I believe there is no person in a civilized world who would not know the term – Geisha. However, what exactly is Geisha? A very wide opinion in the world is that Geisha are just simple prostitutes in Japan, and as the first thing I would like to clearly state that, they most certainly are not.
This opinion originated after World War 2, and was brought to United States by its soldiers. Service men came back with wild and juicy stories about the girls called “gee-sha”. Those women were not Geisha, they were just a regular red light district prostitutes who dressed up like Geisha to attract costumers, nothing more.
To be honest Geishas do originated in red light districts of Kyoto region, but not as prostitutes. The Odoroki or “dancing girls” were very popular in these areas for entertainment, though as some of the girls grew older it became inappropriate to take this name and so they called themselves Geisha. As everything in Japan, this caste became strongly ritualized. Geishas are sometimes mistaken with Tayuu, who were the highest rank of courtesans (in simpler words prostitutes) in pleasure quarters. Lords ruling at that time ensured that the courtesans would not be able to wear the same clothes as Geisha, as well as the Geisha could not engage in prostitution. Geishas were not aloud to compete with Tayuu for the costumers they were just working together with them helping with dances and music. This gave a beginning to the simplistic kimono and simple hairstyles of the Geisha: the point was understated elegance rather than extravagance of courtesans.
Geisha and Maiko
Let us come back to the question - who are Geisha? The word itself translates from Japanese as “art person” or “artist”. They are the professional entertainers who work in traditional Japanese teahouses called Ochaya. Geishas entertain teahouse costumers by performing various arts like singing, dancing, playing instruments and tea ceremonies. They are called “Geiko” in Kyoto region.
Maiko translates as “dancing child” but sometimes is referred as “dancing girl” as well. They are apprentice Geisha. They have to undergo a lengthy training in all the arts a real Geisha has to master like music, dancing, playing traditional instruments and singing. The training usually takes around 5 years and after that, they become Geisha. Nowadays a girl can become Maiko at the age of 16. Though not attending conventional school after becoming Maiko, they must nonetheless attend classes every morning in dance, Shamisen, singing and other "gei". Maiko as well as learning artistic pursuits must learn the social graces and old style Kyoto dialect before becoming a Geisha.
Geisha in nowadays society
The number of geisha has been declining for two main reasons. First, one is the training, which is long and hard. Second, the variance in levels of Geisha, as far as cost, has all but disappeared. Geisha have become an elite group and have therefore become very expensive. Fewer men are willing to pay the high cost of a Geisha when other entertainers (i.e. hostess) are available.