Geisha are professional performing artists in Japan. Their main role nowadays is to perform during ozashiki, banquets held by wealthy businessmen, where they display their knowledge of Japanese traditional arts.
Once setting new trends and ahead of their times, Geisha became little by little the representatives of ancient traditions of Japan, in the same fashion as Sumo wrestlers.
Initially the term geisha literally means "person of the arts," and indicates they are proficient at:
- Playing traditional Japanese music instruments such as shamisen (a kind of lute);
- Dancing, some Geisha perform during festivals such as Kamogawa Odori in Kyoto’s Kaburenjo Theater at the end of May;
- Performing ikebana (flower arrangement art);
- Performing tea ceremony;
- Participating in traditional games.
Geisha are taught from their younger age the rules of proprieties and have built a strong general culture in order to be able to entertain discussions with guests. However, very few of them speak a foreign language.
Their sophisticated appearance is a codified look that helps identify them with outlines that did not change for centuries. The age and position of the Geisha are expressed through her hairdo, makeup, her silken kimono and obi belt’s colors.
The profession was officially recognized in 1779 and does not includes the concept of prostitution, which is by the way forbidden on the archipelago.
Nowadays, it is still possible to encounter Geisha in Kyoto, where they are known under the name of geiko and maiko, for the apprentices. They usually live in one of the five hanamachi (cities of flowers), whose biggest in Kyoto are in Gion and Pontocho. When the end of the day comes, they go to an ochaya (tea house), to perform for large budget, connoisseurs clients.