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Traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance and games are called Geisha, Geiko or Geigi.  The very first geishas were men, entertaining customers waiting to see the most popular and gifted courtesans. The first woman to call herself a geisha was a Fukagawa prostitute, in about 1750. She was a skilled singer and shamisen-player named Kikuya who was an immediate success, making female geisha extremely popular in 1750s Fukagawa.

As geishas became more widespread through the 1760s and 1770s many began working only as entertainers (rather than prostitutes) often in the same establishments as male geisha. The geisha who worked within the pleasure quarters were essentially imprisoned and strictly forbidden to sell sex in order to protect the business of the Oiran. Geisha engagements may include flirting with men and playful innuendos; however, clients know that nothing more can be expected. In a social style that is common in Japan, men are amused by the illusion of that which is never to be. A geisha purpose is to entertain their customers, be it by dancing, reciting verse, playing musical instruments, or engaging in light conversation. Traditionally, geisha began their training at a very young age. Some girls were bonded to geisha houses as children. These girls were referred to as hangyoku and were as young as nine. This was not a common practice in reputable districts and disappeared in the 1950s with the outlawing of child labor. Daughters of geisha were often brought up as geisha themselves, usually as the successor (atotori) or daughter-role (musume-bun) to the okiya.

A Maiko is essentially an apprentice and is therefore bonded under a contract to her okiya. The okiya supplies her with food, board, kimonos, obis, and other tools for her trade. Her training is very expensive, and her debt must be repaid to the okiya with the earnings she makes. This repayment may continue after the maiko becomes a full-fledged geisha and only then her debts are settled is she permitted to move out to live and work independently. In order for a maiko to gain insight of the job she has to find an onee-san (older sister) and act as a minarai. It is the one-san’s responsibility to take the maiko to the ozashiki to sit and observe as the onee-san is at work. Although minarai attend ozashiki they do not participate at an advanced level. The minarai’s kimono are more elaborate than the Geiko’s and are inteneded to do the talking for them. Minarai can be hired for parties bot are usually uninvited (yet welcomed) guests at parties that their one-san attends. They only charge a third of the usual fee.