing shamisen, and dancing, the casual talk of conversation, which is also important for a maiko to learn for future invitations to more teahouses and gatherings. The onee-san will even help pick the maiko’s new professional name with kanji or symbols related to her own name. One would suggest that geisha are prone to "flirt", but it is only their nature to seem demure and innocent.

After a period as short as six months (in Tokyo) or as long as five years (in Kyoto), the maiko is promoted to a full-fledged geisha, and charges full price for her time. Geisha remain as such until they retire.

The novel I refer to above was written by Arthur Golden based on the story told by geisha Nitta Sayuri, from Gion Japan.


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