Geisha myths

Every geisha starts as a maiko

MYTH! You have to be under 21 to be a maiko, and it is possible to become a geisha without being a maiko first. The term maiko is also only used for trainees in Kyoto.

Most geisha were sold to geisha houses (okiya) by their parents

MYTH! Although it did happen, geisha came through many other routes, including being the daughters of other geisha.

Most geisha are in Kyoto.

MYTH! Most geisha nowadays are in the resort town of Atami, south of Tokyo. Kyoto is still the cultural capital of geisha though.

Geisha always wear white face make up

MYTH! Although maiko (young trainee geisha) wear white make up, older geisha only wear it for special occassions

16 Comments

  1. natilee said,

    April 30, 2009 at 6:31 am

    i watch a movie call geisha and a little girl was taken away from her parent to become a geisha and she was treated very badly and i didnt get to finish the movie but i heard that she finds her sister and becaomes a geisha and i think geisha are paid to have intercourse.

    • Megan said,

      October 20, 2009 at 8:03 pm

      This is not completely true. Geisha only went through the mizuage as a maiko. It sounds like she was sent to a brothel.

  2. Kristina said,

    December 8, 2009 at 9:49 am

    No, the movie is called Memoirs of a Geisha. She is sold to a Geisha House by her father who is very old and unable to tend to her and her sister because her mother was very ill and dying of what they thought to be bone cancer. They were inspected and it was determined that the little girl was still intact (meaning she was still a virgin) and was very unique because she had blue eyes, something that is very uncommon in Japanese culture, therefore she was a commody and she make a lot of money being a Geisha. Her sister on the other hand was inspected and it is presumed that she was no longer intact, and nowhere near as unique and beautiful as her little sister and was sent to a whore hosue. She never finds her sister again. It is a common myth for people to believe that Geisha were prostitutes. Real Geisha did not sleep with their patrons. They would normally end up getting a Dahna. A Dahna is a male patron who would pay for the Geisha to be his mistress. He would pay for her living expenes and whatever money she owed her Okya. An Okya is the house in which a Geisha lives. The Okya pays for the Geishas training, and living expenses. When the Geisha is no longer in training she will be able and make money on her own by having loyal patrons pay her to be at events. Almost all of the money the Geisha makes goes to the Okya in return for the servies the Okya provies her, unless she has a Dahna. The literal translation for Geisha is artist. They would learn skills such as dance, Shamishen (Japanese guitar), and how to perform tea ceramonies to entertain men in tea houses. They would have very loyal male patrons who would call and request for them to be at certain tea houses for certain parties. Maiko Geisha went through mizuage. Where men would bid on them. What ever man bid the highest would win the Maikos mizuage. Meaning he would take her virginity. This is one of the main reasons people thought they were prostitutes. Japanese culture is very different then our own. But other than mizuage, Real Geisha were not paid for sex, and were very loyal to their dahna.

    • Molly McCoy said,

      June 17, 2010 at 10:44 pm

      That film was also sued for a false portrayal of geisha, and it has close to zero fact in it. It is purely based off of myth and the directors/writers idea’s

    • Buku said,

      May 2, 2013 at 9:07 am

      “Maiko Geisha went through mizuage. Where men would bid on them.” It is not true. Mizuage was not sold by bidding. Iwasaki Mineko – former geisha – writes in her book that bidding and buying mizuage was done in the case of prostitutes, not geishas.
      Liza Dalby, who made a professional research about geishas, and was living with geishas for a year, writes that the mizuage was not sold, but the okaasan of the okiya decided the patron of the mizuage. In the old times, mizuage meant defloration, which each maiko went through until it became forbidden in the 60′s. And it was not a one-night sex as it is in the memoirs of a geisha, but it was a 7 days long ceremony, and the maiko lost his virginity on the last day. Because it became forbidden, and the society was changing, since 1960 mizuage is a long ceremony of changing hair style, collar, etc.

    • DreiPhantomCal said,

      February 7, 2014 at 12:25 am

      Just a few “minor issues” with your comment: the very first being the incorrect spelling of some of the terms, such as Dahna is actually spelled Danna and it’s Okiya NOT Okya (and the only reason I feel it isn’t a typo is because it is misspelled more than once).
      Anyway, the other “issue” I have is that you mentioned that “the girl” from Memoirs of a Geisha (Chiyo/Sayuri) never sees her sister again after they are sold separately to different places. However, in both the book & the movie, Sayuri does indeed find her sister again and they plan on running away but her sister doesn’t wait for her and runs away alone. They never see or hear from/about each other again.
      Besides learning to dance, perform tea ceremonies, and play instruments (such as the Shamishen) they also learned flower arranging and the art of conversation.

