Geigi (芸妓)

Geigi refers to geisha (Japanese singing and dancing girl) or young geisha that add zest to banquets and entertain customers by performing traditional Japanese dance, songs with shamisen accompaniment, long epic song with shamisen accompaniment, and a Japanese band using traditional musical instruments. Geisha is one of professions that became popular in the mid Edo Period that refers to women serving at banquets performing their various arts and entertaining guests. There were otoko geisha (male geisha) and onna geisha (female geisha) in the Edo Period. Onna geisha were only seen in Edo, Kyoto-Osaka, and Nagasaki Prefecture during the Edo Period. For example, in Osaka, geisha always referred to male and geiko meant female. In the early Meiji Period, otoko geisha disappeared and, thereafter, geigi was referred to as geisha in Osaka and geiko in Kyoto. Today, geisha may have a boyfriend or lover but do not provide sexual service for money.

Additionally, there are geigi (so called onsen geisha) in the hot springs areas and independent geigi who work through agencies but, we will discuss here only the orthodox type of geigi who come to work at traditional Japanese restaurants and machiai jaya.

There are various diminutives, nicknames and terms for geigi. See 'Names' below for details.


The old way of calling geigi was either 'geisha (onna geisha)' or 'geiko' but since the Meiji Period, the term 'geigi' began to be used (and we will use this term in this article).

Geisha is frequently broken down between a full-fledged geigi and trainee and the terms referring to them vary by the region.

The Kanto region centering around Tokyo

Geigi is referred to as 'geisha,' whereas a trainee is referred to as 'hangyoku (child geisha)' or 'oshaku.'
The above-mentioned names are widely established as the standard terms.

The Kansai region including Kyoto and Osaka

Geigi is referred to as 'geiko,' whereas a trainee is referred to as 'maiko (child geisha).'
The foregoing terms are used in some other areas including Yamagata Prefecture and Ishikawa Prefecture.


In case of a full-fledged senior geigi, they primarily wore their hair in the shimada mage, kimono with train and tsume sode, and mizu oshiroi (powder foundation with water).
(Formally speaking, in the Kansai region, they used to apply tooth blackening which they no longer practice today in general, whereas, in the Kanto region, they did not apply tooth blackening (while prostitutes in Kanto did) and neither drew eyebrows with charcoal or pencil and, depending on the location in some rural areas, they wore simply wore their hair up in a bun and regular makeup.)
They go to the banquet that they were assigned to accompanied by menservants who carry their shamisen-bako (shamisen case).

The younger geisha such as hangyoku or maiko have their hair done in shojo no mage (hairstyle for young girls) such as Momoware (hairstyle of the Meiji and Taisho era, featuring a bun resembling a halved peach) and wear furisode (long-sleeved kimono) with kataage (a shoulder tuck). Their obi (kimono sash) and obi musubi (the way the obi is put on) are different from that for the older geigi. Of these younger geisha, maiko in Kyoto are known for their darari no obimusubi and okobo (wooden footwear).

Tatsumi Geisha in Fukagawa (Koto Ward), Tokyo prided themselves for looking 'natty' showing their spirit by wearing geta made of paulownia on barefoot with no tabi (Japanese socks with split toe) and haori coat. Tatsumi geisha consequently were known as 'Haori geisha (geisha who wear haori)' or 'haori' for short.

Unlike oiran (courtesan) and brides who pick up tsuma of their kimono with the right hand, since geisha pick up tsuma with their left hand, they are also known as 'hidarizuma (left skirt).'

The System

Geigi usually belong to Okiya (geisha dwelling). Okiya is kakaemoto (similar to management offices that entertainers belong to) of geigi and is not a place to entertain customers.

