There are all kinds of misconceptions about what a geisha is and what she does. Geisha are traditional entertainers. “Gei” means “art” in Japanese and literally means “person of art”. We are dancers and musicians, much like opera singers or ballet dancers. Geisha also perform on the big stage. Usually each district has a large performance once a year: a big production featuring different music and dance each time and coordinated with the help of all the music and dance teachers that teach the geisha.
But most geisha entertainment is private. We go to tea-houses where customers have dinner, and sit with the customers during their meal, performing for just half an hour or so halfway through the dinner.
If you think about it, in the days of Bach or Mozart, they didn’t sit around in a garret composing music as they pleased, and they didn’t live on social welfare either. They had to perform their music and usually they did so at the houses of nobles. In other words it was a kind of private entertainment. And one assumes they must have had some social skills as well or they would not have been invited back.
For whatever reason, this kind of private entertainment turned into large scale public entertainment in the West. But in the geisha world, geisha entertainment has always remained mostly private.
And apart from banquets we accompany our customers in all kinds of ways. Geisha sometimes dance at weddings while the bride is changing, or even attend funerals to help because geisha can be relied on to be discreet and well mannered with guests.
Often geisha are invited on mass to the first day of the sumo wrestling tournaments, or the first day of the kabuki traditional theater. Or even to the opening of new department stores or businesses.
Last week I had a banquet on Friday night in Tokyo with overseas customers and then travelled to Kyoto to attend the Gion Higashi geisha district’s annual dances on Sunday. A customer of mine arranges tickets for me for these dances each year. The geisha in Gion Higashi entertain his Kyoto clients when he is in Kyoto, and he supports them by buying tickets each year to their performance. These kind of long-term reciprocal favors are the very basis of the geisha world.
Of course, tourists always want to know about how far geisha will or won’t go.
Geisha traditionally would stop being a geisha if they got married, so all geisha are single are hence available, something that adds greatly to the romance of the geisha world from the customer’s point of view.
It is very possible that a geisha might fall in love with a customer, and of course, geisha encourage that hope.
But like any professional, a geisha’s romantic relationships are entirely her own business.