  3. crella said,

    December 12, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    “Mizuage today is not, as the novel portrays it, the auctioning off of an apprentice geisha’s virginity. It is simply a ceremony involving a haircut and a dinner party that signifies the coming of age of a geisha, completing her transition from apprentice geisha (maiko) to a full-fledged one (geiko). The financial arrangement was done until the 1950s, but it is no longer done so today.”

    Wiki article on the book….the book was a sexualized, fictionalized account of a geiko’s life. I was truly peeved when the book came out and was more of the same BS….westerners seem to need to believe that geiko are prositutes….and when it’s denied, something like this falsified ‘mizuage’ is invented. Just can’t let go of the myth…

  4. jadore_violet said,

    July 28, 2010 at 7:03 am

    I wonder, did the movie memoirs of a geisha ever claim to be an acurate portraial of the average guesha life? i mean it wasnt tittled “the fact about ALL gaishas” so i would think it unfair for it to be sued for being inacurat at the end of the day it is just an interesting story played out for entertainment and maybe somthing that could of hapend to someone same for books. i dont know why people get so wraped up in things like that.
    i am sure there have been the ocasional profesional geishas that did have sex for money just as there are professonal dancers, escorts and masuses in other cultures that where also prostututes while clearly it is not actualy part of the job description. i mean they wernt prostitute because they were geishas or vise versa.
    having said that i do suspect that maybe there wher some prostitutes that posed as geishas in a way to cover up their lifestyl from others and perhaps it was these who caused the myths about the proper geishas.
    sort of like how many prostututes in britan advertise as escorts so the escorts who are actually escorts and not prostututes offten get mistaken for prostitutes.

  5. crella said,

    August 4, 2010 at 2:04 am

    It was a stink because the author interviewed a retired geisha, and promised to keep her name confidential. He didn’t , he listed her in the acknowledgments as a source. Then, he takes what she told him, stirs in a load of Clavell-like fictional elements to spice it up (auctioned virginity etc) and it looks as if she is the source of the info.

    Ticked her off badly enough that she wrote an autobiography to set things straight.

    • jadore_violet said,

      August 9, 2010 at 4:37 pm

      ah well i can understand that now but i still think some people take films too seriously. he should not have betraid her confidentiality like that but all fictional films,books etc need to blend abit of truth in order to make the story beleavable to a certain extent inorder to make the experiance more entertaining if you know what i mean.
      i hope she got alot of money from sueing him and i am glad that it prompted her to publish her own knowledge.
      no doubt even though the story was fake it must have prompted many to become more interestid in gaishas and japan so even with the bad there is some good

  6. trish said,

    June 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    geisha are prostitutes.
    thats why they are in the fringes of a japanese society. heavily discriminated.
    during the pre-war japan, geisha sometimes died of sexually transmitted diseases.
    but dont take my word for it, read Autobography of a geisha by sayo masuda, an unembelished, truthful account of her life.
    to add credibility to her, she was ostracized by her own community before she died.

    • Buku said,

      May 2, 2013 at 10:09 am

      Sayo Masuda is an Atami geisha, and it is widely known that geishas in Atami are onsen geishas, who often sleep with customers. Geishas in Kyoto have much more pride, and they look down on Atami geishas. So don’t generalize it like “geisha are prostitutes”. Do more research before you make such a statement. There are many other authentic books, too. Like Iwasaki Mineko or Kiharu, or the dissertation of Liza Dalby. There are also documentary films on youtube about geishas nowadays, like BBC Geisha girl, which can be found as “becoming a geisha”. They are not prostitutes.

  7. crella said,

    June 26, 2012 at 11:37 am

    She was an ‘onsen geisha’. Different kettle of fish entirely.

  8. crella said,

    June 26, 2012 at 11:39 am

    ‘In the period following World War II, the abundance of prostitutes in onsen towns—such as Atami—who marketed themselves to tourists as “geisha” caused some misconceptions. ‘

  9. crella said,

    May 7, 2013 at 12:47 am

    ‘thats why they are in the fringes of a japanese society. heavily discriminated.’

    Because someone calls themselves a geisha , that doesn’t mean they are one. Real geisha and maiko train in several arts…tea ceremony, flower arrangement, poetry, dance, song, and musical instruments. They charge thousands of dollars for an evening of entertaining at business dinners and other occasions. They are far from discriminated against. it’s a crime that prostitutes like Masusa can get away with calling themselves ‘geisha’. I think you need to read more than one book before claiming knowledge about a community you know so little about.

    Thank you Buku, for your post.

    • DreiPhantomCal said,

      February 7, 2014 at 12:32 am

      YES TELL IT LIKE IT IS!!! WOOT WOOT!!!

      lol *steps down from soapbox* I really appreciate your comment about “I think you need to read more than one book before claiming knowledge about a community you know so little about.”


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