With a refinement and delicacy all her own, the geisha (whose term literally means “person of the arts”) has the role of accompanying and enlivening dinners or receptions, through her mastery of traditional Japanese arts such as music, singing, dancing, poetry, tea ceremony, games or by conversing with her hosts. Indeed, contrary to the generally accepted idea widely spread in the West and yet totally erroneous, a geisha is absolutely not a prostitute and does not in any way have sexual relations with her clients. On the contrary, leading a life of renunciation and total devotion to her art, a geisha must constantly ensure that she never tarnishes her reputation and the honour of the establishment on which she depends (called okiya). Over time, she has become the symbol of an ancestral Japan, and is now seen as one of the guarantors of Japanese culture and traditions.
Devoting her life to the traditional Japanese arts, a young girl obtains the title of geisha only after several years of intensive training under the title of “maiko”. Learning traditional dances, fanning, singing, playing instruments, ikebana (floral composition), the art of conversation, all the while using codified and extremely delicate gestures, a geisha must reflect the height of refinement.
The company of a geisha being very expensive, it is generally reserved for a very wealthy clientele, such as businessmen or wealthy individuals. Moreover, as the reception is mostly held in ryotei (high-end Japanese restaurant) or chaya (tea house), the various costs are also borne by the client.
It should also be noted that in the Kansai region, particularly in Kyoto, the term ‘geiko’ is used to designate a geisha, and ‘geigi’ in Niigata.