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The Truth About Japanese Geishas

Updated on February 21, 2014


One of a class of professional women in Japan trained from girlhood in conversation, dancing, and singing in order to entertain professional or social gatherings of men.

- American Heritage Dictionary.

A professional female companion for men in Japan, trained in music, dancing, and the art of conversation.

- Collins English Dictionary.

Busting THE Myth

Many people carry misconceptions about Japanese geisha. The biggest misconception is whether or not geishas are prostitutes. The short answer

Traditionally, geishas are considered artists who perform dances and play instruments for men. Geishas are generally trained to play the shamisen, a three-cord musical instrument. They tend to perform privately for men during social gatherings. In addition to performing for men, geishas also take breaks and socialize with their clients as well. Geisha can be found sitting and sipping sake or similar liquors with their clients. The main role of a geisha is to free their clients from the daily grind, taking their minds away from stressors.

Geishas are not necessarily called upon on a regular basis. Japanese businessmen pay a pretty price for their "escape-from-real-life" companions.


Nothing stops a geisha from prostituting herself after her job as a companion is over. Many women realize how easy it is to make a large amount of money, especially after the men have been drinking all night. This practice is the culprit that gave geishas a bad name.

"Prostitute geishas" are given a different name and class as genuine geishas. In Japan, the term onsen is used to refer to non-traditional geishas. True geishas continue to work hard to maintain their dignity and see themselves as professional artists.


A Geisha's Journey

Japanese girls who are interested in living the geisha life as a grown woman enter the profession as maiko, or apprentices, beginning at the age of 14 or 15. They train for five years in an okiyo, where maiko and geisha live together. Maikos and geishas are differentiated by their hair and hairpieces, with only maikos wearing long obis, or tails, and only geishas wearing wigs.

When maikos are in training, they generally pick between two different paths. They train to either be dancing geisha or one who is a shamisen (instrument) expert. Maikos are usually ready to be geishas by the ages of 18 to 20.

Maikos experience a ritual known as erikaishi when they are ready to be geishas. They change their kimonos, change their make-up, and begin to wear wigs. With these changes, they are recognized as official geishas.

Geishas vs. Hostesses

Often times, geishas as mistaken for hostesses and vice versa. In reality, the two are rather different. For one, geishas are much more expensive than hostesses, costing men up to several thousand U.S. dollars a night. Hostesses do not cost nearly as much because they are not artists and do not dance nor play musical instruments for their clients. Like geishas, hostesses do entertain their clients through conversation and companionship.

Another huge difference between the two is that geishas always wear kimonos whereas their less formal counterparts dress casually.

Hostesses can be found anywhere in Japan with their companionship costing roughly $50 an hour. Geishas are usually found in a ryotei (luxury restaurant) or an ochaya, a special teahouse designed for geisha services.

The Truth

Geishas are not prostitutes. Although some of them choose to add prostitution to their list of services, many are proud of their professional careers as genuine geishas. The geisha's role is to entertain men during social and business gatherings, helping ease daily stress, not to eventually have sexual intercourse. A true geisha is a dignified professional artist.


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