The Geisha 芸者

The Geisha 芸者

Geisha are traditional entertainers in the field of Japanese arts and music. They mostly specialize in Japanese dance, singing, and a variety of instruments including hand drum, shoulder drum, shamisen or Japanese flute. They train throughout their lives, are very highly skilled, and some of the older geisha are even “living national treasures”, the highest status of artist in Japan. There is a really sad misconception about geisha being prostitute and it is seriously wrong to think about that. Of course in the Japanese culture prostitution always had a strong place but geisha were no part of that.

Geisha under the age of 20 or so are called maiko in southern Japan, and hangyoku in northern Japan. Contrary to popular misconception, girls only do five years of training if they begin in Kyoto at 15. In most other districts in Japan, girls who begin as hangyoku or maiko begin at 18, so only do two or three years, and if they are older than 20, they normally debut as ippon-san or geisha. Whether one debuts as a maiko or hangyoku, or as a geisha, it is rarely done without a year or so of training. After their years of preparation, new geisha debut either as hangyoku or as geisha depending on their age at the time they debut.

Geisha are called out to tea-houses or to events, functions and parties, to entertain. This kind of tradition of private entertainment was very common in the West too in previous centuries. Bach or Mozart would have been called out to play at the parties of lords and the nobility. In the West, this former tradition of private entertainment has largely evolved into large-scale public entertainment like ballet, or opera. In Japan, geisha also perform at large public events and annual dances, but the former tradition of small-scale private entertainment of customers having a private meal at a tea-house with friends or acquaintances and calling in geisha to entertain them as they eat and drink – has remained in Japan to the present-day. Geisha are very cultured independent businesswomen with their own customers, some of whom have been patrons for decades, and they often manage younger geisha too. Like any Western artist or musician or actress, they can and do fall in love and have relationships, but this is always entirely a private matter and never part of the job.

Is there any gaijin geisha!?

Yes there is one!

Here real name is Fiona Graham, she holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford, and an M.B.A. from the same. Her first degrees was in psychology taken at Keio University, where she was the first Western woman to graduate. In 2007 as part of a social anthropology project she became the first gaijin geisha in the 400-year history of the geisha. For this she took the name Sayuki meaning transparent happiness. She work in Asakusa one of the oldest of Tokyo’s six remaining geisha districts. She has lived in a geisha house (okiya), and participating in banquets as a trainee for the past year. She has been training in several arts, and will specialize in yokobue (Japanese flute). Sayuki made her debut after a year of training which is normal timing in her district.Sayuki became a geisha initially with anthropological fieldwork in mind, but is currently planning to continue as an actively working geisha for some time. Sayuki has lectured at a number of universities around the world, and has published several books on Japanese culture. She is also an anthropological film director with credits on international broadcasters.



  1. Geisha are amazing. Their clothing and makeup are truly beautiful. And if you can believe it, I actually met a real geisha here in Los Angeles back in 2006. I wrote about it here.

  2. Thanks for the posting on the Gaijin Geisha (upon my request). Very informative.I’m fascinated with Japanese culture ever since(architecture, arts,history,food) and most of all ,the Geisha life. I read the book “Memoirs of the Geisha”. I wonder why a lot of people has misconception about Geisha’s? especially here in the west. They have strict codes,right?I assumed,some of them have broken the rules.I admire their strict training and they are well-disciplined (Correct me if I’m wrong)

    Looking forward to more stories about Geisha’s and your wonderful life in Japan.

  3. I believe the myth grew out of the post World War II time. American soldiers occupying Japan just began using the term or misunderstood the term geisha and used it to describe the prostitutes.

  4. There really is something almost magical about the Geisha. I was in Kyoto with my parents & almost walked into a Maiko-san farewelling her guests. Even just that, left quite an impression upon me.

    mou ikkai aitai.

  5. Sayuki can book first-timers to a tea-house into banquets through her web-site

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