Life Of The Geisha

By | February 28, 2019

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Geisha playing traditional musical instruments, Japan, 1880. Source: (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

What is a Geisha?

In Japan, a geisha is a professional woman whose job it is to entertain men. She does this by singing, dancing, and playing instruments. In addition, she must be skilled at making conversation. A geisha is a fully trained woman, while a maiko is an apprentice geisha. When we see images of women in the full makeup and brightly colored kimonos, what we are usually seeing is a maiko. The fully trained geisha wear more subdued clothing and makeup, as they know how to keep attention using their other skills.

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Photo of a Maiko. Source: (

 Geisha in Training

The first stage of training is called shikomi. The youngest girls, usually between eight and ten will be out to work as a maid and do everything they are told to do. They assist the most senior geisha when they return from an evening out. The girls also attend hanamachi: geisha school. Even today, the girls follow this custom. At school, they learn traditions, dress, and dialect. In order to advance to the next stage of training, minarai, a girl has to pass a dance exam and be proficient in all of her classes. In the minarai part of training, the girls are no longer maids and training is now done in the ‘field’. They are to be seen and not heard, which is why their makeup and dress are more impressive, as this is what is speaking for them. A minarai is paired up with a onee-san, meaning older sister. She follows her onee-san to events and observes, sometimes pouring tea. She will also work with an okaa-san, the person in charge of the geisha house. She will learn how to play games and practice the art of conversation. The next stage is maiko, an apprentice geisha. The maiko stage may last several years.