History of Geisha|Familiarize yourself with Geisha by learning about the popular Otsashiki entertainment among foreigners.

Motenas Representative
Motenas Representative

What does a geisha do?

Looks like some kind of strict manners.

High threshold…

Many people may feel this way when they hear the word geisha.

The mystery is cleared up when we unravel the history of geisha.

This article provides an in-depth look at the history of geisha, while also explaining the basics of ozashiki and the towns where geisha are found.

The history of geisha actually began in the Heian period (794-1192) and continues to this day as part of Japanese traditional culture.

Please read to the end for a better understanding of Geisha!

How did the history of geisha begin?

Even if you have heard of the term geisha, most of you probably do not know its history. First, let us introduce the history of geisha and its beginnings.

Heian – Edo Period

Geishas are engaged in the business of “entertaining guests with their artistry. The first geisha were called shirabyoshi in the Heian period (794-1185). Over time, among prostitutes, there emerged geisha who entertained and played with customers using songs, dances, and orchestral music.

In the Edo period (1603-1867), temples and samurai residences gathered in the Fukagawa area, where there was a river and few fires, and an entertainment district was also built. The dancers who gathered here were called Fukagawa geisha, and became the prototype of the well-known geisha of today.

Geishas at that time were also what we now call celebrities, singers, hostesses, etc. Geishas became famous throughout Edo (Tokyo), but the shogunate began to arrest them and crack down on them. The shogunate began arresting geisha in large numbers because of the appearance of women selling sex in Fukagawa, an unauthorized area of the city.

Those arrested were handed over to the Yoshiwara, which was in decline at the time, and government-approved Yoshiwara geisha, who “did not sell their colors,” were born.

Later, rules were also established to distinguish between prostitutes and geisha. While prostitutes had their obi knots in the front of their kimonos, geisha had theirs in the back. Above all, geisha were officially recognized by the shogunate and became the envy of the townspeople.

since Meiji era (1868-1912)

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), the ordinance liberating geisha and prostitutes was issued and the debts of geisha were deducted (cancelled), and they became free and clear. However, not all geisha had disappeared, and anyone could call themselves a geisha as long as they reported it to the authorities.

Hanadai (the fee charged to play with geisha) and tax rates were also established in each hanamachi to maintain order. For example, in Shinbashi and Yanagibashi (Taito Ward), the most prestigious areas, the hana-dai was set at 1 yen. Considering that the salary of a police officer at that time was 4 yen, it is assumed to be about 50,000 yen today.

Later, the flower districts in Akasaka as well as in Shinbashi became lively, but during the Showa period (1926-1989) war, all geisha business was banned. When the war ended, the customers were not Japanese but expatriate foreigners, and the term “geisha” became popular and remains to this day.

At this time, because some sold colors, many foreigners had the perception that Geisha was a seller of colors.

With the onset of economic growth, the number of geisha began to decline, and the number of geisha became limited to those over 18 years of age due to the diversification of leisure activities, the Labor Standards Law, the Child Welfare Law, and other regulations. Gradually, the number of geisha themselves began to decline, and many Hanamachi were forced to close their businesses, which has continued to the present day.

What exactly does a geisha do? Basics of the Ozashiki

Even if you know the word geisha, what should you do when you invite them to the tatami room? In most cases, it is considered two hours to call a geisha to take your place in the tatami room.

Here is a step-by-step explanation of what we do in the meantime.

pleasant talk

The geisha are invited to a room in a ryotei (Japanese-style restaurant) with a tatami room. The guests then talk and chat with the geisha while enjoying kaiseki cuisine and sake served by young geisha.

It is one of the polite ways to offer a drink to a young geisha when he or she pours you a glass of sake.

Incidentally, at this time, young performers receive only sake and do not eat.

dance performance held in April by geisha and maiko in Kyoto’s Gion district

The audience will be entertained with songs and dances performed by young performers in the tatami room.

At this time, it is considered good manners in a tatami room to stop all talking, laughing, and eating to appreciate the performance. Enjoy the beautiful dances from the bottom of your heart.

Photography is not permitted for every geisha, so please ask a geisha before taking a picture. If you take pictures without permission, you will be disrespectful to the geisha.

playing go

When the good times come, the tatami room play begins. We play together in a unique game, but even beginners will be carefully taught.

There are a variety of games available, and the waka-geishu will make suggestions according to the situation at the time and the customers, so leave yourself in good hands.

Since many of the games are physically demanding, they can be enjoyed even by foreigners who do not understand the language.

Difference between a geisha and an oiran

Although geisha and oiran have much in common in terms of glamour, many people nowadays do not know the difference between geisha and oiran.

Here, you should know the difference between a geisha and an oiran.

Geisha and oiran (courtesans) who sold different things

During the Edo period, there was a clear distinction between geisha and oiran (courtesans).