In the Edo Period, it was common for a customer who came to a machiai jaya to request a specific geisha through that chaya (restaurant) (which is referred to as 'to call so-and-so in' or 'to let so-and-so know') to be entertained at ageya (brothel). In Kyoto Prefecture and its vicinity, however, chaya also functioned as a brothel and a request for specific geisha was often times directly made to the concerned okiya or whereby customers could be entertained without moving to a brothel. Back in those days, geigi was often used as time filler until the prostitute arrived at the customer's room in the red light district and this is a distinction between the roles of geigi before and after the beginning of the Meiji Period.

Today, there are no ageya anywhere in Japan. Instead, kenban (geisha call-office) is set up to coordinate okiya and the majority of geigi and hokan (professional jesters) belong to kenban. Customer who came in to a chaya (or ageya) contact kenban to request a geigi. Additionally, kenban often provides training for geigi.

How to Use the Geigi services

Usually, clients can call geigi in to the place where they are having a banquet for the pre-arranged period of time. Specifically, when making a reservation, one can let the restaurant where their banquet will be know the length of time the geisha's service will be required and the restaurant will make arrangements according to the budget and preferences. You can of course ask for a specific geigi.

It should be noted that geigi can only go to some specific restaurants and not just any restaurant (See 'Traditional Japanese Restaurants').

In these days, however, as the rules have been relaxed, geisha are seen at some establishments that are not part of the affiliated restaurants (and, in those cases, there may be various conditions such as a premium for geigi's service).

If there is an opening for then and there, it is possible to make an arrangement for a geigi, but it is usually not done.

The fee is referred to as 'Gyokudai (time charge for a geisha)' or 'Senko-dai (fee for a geisha's time)' in the Kanto region and 'Hana-dai (fee for a woman's companionship)' in the Kansai region. Senko-dai' was named for the length of time of a geisha's service which was measured by the time it took for a stick of incense to burn in times when there were no clocks.

Additionally, 'shugi (goshugi)' that is something similar to gratuity is necessary.

The fee for the geigi's service will be lumped together with that for food and drinks consumed and will be charged by the respective restaurant.

The Roles: Tachikata (dancing geigi) and Jikata (persons in charge of music accompanying Japanese dance)

Geigi are roughly broken down into 2 categories including Tachikata and Jikata (the distinction between the terms such as maiko and geiko as commonly used in Kyoto is close to that for Tachikata and Jikata).

Tachikata: Performers specialized in dancing

Jikata: Performers specialized in providing musical accompaniment to dancers including songs such as Nagauta and Kiyomoto, katari (talking), shamisen (three-stringed Japanese musical instrument) and narimono (wind instruments and percussions).

Considerable amount of training is required to be a Jikata and, usually, Ane geigi (older geisha) who has finished her career as Tachikata becomes Jikata. Additionally, it is often the case that various training such as music and Sado (tea ceremony) is required of geigi as basic cultural grounding.

Distinction from Yujo (prostitutes)

The role of geigi, first and foremost, is to entertain the party that they are assigned to with their arts. However, since the Edo Period, geisha was an apprenticeship with debt much like yujo and red-light districts in the past were breeding grounds for human trafficking and prostitution. Selling one's body indiscriminately to anyone was referred to as being 'loose' and was warned against but up until World War II, these 'loose' geisha were seen in everywhere and it was common for okiya to actively encourage this practice.

However, geigi was clearly distinguished from yujo whereby the first-class geigi was supposed to pride herself in 'selling her arts and not her body' and receiving money in return for being good to her danna (customer). Many of the talented and/or beautiful geigi, however, opted for never having danna in their life time that undoubtedly had distaste for such a reality and showed their spirit in not being at customers' disposal. On the contrary to popular perception that geisgi have no freedom, it seems that their freedom to fall in love with a man that they choose has long been well respected.

Since the Meiji Period, geigi who support themselves with their arts have often been perceived as a sort of dream girls and there have been occasions when some magazines conducted popularity contests or postcards featuring some popular geigi were well received.

