38 Amazing Facts About Geisha You Can’t Miss

Geisha girls, with their porcelain, painted faces, scarlet red lips and exquisite Kimono are the ultimate iconic symbol of Japan’s devotion to tradition, elegance, and etiquette. Referred to as the “Flower and Willow World”, this almost secret society of the Geisha is one of the oldest yet most mysterious professions in  Japan. Although there is still much about them we might never learn, here are 38 amazing facts on Geisha culture we think everybody ought to know.


 Image: Flickr

Geisha Kimono

1. The Entertaining Girls

Geisha is the same term for geiko and geigi. They all have the same character – gei (芸), which means entertainment, or something that requires a certain skill, esprit and idea. Sha (者) means person or thing. Ko (子) means child. Gi (妓) means a woman who serves at a banquet with traditional Japanese music or singing. All the terms mean a woman who entertains guests with dance, Japanese traditional music and singing at a banquet.
Source: trulytokyo.com, Gif: Giphy

2. Male Geisha Existed Before

During the Edo period in Kyoto and Osaka, geisha meant a houkan (幇間), and geiko meant a woman. Houkan (幇間) was a job to entertain the guests by showing their talent and helping the geiko and maiko (舞妓). By the Meiji era, the word geisha became a woman’s word.
Source: similarworlds.com, Image: Flickr
3. Names for the Trainees

They are called maiko (舞妓). Maiko provides entertainment such as Japanese traditional dance, ohayashi (祭囃子) at a banquet, and is in training to become a geisha. Ohayashi is a form of Japanese music performed during festivals and shows diversity in regions throughout Japan.
Source: japan-culture-tours.com
4. Wearing Oshiroi

Oshiroi (白粉) is a white powder. They use it to cover the faces and the front and back of their necks. In the old times, this contained lead, which caused serious health problems later on. They complete the look with black eyeliner, a flick of red eye shadow at the end of their eyelids, and very red lips. Usually, when a geiko gets older, she will stop wearing oshiroi
Source: thehealthy.com, Image: Flickr
5. Black Teeth Custom

This custom was called ohaguro (お歯黒). It was not only for geisha but for women in general. The meaning of it changes through the era, but it was for beauty. Nowadays, maiko will blacken their teeth when they reach the sakkou stage, or when they graduate from being a maiko 
Source: trulytokyo.com, Image: Flickr

Cute Geisha Pen

6. Strict Performance Rules

To call a geisha to your banquet, you have to tell the Ryotei (料亭) where you’re having it. A Ryotei is a high-class Japanese restaurant furnished with large private rooms. The Ryotei will then arrange the number of geisha according to the budget and the guest’s wishes. If you’re a familiar face, you can directly call a geisha. You can’t always call a geisha to every Ryotei. There are strict rules.
Source: trulytokyo.com, Image: Flickr
7.  Having Patrons is Normal

A danna (旦那) is a powerful, wealthy man that pays for all the expenses of the geisha. To become a geisha requires a lot of time and money. The danna would pay and take care of the geisha throughout her life. Therefore, it was a high social status to become a danna. It showed that they had enough money to be a patron of a geisha. Their relationship was not inherently sexual.
Source: people.howstuffwork.com, Image: Flickr
8. Confused with Sex Workers

Many people confuse geisha with oiran who were high-class sex workers. It is true that some geisha did sex work, but technically they were entertainers.
Source: allthatsinteresting.com, Image: Flickr

9. Serving Tea

Usually, geisha don’t serve green tea or dango on a special occasion but Maiko does it. This could be seen at Ume matsuri when maiko girls serve tea to the visitors by wearing traditional colorful kimono.
Source: trulytokyo.com, Gif: Giphy
10. Certain Level Of Education

Geisha is a highly valued person and educated in Japanese art. An average girl can’t be a geisha within a short time. She needs to be educated for a few years. To attain a goal one must work hard and this is what a girl does to become a geisha from a maiko. Under current Japanese law, a girl who is 16 can be a maiko and she has to learn everything about Japanese art and culture that includes traditional singing, playing an instrument, traditional Japanese ancient dancing, tea ceremony manners, the art of wearing kimono, flower arrangements and so no. Thus how a maiko is educated and then becomes a real Geisha at the age of 21.
Source: insidejapantours.com, Image: Flickr

11. No Marriage for Geisha

A geisha woman can’t get married at the time she wishes to remain geisha but she can get married after her retirement.
Source: trulytokyo.com
12. They Live in Flower Town

