Geisha (芸者) or geigi (芸妓) are traditional female Japanese entertainers. They are skilled at different Japanese arts, like playing classical Japanese music, dancing and poetry. Some people believe that geisha are prostitutes, this however is false. The term “geisha” is made of two Japanese words, 芸 (gei) meaning “art” and 者 (sha) meaning “person who does” or “to be employed in”. The most literal translation of geisha to English is “artist”. Geisha are very respected and it is hard to become one.
Another term for a geisha is geiko (芸子). This word is mainly used in Kyoto, the city where the geisha tradition is older and stronger. Becoming a professional geisha (geiko) in Kyoto usually takes five years of training. Apprentice geisha are called “maiko” (舞子). This name is made of the
Japanese words 舞 (mai) meaning “dancing” and 子 (ko) meaning “child”.
Maiko wear white make-up and kimono of many bright colors. Full geisha
wear simpler kimonos, and only use white make-up at special times.
There are also geisha in other cities, but they are different. In Tokyo, becoming a full geisha takes from six months to a year. The Tokyo geisha apprentice is called “han’gyoku” (半玉) “half-jewel”, or “o-shaku” (御酌), “one who serves (alcohol)”. Tokyo geisha are normally older than Kyoto geiko.
Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses called “okiya” (置屋) in neighbourhoods named “hanamachi” (花街 “flower towns”). However, most older geisha who are successful have their own home. The elegant world that geisha are a part of is called “karyūkai” (花柳界 “the flower and willow world”). A famous geisha, Mineko Iwasaki, said this is because “geisha is like a flower, beautiful in her own way, and like a willow tree, gracious, flexible, and strong”.
The geisha are considered cultural icons of Japan. (Wikipedia)