Danna-sama (Patrons)

Once, danna-sama was essential to the world of geigi. Where there was a geigi, there was a danna-sama who played a role of danna-sama or sponsor. The role of a danna-sama extends beyond occasional help and cooperation whereby, once he finds a geigi to whom he will be committed to, the danna-sama will take care of her virtually for the rest of her life. It requires a large sum of money to develop a geigi from the trainee days to a full-fledged professional. Danna-sama absorbs several millions to several tens of millions of yen to cover his geigi's kimono, accessories, jewelry and living expenses. It is not uncommon for danna-sama to pay several hundred millions of yen to take care of a geigi.

Given these exorbitant costs, not everyone could become danna-sama and, as a necessity, a person who would become danna-sama has to be among the business leaders of the area or one of the top executives of major corporations who had a monetary means to be able to afford such large expenses. As for geigi, on the other hand, just being a geigi does not warrant she would have danna-sama and only those beautiful and exceptionally talented geigi can expect to have danna-sama. If a geigi gets a danna-sama while being a young trainee, there is the ritual of mizuage (offering her virginity) or they can still get a danna-sama after finishing the trainee period to a point.

That geigi will become that danna-sama's mistress and danna-sama will be her best customer who will take care of her whereby establishing a relationship of trust between them.

There are obvious advantages in this relationship on the geigi's side. Danna-sama, however, usually is married having his own family and, hence, there are no particular advantages to speak of. The relationship between the geigi and her danna-sama, however, includes that of the sexual nature as, after all, they are man and woman, but in principle, it is supposed to be a sound partnership.
Danna-sama's advantage is that it reflects on his being a 'successful man.'
He demonstrates a sophisticated generosity by 'giving that geigi so much' and 'spending so much money for her.'
Since danna-sama is one of the richest men in the respective area, it can also be a means to impress people around him with his wealth. As a principle, danna-sama is supposed to strike a balance between his home and geigi, but some end up becoming bankrupt by spending too much money on geigi or by being taken advantage of by an evil geigi.

As mentioned below, there is virtually no danna-dama in existence today. It is due to the fact that the system and substance of danna-sama are incompatible with the way things are in this day and age. There are several factors for the disappearance of danna-sama including the poor economy, availability of diverse entertainment, trend to attach importance to family, financial reasons and there are very few men around who would be willing to spend money on geigi just for the sake of looking cool.

There are, however, albeit only a few danna-sama remaining in large cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto today.

In the meantime, there has been a change in geigi's thinking and some geigi decline an offer of the prospective dannna-sama in favor of ordinary lifestyle or marriage which seems attributable to changes of the times.

These 'danna-sama' can no longer be seen in the areas with the geigi culture due to changes in the danna-sama side, geigi side or times.

The Current Status

Once there were numerous red-light districts with many geigi throughout Japan. After World War II, it became difficult to start training children due to the enactment of Child Welfare Law and the red-light districts declined with the entertainment and service industries becoming more diversified whereby the number of geigi continued to dwindle down. Red-light districts are in a quandary due to the insufficient number of geigi, but they are continuing to train successors in the arts of geigi by converting the old system to a company structure in Yamagata and Akita Prefectures.

The danna-sama system is virtually non-existent and each geigi buys her own kimono and accessories.

Niigata City

Furumachi Geigi remain in existence in Niigata City. There were 400 geigi in Niigata City at its peak but there are approximately 20 today. The number of working geigi is a little over 10. Since there are no new geigi, the number of geigi has been on the decline and is continuing to decrease today. In 1987, 'Ryuto Shinko Corporation' funded by restaurants where geigi regularly came to work and some business leaders was established.
Furumachi Geigi is broken down into 2 categories that are completely different from one another including the orthodox experienced geisha 'ma'am' (used by geigi to refer to their superiors) in their 50's and 60's belonging to the conventional okiya and employees of Ryuto Shinko Corporation commonly known as 'Ryuto san.'
The above-referenced company employs only younger geigi (18 years old to 40's) and there are 8 geigi at present. Since it is a business company, the registered geigi is on a fixed salary much like those employees working for ordinary business corporations and there are no commissions.

