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___The word geisha (literally "art people") is well known in the West, and the image of the large hairpiece, heavy makeup, and elaborate kimono are familiar. The real meaning of geisha, however, is usually misunderstood by foreigners, many of whom think s geisha is akin to a prostitute. Although the line separating geisha and prostitutes is a thin one in some situations, the concept of geisha has a long and honorable history. Dancing girls in the 13th century, during the Kamakura period, were called shirabyoshi (literally "white rhythm"), probably in reference to the heavy white makeup they used.

At that time there was no clear distinction between artists and prostitutes. During the Edo period, however, this concept changed. The name geisha was adopted to designate a professional entertainer at a licensed establishment. These artists were not supposed to be in competition with courtesans. They grew up in a special world, surrounded by other women devoted to traditional Japanese song, dance, and music.
___Modern women seeking to become geisha must still take lessons in a number of traditional arts, and most learn to play the shamisen (a three-stringed banjo-like instrument), the tsutsumi (a small drum played on the shoulder), and the kodaiko (a small drum played with wooden sticks); some even study English. In Kyoto there are apprentice geisha called maiko (dancing girls). In earlier times, prior to the current compulsory education law that requires everyone to attend middle school, they would have started as young as thirteen but even so these girls are young, between sixteen and twenty years old. Like other geisha they are trained in the traditional arts of entertainment.

The appearance of a geisha is fascinating to the Western eye. To some she represents the old traditional beauty of Japanese women, and to some she is a garish circus clown. Her hairstyle is fashioned after the leaf of the gingko tree (icho) and has many ornamental hairpins (kanzashi) inserted in the topknot. Her lips are painted red, and the rest of her face is powdered white with a slight accent at the eyes. The white face color has been a traditional symbol of beauty in Japan for centuries. Many feel that white symbolizes the willingness of the geisha to be "dyed" to any color her audience desires. She is supposed to be sensitive in all respects to the entertainment of those to whom, strictly speaking, she sells her art.
___A geisha's fee can be very expensive, depending on her rank. A geisha party is a luxury few people can indulge in. They are strictly for the upper management class, executives and politicians. These parties are occasionally used as favors, and -depending on the class of the geisha- the cost per person can start at 50,000 yen. If you don't have an interest in traditional music and dance, you could find a geisha party a bit formal or even boring.

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