Geisha live in Hanamachi that means in flower town, “Hana – Flower and Machi – Town). It is a district, can be found in different places all over Japan mostly in Kyoto and Tokyo. Having this kind of residential area attracts many foreigners to see Geisha and Maiko. In Hanamachi, there are many Okiya (a traditional-style Japanese house) where usually Geisha live at.
Source: trulytokyo.com, Image: Flickr
13. Born a Geisha

Early geishas were not geishas by choice. They were either born into it or they were from poor families and were adopted into it. Today, girls are required to stay in school until 15, but after that, they are free to choose to become geishas.
Source: theguardian.com, Image: Flickr
14. Varied Hairstyles

A geisha and a maiko can be differentiated by their hairstyles. Unlike geisha, who wear special wigs called katsura, a maiko uses their own hair but can use hair extensions. To protect their updo between visits to the hairdresser, they sleep on special support called a takamakura. A maiko will also wear more elaborate ornaments in their hair, while those of a geisha is subtler. Some maiko develop bald spots from wearing these hairstyles for long periods of time, but they consider it to be a point of pride
Source: japanpowered.com, Image: Flickr
15. Half-Jewel

A geisha apprentice is also referred to as a hangyoku which translates to half-jewel. In the past, a hangyoku would be paid half as much as a fully-trained geisha
Source: theculturetrip.com
16. How Early Can They Begin?

Once upon a time, a geisha could start training as young as three or five years old, but in modern times, that no longer happens. Most apprentices train for a full year before becoming full geishas regardless of their age. If a woman is 20 or older when they start training they are generally not given the title of maiko, but they are still required to train for a minimum of 12 months before they can become full geishas.
Source: factsanddetails.com, Gif: Giphy
17. The Receding Numbers

In the heyday of geishas around the 1930s, there were as many as 80,000 women who were maikos and geishas. Over time, that number has dwindled, and there are only around 1,000 remaining active geishas.
Source: newworldencyclopedia.com
18. PayScale According to Style

Among geishas, there are different levels of pay and a different style to match each level- ohanadai, gyokudai, and senkoudai. Dai is Japanese for the price, and then ohana means flower, gyoku is a sphere or jewel, and senkou means incense.
Source: japanikuiku.blogspot.com, Image: Flickr
19. Internet and Cellphone Prohibited

While in training, a geisha is prohibited from using a cell phone or email and watches TV rarely. A maiko also works all but two days a month and is only able to see friends and family a few times a year on special occasions.
Source: trulytokyo.com, Gif: Giphy

Antique Geisha Dolls

20. Special Permission to Enter

A person is typically not allowed to enter an okiya off the street. To gain permission to enter, they must be referred by another client, or have a rapport with the proprietress. A foreigner was also not allowed to enter unaccompanied, but those restrictions have loosened somewhat in modern times.
Source: trulytokyo.com
21. No Time to Relax

Even when a geisha is at home and off-duty, she is never completely free to relax. A geisha is expected to maintain proper manners at all times and to set an example for younger geishas.
Source: japantoday.com, Image: Flickr
22. At Par with Men

A geisha traditionally does not behave in a meek or submissive manner. They needed to be up-to-date on current affairs and be able to hold clever and engaging conversations with their clients. At a time when many Japanese wives were not allowed to speak to their husbands as equals, geishas could converse on a wide number of topics and speak to them at the same level.
Source: japantoday.com
23. A 3 Year Wait

A geisha’s kimono takes up to three years to manufacture and is her biggest expense. The formal kimono is entirely made of silk and has a low-dipped neckline to show off the back of the neck, which is considered to be extremely sensual. The rest of the time, their kimonos are more understated.
Source: theguardian.com, Image: Flickr
24. The Silken Knot

To complete the look of the kimono, geishas tie a long piece of silk around their waists called an obi. The obi measures 4 meters (about 13.2 feet) long and is elaborately decorated. A professional dresser known as the kitsuke helps the geisha with her kimono and ties the obi knot in the back. A maiko’s obi is 5 meters (16.4 feet) long and is often more elaborately decorated than that of the geisha.
Source: theguardian.com, Image: Flickr

Geisha Combs

25. A Women’s Business

Even back in the early days of geishas, the geisha houses were run by women and without interference from men. Once their debt to the mother was paid, a geisha was free to branch out on her own and keep most of her wages outside of her sponsorship fees.
Source: theindependent.co.uk, Image: Flickr
26. Registration Office for Geisha

The first use of the word geisha was in 1750 by a female performer from the Fukigawa region, but these performers were usually considered to be courtesans. To separate geishas and courtesans/prostitutes, the Kemban was created in 1779. The Kemban is a registration office for geishas, and by 1813, geisha was officially recognized as a profession and the geisha name came into proper use.
Source: trulytokyo.com
27. Why’s it Dying Out?