As mentioned earlier, there are no younger geigi who belong to okiya today. The role of this company, however, is to supervise and manage geigi with virtually no ability to develop or train them and the actual lessons and training are provided by ma'ams and iemoto of the local school. While it is a company structure as a separate entity, since it belongs to a union, these geigi can take an active role in the red-light district and can go to restaurants in Niigata the way one calls geigi to their banquet and Hana-dai being the same.

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, the decline of Furumachi Geigi continues. The factors for the decline of Furumachi Geigi include that ma'ams have stopped deshi tori (training apprentice geigi who will succeed the existing geigi) all together (meaning that there will be no more Furumachi Geigi after the current generation), low morale caused by being company employees and drastic decrease in the number of so-called 'danna-sama' and the extinction of danna-sama has resulted in ma'ams giving up on any hope to be succeeded by younger geigi.

Another factor is that it turned into a company system as well as the gap between the strict world of traditional culture and the attitude of 'kids these days.'
As mentioned in the section for Maiko in Kyoto, after becoming apprentice geigi out of superficial longing or by interpreting geigi to be another profession such as hostess of a club or companion girl, in fact, many of them quit due to the competitiveness of the world of geigi and they cannot accept the relationship between labor and pay. As mentioned earlier, the younger geisha at Ryuto, in particular, are subjected to a huge discrepancy between labor and pay and they are paid the same amount of money regardless of how many banquets they work a month.

Unlike Maiko in Kyoto who are under the strict rules to abide by even with matters that happens during their private time, the Ryuto geisha have no dress code nor codes of conduct that apply to them after work and once their wigs are off, the Ryuto geisha go about in their colored hair and modern clothes which seems to contribute to their insufficient observance of good behavior and poor level of pride in their job highlighting the disadvantage of the company system to operate the geisha service. There have been voices from various sectors suggesting that some awareness-raising measures towards tradition and manners for the young geisha by putting restrictions such as prohibiting jeans, enforcement of proper hairdressing, qualifying stores and other establishments that they are allowed to visit (forbidding them to go to some shops including convenience stores and bars where young people are likely to frequent).

Additionally, the decline of traditional Japanese restaurants and the red-light district due to the small user demand stemming from diversified means of entertainment and drastic decrease in various business entertainments (See 'Traditional Japanese Restaurants') has been mentioned. Further, thanks also to their low visibility among the local residents in Niigata City, the overwhelming majority of the Niigata citizens are either still unaware of their existence or activities or have no interest since there is no connection between them and those geisha. There are some traditional Japanese restaurants that offer inclusive plans covering geigi and food in Niigata City but as users have grown bored with it, it developed into a situation where they cannot collect enough customers or the restaurant has to absorb part of Hana-dai. In view of the current status as mentioned above, both restaurants and geigi are urging further fundamental reform.

Matsuyama City

There is geishamatsuyama in Matsuyama City. In its glory days between the Taisho Period and early Showa Period, there were approximately 40 kenban, 439 okiya and 1350 geigi but there is only geishamatsuyama remaining in Ehime Prefecture. The number of registered geigi is 12.

Arima-Onsen Hot Springs, Kobe City
In Arima-Onsen Hot Springs, which are the oldest in Japan, full-fledged geigi continue to pass on their traditions to young geigi even today. There is Arima kenban and there are 4 okiya including Azusa seki, Tanaka seki, Wakamatsu seki and Hatsune seki today. Geisha here always wear the 'shironuri' makeup (white powder mixed with water into paste) and a wig to their zashiki (the party or banquet) (Arima Hot Springs Tourism Association).

Although it is an onsen-machi (a town developed around hot springs), it has prestige being referred to as a salon of the Kansai area whereby there are no establishments such as brothels and that sort of people (such as prostitutes) are not allowed in ryokan (Japanese style inn) or hotels.

[Original Japanese]