A Brief History

The geisha, along with Mt. Fuji, samurai and sushi, have been symbols of Japan since the reopening of contacts with the West in the mid-nineteenth century. With the disappearance of the samurai and the influx of Western influence in Japan, only the geisha and their world remain a mystery to both foreigners and Japanese alike.

Since medieval times, Japan has always had some form of pleasure quarter offering various entertainment forms, including the erotic. However, it was during the Edo period’s sakoku (1639-1854) when Japan cut off all ties with the outside world that Japanese culture, as it is known today, flourished.

In these walled-in pleasure quarters such as Kyoto’s Shimabara, Tokyo’s Yoshiwara, and Osaka’s Shinmachi, the chonin (merchants) spent much of their time and money cultivating the arts. With carnal satisfaction guaranteed, the merchants looked for other forms of entertainment.

The courtesans of the pleasure quarters were trained in various arts: music, dance and poetry, and other forms of court entertainment that up until that time had been known only to the nobility. As times changed, so did the customers’ tastes; the formality and expense involved meant only the elite were able to patronize the Tayu (the top-level courtesans).

With the change in attitudes came a new type of entertainer. In the early 1700s, the first male-geisha appeared on the scene, and they were called taiko mochi or Hokan. However, it was not long before some entrepreneurial female entertainers followed suit and the first women geisha, as we know them today, made their debut. Their role was simple:

1. No flashy kimonos or hair ornaments.

2. No sitting next to customers.

3. Do not interfere with or try to steal with the courtesan’s customers.

Courtesan entertainment peaked in the mid-18th century, and from then on, the geisha would become the most skilled entertainers in the ‘floating world’ of the pleasure quarters.

Suddenly hanamachi (geisha quarters) began appearing all over Japan, reaching their peak in the early 1900s. To experience authentic traditional geisha entertainment in modern times, one must go to the ancient capital, Kyoto. Some may argue that Tokyo geisha still retain some of the charms of the past, but the buildings and attire of the geisha in Tokyo cannot be compared to the geiko (Kyoto term for geisha) of Kyoto.

In Kyoto’s five hanamachi, Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi, Ponto-cho, Miyagawa-cho and Kamishichiken, geiko and their apprentices the maiko entertain their customers in the traditional ochaya (tea houses) in the same kimono-clad fashion as they have done since the eighteenth century.

Although numbers are declining, the modern geiko still practices her arts with the same dedication as her fore-sisters did, always trying to add to her repertoire of gei (arts). Competition with art-oriented hostess bars, karaoke and a waning economy makes mere survival a challenge for newcomers to the trade. Many find the lifestyle and schedule too demanding and eventually leave the hanamachi for a less disciplined line of work.

The transition of the geiko from fashion innovator to cultural curator has raised the question of the very future of the hanamachi. Some say that the geisha is old-fashioned and should disappear while they still have their dignity. Others believe that as long as the Japanese still feel nostalgia for old Japan, the geiko will always have a place in society. Whether it be a graceful slide into extinction or a complete sell-out to the tourist industry, their numbers will inevitably decrease, taking with them an important part of Japanese culture and history.


Frequently Asked Questions about the Geisha VIP services

1. Can women attend?

Yes, most of our clients who chose this service are couples and/or families.

2. Do the geisha speak English?

Not really. Thank god for that or else I would be out of a job as an interpreter (lol). They don’t have enough time to study other languages and their clientele base is 99% Japanese. They do, however, speak enough to joke around a little.

3. What is the point of geisha entertainment?

Hiring geisha is the same as hiring any other form of entertainment. To have a relaxing good time accompanied by song dance drink and jovial conversation

4. Why is it so expensive?  

Before you assume that geisha entertainment is expensive please consider this:

*Anything exclusive is expensive. Our services are all in private settings. i.e. members-only clubs or top-of-the-line restaurants. Unlike a baseball game, football (American/Aussie or English), the geisha are there for you and your party exclusively and not for you, plus tens of thousands of other spectators. This service could be compared to being in the private owner’s box. We do not mix groups either to give you a real VIP experience. In comparison, it isn’t expensive at all. Remember, you get what you pay for.

*Entrance into a member’s only venue

*Private entertainment

*Great photo opportunities

*Bi-lingual E<>J interpretation by geisha culture expert and longtime resident Peter MacIntosh who will be your private cultural liaison during the experience.

The geiko/maiko wear very expensive kimono $30,000-$80,000 onwards.  If you were to hire a professional entertainer for a private party in the west, it would probably be just as expensive or probably more.  It is much cheaper than premium Super Bowl tickers or F.A. cup tickets and much more private and personal.  The geiko/maiko are much more elegant and charming.

5. Can we take pictures?

Yes, pictures are fine, and the women are very photogenic. Peter knows and has built mutual trust with most of the maiko/geiko, and they are quite relaxed in his presence; therefore, they do not mind being photographed. Photos and short videos are only allowed for personal use. The gei/maiko want you to experience their entertainment with your own eyes, not through your camera lens. Professional use is prohibited.

***The geisha are wearing tens of thousands of dollars worth of kimono, so please be careful with your drinks and please do not ask to touch the kimono fabric without permission.

6. How should I dress?

Smart casual. No shorts, tank tops,s or bare feet. Remember that you will be entertained by a woman wearing tens of thousands of dollars worth of kimono, and you will probably have a picture taken with them. So I leave the choice up to you.

7. How should I behave in front of the geisha?

If you are interested in these services, I assume that you are the type of person who shouldn’t worry about misbehaving.  However, there is one request. The women are wearing tens of thousands of dollars worth of kimono; please be careful with your drinks, and please do not ask to touch the kimono or their beautiful coiffures.  Other than that, relax and enjoy a and truly unique cultural experience.

8. What exactly are geisha?

The meaning of gei is “art,” and sha means “person of.” Geiko is a Kyoto term for geisha that means more of a “specialist of the arts.” Maiko is young geisha ranging in age from 15 to 20 / 21 years old. They are female entertainers. Mai means dance, and ko is a dance specialist.

9. I read the book and saw the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”.  Is it like that in the geisha world today?

 “Memoirs of a Geisha” is a fictional novel set in the 1920s in Kyoto.  The author was not alive during this time, and very few geisha living today were either.  It is a well-researched book. However, I will let you decide after the walking lecture.

 Are they sold into the Okiya (boarding houses)?

Yes, pre-WWII was a time that girls were sold into an okiya, especially outside of Kyoto. However, this practice was most prominent in brothels. Nowadays, young women choose this life and must try and persuade their parents to let them enter this world.

Can anybody hire geisha?  Even foreign guests?

Kyoto tea houses and many restaurants have called ichi gen san o kotowari  Lit: by introduction only or no first-time visitors. To become a customer of a tea house, one must be introduced to the house by a regular customer.  This is not something to be taken lightly because the person who gives the introduction must risk their reputation and take responsibility financially and for the behaviour of the new customers.  Being a foreigner does not matter if you have the proper introduction, because the house must treat the new customer well out of respect for her regular customer respect. See our VIP services

 Do they ever have sexual relationships with their customers?

They are not paid for sexual favours.  However, the geiko/maiko are women and just like other women throughout the world, they too fall in love and sometimes even marry their customers. 

To learn more about geisha, we recommend taking the geisha walking tour.