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Geisha are professional entertainers in Japan, with their main centers in Tokyo and Kyoto. The tradition is centuries old and continues today, although the heyday of the geisha was before World War II.

Until recently delicately beautiful and graceful young girls might be sold by their poverty-stricken parents to an okiya, or "mother," the proprietress of a geisha or tea house, herself a geisha, or to a middleman who would sell her on. Geisha who have daughters might also send them to be geisha.

The training lasts for years and involves many aspects of traditional Japanese culture: etiquette, use of the fan, proper traditional dress, the Tea Ceremony, conversation, how to pour rice wine, dancing, traditional instruments, singing, etc. In fact, it usually continues until the geisha retires.

At some point during her training or apprenticeship a promising geisha may be singled out by her okiya as her successor. When this happens there is a formal adoption ceremony. There are two levels of adoption.

  • In the limited form the daughter inherits the right to manage her mother's establishment and the house's insignia (like a trademark).
  • In the full form the daughter inherits the ownership of the property and ancestral obligations as well and becomes a full member of the mother's family.
Two famous modern geisha can be mentioned here:
  1. Iwasaki, Mineko, ca. 1955- . Iwasaki was, like her older sister, sold to the okiya of a Kyoto geisha house, when she was seven. She went on to become possibly the most famous and influential geisha of her time, and certainly the pre-eminent geisha of Kyoto in the 1960s and '70s. Her story was part of the inspiration for the best-selling 1997 novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, which is being filmed for 1999 release by Steven Spielberg. She now lives in retirement in Kyoto.

  2. Tsuya-Giku, ca, 1916- . Tsuya-Giku was sold by her parents during the famine of 1923, to a Kyoto geisha house, for 15,000 yen. She was adopted by her okiya three years later. She had two children, one of whom also became a geisha. When her patron or donna became impoverished after the War, she turned to entertaining Americans of the occupying forces in her own establishment, the Bluebird.


Usborne, David. "The Real Geisha," Independent on Sunday: Sunday Review [London], 1 November 1998, pp. 16-17, 19-20
"Tsuya-Giku." Available at:
Dalby, Liza Crihfield. Geisha. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983)
Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. (1997)


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