The Japanese Geisha are women who are traditional entertainers, trained in the arts (playing music and dance) and knowledge of how to converse and play games with their male customers. Today in contemporary times the Japanese Geisha still practice and entertain. The Japanese Geisha are known in many countries due to popular culture and for some is considered a trait of Japan.
In the past girls had the opportunity to train as a Geisha at a very young age and in some cases it was not unheard of for girls to train as young as the age of three. Before girls reached maturity there was a way girls could train as an apprentice Geisha (Maiko). The Shikomi (servant) and Minarai (a shadowing Geisha) training is also another important part of the Geisha training process and occurs before the Geisha training. Many years ago this training took longer than what it does nowadays.
One of the most popular perceptions of the Japanese Geisha is that they practised prostitution. Originally this practise can be traced when looking at the emergence of the Japanese Geisha women. The origins of the Japanese Geisha can be traced back to as early as the 600s. These female entertainers were called the Saburoko, the Saburoko translated into English as (serving girls). Some of the Saburoko did offer sexual services to men, however some of them did not and these women were considered to have been more educated so they mainly entertained men at grand social gatherings. That being said unlike many western cultures prostitution was not necessarily frowned upon. There was evidence to suggest in the 1500s Japanese men paid for courtesans to have sexual relations in spite of them being married.
As the years went on these entertainment venues became more of a venue for entertaining the Japanese male clientage, other than offering sexual services. Interestingly enough the first people to call themselves Geisha were men but in the mid-eighteenth century the term was first used for women. In the 1760s and 70s the Japanese Geisha became more renowned for their excellence in dance, theatre and rhetoric rather than the role of a courtesan. That being said it was not unheard of for some Japanese Geisha to have sexual relations with their clients. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the term ‘Geisha’ was fully recognised as a role for women.
There is also a hierarchy system that the Japanese Geisha use. On one end of the hierarchy there a high-class Japanese Geishas. These would include; the Gion Kobu, Pontocho and Kamishichiken districts of the Japanese Geisha in Kyoto. Considered by many to be at the middle of the Geisha rankings are, Gion Higashi and Miyagawa-cho, again two more Geisha districts in Kyoto. Towards the lower end of the hierarchy there is Geisha who worked at hot spring resorts and considered to not be authentic Geisha by the higher strands in the hierarchy. The hierarchy system to determine the class of Geisha is still in effect today.
In more recent history the whole topic of whether the Japanese Geisha were prostitutes flared up again and a sharp decline in the profession occurred as a result of more women needed to help the Japanese war effort. On the note of prostitution many prostitutes during World War Two referred to themselves as Geisha girls. This did taint the reputation of the Geisha community as it sparked off the whole debate about whether or not the Japanese Geisha should be treated in the same light as prostitutes. Another reason why World War Two was an important year for the Geisha community was because they were needed to work in factories in 1944. However when the war was over the Japanese Geisha resumed practice again, yet this created many divisions amongst the Japanese Geisha community and changed the way how the Geisha worked by the time US occupation in Japan occurred.
Today the Japanese Geisha still continue, although the numbers have dwindled over time. It is unheard of for young Japanese children to train as a Geisha, there are still some Japanese teenagers or graduates who decide to train and become a Geisha.