The difference is in what they sell. Geisha sold their “art”, while oiran sold their “color”. The color of an oiran is not only the body, but also “an ideal love affair with a woman.

Geishas, on the other hand, sold musical instruments and dances to entertain their customers.

Rules were also established to clearly differentiate and distinguish the products from those that were not for sale.

It is the position of the obi knot of the kimono. Geishas were decided to have their obi knots in the back and oiris in the front, so that they could be recognized by their appearance.

Geishas perform their art, so if the knot is in front of them, it is in the way and they cannot perform their art. Thus, it is said that the appearance of the geisha made a difference and established the status of the geisha as an official of the shogunate.

Where you can experience Geisha

Now that we have introduced the basics and history of geisha, where can you experience geisha? Many generations unfamiliar with geisha may not know.

Here are two places where you can experience geisha.

red-light district

Hanamachi is read as “Kagai” or “Hanamachi,” but it is also sometimes called Hanayagi (花柳) as an alternative name.

In the past, there was a time when both oiran and geisha coexisted in the area. Today, however, only the geisha remain, performing their art and protecting the Hanamachi.

Some of the more famous Hanamachi include the Osaka Shikagai, Kyoto Gokagai, and Tokyo Rokagai. In addition to the famous Hanamachi, Furumachi in Niigata City, Kanazawa, Hakata, and other cities have developed their own individual styles and continue to entertain their customers.


name of a town or street

Tokyo Six Flowers Street

Shinbashi (section of Tokyo)



town with a (certain) fragrance (of flowers)

islets of diversion (distinction between Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands)

Asakusa (department store)

the four flower districts of Osaka


southern lands


new town

Kyoto’s five flower-growing districts

Gion Koubu

Pontocho (area of Tokyo near Tokyo Bay, inc. Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures)

the seven mansions (Chinese constellations) of the northern heavens

east of the Gion district

Miyagawa Town

At its peak, in 1930, there were as many as 98 hanamachi throughout the country, but these numbers are now on the decline.


You will not be able to meet geisha simply by going to the hanamachi we have introduced. Make a reservation at a ryotei (Japanese-style restaurant) in the hanamachi and ask the restaurant to invite a geisha.

Each hanamachi has its own geisha, so if you make a reservation at a ryotei, you will be able to meet geisha simply by going to the ryotei on the day of the event.

There are several rules that apply to your visit, so it is important to know them in advance.

You can leave your shoes off when you come to the restaurant!

First of all, it is considered a good time to arrive at a ryotei restaurant from 3 minutes before to 2 minutes after the meeting time. This is to avoid meeting the guests ahead of you. If there are guests ahead of you, wait in the space in front of the door.

Also, when you go to a ryotei restaurant, you can leave your shoes on. This is because the shape of the shoes you take off reminds people of a ship entering a harbor, which is believed to bring good luck. The proprietress of the ryotei will clean up after you leave your shoes on the floor.

What to wear at a ryotei?

Ryotei restaurants are basically on tatami mats. It is good manners to wear clean shoes and socks. Bare feet or stockings are not aesthetically pleasing, so bring socks if you come to the restaurant in sandals.

Also, half pants are not acceptable, so we recommend that you wear longer length pants.

Receive hospitality from ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants) and geisha

When you are ushered into the room, be seated calmly. The room is decorated with hanging scrolls and vases, which you can admire while relaxing. You may sit on your knees instead of on your seat.

When a geisha enters, talk with her and relax. The geisha will pour the drinks for you, so pouring by hand is not allowed. Some ryotei offer not only sake but also beer, whiskey, and other beverages, so you can order whatever you like and relax.

If you want to invite a geisha to play in the tatami room

Some of you may know the etiquette and where to go, but may not know where to actually choose. Here is one ryotei in Tokyo where you can invite geisha.

Kagurazaka Kappo “Kaga

Kaga is a kappo restaurant that has long been a favorite in Kagurazaka, a town of history and tradition. Kappo-ryori is a masterpiece of Japanese cuisine prepared with seasonal ingredients from all over Japan. The courses are filled with everything that has been cherished in Japanese cuisine.

Large banquets are possible, and the restaurant can accommodate up to 200 people. The restaurant also accepts group tours, both domestic and international, and can accommodate vegetarian, halal, kosher, and other special cuisines.

Name: Kagurazaka Kappo “Kaga
Official website: https://www.kagurazaka-kaga.com/
Phone: 03-3260-1482


This article takes a deeper look into the history of geisha. Geisha have been around since the Edo period (1603-1868) and still entertain customers, although their numbers are dwindling. Why don’t you try experiencing an otsashiki play at least once in your lifetime?

Geishas are popular among foreigners, so you will be pleased to take your guests or friends who are non-Japanese. Motenas Japan also organizes geisha experiences, so if you are considering a tatami room experience for business entertainment or group work, please contact us for more information!

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