Even today, dinner with a geisha is an extremely expensive evening and can cost about 80,000 yen—about $750US. Many modern Japanese men are forgoing the expense to seek out cheaper forms of entertainment and as a result, the geisha tradition is in danger of disappearing.
Source: jpninfo.com

28. The Idea of Perfect

The entire image of the geisha is crafted to embody the Japanese ideal of the perfect woman. She is beautiful and cultured and resembles a doll. For the most part, she is like a work of art—there to look at and admire but not to touch. According to Jodi Cobb in her National Geographic article about geishas, “Her business is to sell a dream—of luxury, romance, and exclusivity—to the wealthiest and most powerful men in Japan”.
Source: thephotosociety.org, Gif: Giphy
29. Today’s Superstars

Geishas in the 19th century were the equivalent of modern-day movie stars or supermodels. The best-known geishas earned a large amount of money and were trend-setters in fashion and culture. This was a far cry from the typical life of a Japanese woman at the time where they were mostly either wives or prostitutes.
Source: trulytokyo.com
30. Sibling Bond

All geishas are required to have a mentor known as a onee-san. The girls are bonded together as sisters in a ceremony called a san kudo. In the ceremony, cups of sake are passed between them and shared to symbolize the union which lasts for life. It is a key ritual in geisha culture.
Source: trulytokyo.com
31. Are Given a Name

Geishas do not use their real names professionally. They choose a special name which combines an element of their big sister’s name, and fashion and fortune. The name is then used to bring luck and good fortune to her house.
Source: issendai.com
32. Special Geisha Sandals

A geisha wears special sandals called geta. These sandals are made from wood and have a special wooden base similar to platform shoes which keeps the base of the Kimono from dragging in the dirt.
Source: trulytokyo.com, Image: Flickr

Wooden Geisha Dolls

33. Instrument for Geishas

A shamisen is a Japanese string instrument that was introduced into geisha culture in the 18th century. The instrument has 3 strings and resembles a small-bodied guitar. The strings are plucked with a big wooden pick called a bachi. Today, it is the most famous of the geisha Instruments and the most difficult to perfect.
Source: wikivisually.com, Gif: Giphy

34. Popular geisha Dance

A geisha also learns to perform a dance called the shimai. It is performed as a solo dance in a Kabuki Theatre but without costumes and masks. The dance is accompanied by traditional Japanese music and contains disciplined and controlled movements similar to tai-chi. Each gesture of the dance tells a story and has meaning.
Source: wikivisually.com, Gif: Giphy
35. Geisha in Fiction

When Arthur Golden released his novel Memoirs of a Geisha in 1997, it was supposedly based on the real-life of geisha Mineko Iwasaki. Iwasaki later regretted speaking with Golden and claimed that he not only violated her privacy in revealing her identity but that he presents a number of false facts in the book. She released her own book Geisha: A Life in 2002 to set the record straight.
Source: trulytokyo.com, Image: Flickr
36. First Western Geisha

Traditionally, only Japanese women were allowed to become geisha, but in 1976, Liza Dalby became the first Western woman to debut as a geisha. She first learned about geisha on a trip to Japan in her teens, and later returned to the country as a graduate student to research a Ph.D. on geisha culture. Though she had never intended to become a geisha herself, she was eventually invited to join a small geisha community in Kyoto, and later became known as the “blue-eyed geisha.”
Source: trelegraph.co.uk, Image: Flickr
37. Geisha Graduation

When a maiko graduates to becoming a full geisha, she goes through a ceremony called an eriage which means “changing of the collar”. In the ceremony, she exchanges the red patterned collar of her kimono for a solid white one. This symbolizes her debut as a geisha, and she is then able to start entertaining on her own.
Source: people.howstuffworks.com, Gif: Giphy
38. Coming of Age

Until the practice was made illegal in 1959, as part of the maiko’s coming of age ceremony, her patron had the right to take the maiko’s virginity. During the ceremony, the top-knot of her hair was symbolically cut, indicating that she was ready to come of age. After the ceremony, there would be a party for the maiko. The mizuage was considered to be an important rite of passage for maikos, and the money received for her virginity would help promote her debut as a geisha.
Source: jap3.com, Image: Flickr