Geisha, also known as geiko or geiki, are traditional Japanese female entertainers whose skills include music and dance, fine conversation, and tea ceremony. Geisha are easily recognizable by their hairstyle, their elaborate kimono and their white make-up. Geisha who have not yet completed their training are called maiko ("dancing girl"), and tend to be more colorfully arrayed than their adult counterparts, with different hair pieces for each month, and different styles according to the level of apprenticeship. A young maiko is apprenticed to an onee-san (big sister), a fully-fledged geisha whom she assists, resides with, and learns from.
For a long time the role of the geisha has been seen as mysterious, exotic, and alluring. Contrary to popular belief, geisha are not prostitutes (that would be yuujo or "pleasure women", of which the top tier were the famous oiran or tayuu); prostitution as such was abolished in Japan in 1956 (At least in theory; the law only defined very narrowly as certain kinds of sex acts. In reality Japan has thousands of brothels and it is not at all difficult to purchase sex without any worry about prosecution, and being a sex worker does not have the stigma that there is in the West.), but rather artists, party hostesses and professional conversationalists, with stage names and distinct personal lives. On the other hand they weren't nuns either. Before WWII, geisha could be employed as professional mistresses, but sex with customers is off the menu these days. That hasn't stopped them from being prime fetish material.
It is interesting to consider that prior to Schoolgirl or Maid characters, geisha were considered the archetype of Japanese femininity, and as such, the term "Yamato Nadeshiko" could be applied to them.
Provide examples of:
- Femme Fatale: Often play the part in Japanese tales and older literature, but not to the extent that the "castle-topper" oiran did in theatre plays.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Their costume is an obsolete style, and a great deal more showy than the modern fashions. Maiko, during their training, tend to be very brightly and colorfully dressed, while fully-fledged geisha are dressed in more understated colors.
- Kimono Fan Service: The style they wear screams "teh sexx" in Kimonese.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Black hair, white make-up, bright red lipstick.
- Training from Hell: They undergo demanding training, and some works like to exaggerate it.
- Yamato Nadeshiko: Zig-zagged. The image of a demure, quiet and calm Nadeshiko is the Japanese ideal of a wife, whose domain is the hearth. Geisha have the Yamato Nadeshiko looks but aren't wives, so their talkative, flirty and unabashed attitude at a banquet is the opposite of that. The stereotype of geisha as servile doormats is mostly Orientalist fantasy, their obsequiousness stops at pouring sake for the guests (which they unload to the maiko, who as learn-by-seeing apprentices can't do a lot more than pouring sake and looking pretty).
- Mademoiselle Butterfly is about a young geisha in training called Butterfly and her romance with her childhood friend Chinatsu.
- In Zodiac PI, the mystery revolving around Gemini focuses on a pair of twins (of course) who are also maiko. The solution to the mystery is that one of the twins was wearing the wrong headpiece for the particular month — she had used the headpiece to stab the man who was stalking her, and could no longer use it.
- Erika from Pokémon Red and Blue resembles this a bit, in the Pokémon anime she even dressed like a Geisha at a few points.
- Sakura and her older sisters (Satsuki, Tamao, Koume and Sumomo), inspired by the "Kimono Girls" from the games, are also seen dressed as Geishas and performing activities like ikebana and tea ceremony, before changing into normal clothes and accepting Ash's challenges.
- Hotaru Enjouji from Kizuna was this in the past. She also was The Mistress of a powerful yakuza from Kyoto, but ran away from him and his entourage when she got pregnant with her son Kei aka the seme of the story.
- Benio's friend Kichiji from Haikara-san ga Tooru. Benio herself tries to become one to support Shinobu's grandparents economically, but it doesn't work and goes into the news business instead.
- Satsuki from Thermae Romae is a part-time onsen geisha (like her mother was) and does traditional dances for the inn guests.
- Aria's mother in Akatsuki No Aria worked as a geisha before having her.
- The seventh Detective Conan Non-Serial Movie, set in Kyoto, has the characters investigating in the Gion district and befriending the teahouse owner Tae Yamakura, the maiko and Tae's adoptive daughter Suzu Chika and the geisha Kayo Ichi. Suzu is one of the suspects of being a Serial Killer, specially since she's a former archer when at least one of the victims was killed with arrows, but she turns out to just be a Red Herring.
- Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has Miyokichi, the Femme Fatale of the series in the days before Konatsu. In episode 4 she is seen with maiko hairclips but later she graduates to geisha.
- RoboGeisha is the story of two sisters: Kikuyakko "Kikue" Kagusa, a Geisha who is renowned for her beauty, and Yoshie Kagusa, who works as a servant in the same teahouse as Kikuyakko. Yoshie suffers near constant abuse at the hands of her elder sister, who derides her lack of grace and potential for becoming a Geisha at every opportunity. While Yoshie for the most part tries to take this treatment in stride, at times her rage boils over and manifests itself in almost-superhuman feats of strength. Their lives change when the young heir of the Kagano Steel Manufacturing corporation notices one of these feats, and forces the sisters to become part of his private army of geisha assassins. Accepting their fate, the sisters quickly rise through the ranks of the geisha corps, constantly replacing their human flesh with ever more deadly and bizarre mechanical body-parts and weaponry, each hoping to out-do the other in their ongoing rivalry.
- The Twilight Samurai.
- Because Chamberlain Oishi spent two years partying in the pleasure quarters for cover, any version of the story of The 47 Ronin—like, say, The 47 Ronin (1941)—will show some geisha and prostitutes.
- Quite a few American movies of the 50s and 60s would show some geisha for exotic fanservice: from My Geisha with Shirley McLaine undergoing a geiko henshin to re-seduce her fiance to The Geisha Boy with Jerry Lewis (not as a geisha, thank goodness) to The Teahouse of the August Moon with Machiko Kyo as the geisha "Lotus Blossom". She actually had some geisha training, so what you see is pretty authentic.
- In Ginza Cosmetics, Yukiko used to be one, and she still dresses the part, and her date with Ishikawa reveals that she still has the gift for intelligent conversation. But she has fallen on hard times and has long since become a lower-rent bar girl and prostitute.
- Enjo: Tayama, the abbot at a Buddhist temple, impregnates his geisha mistress, much to novice monk Goichi's horror.
- In Farewell to Spring this trope overlaps with High-Class Call Girl. The local geishas work as classic geishas; the five young men who are the central characters hire three geishas to sing and dance at a party. But they also work as prostitutes, as dialogue explains that a "Prostitute Ban" has made life more difficult for the local geishas.
- In James Clavell's Shogun, Kikuchiyo is a forerunner to a geisha, with a manager, an apprentice, and an exceptional level of refinement in all the entertainment arts (including that of love). In fact, she is the inspiration for her manager, Gyoko (a now retired entertainer) to suggest to Toranaga a class of women exclusively for the performing arts.
- Memoirs of a Geisha and its film adaptation tells the story of Chiyo, a little girl whose dirt poor family sells her in order to make ends meet. Some of her companions in fate end up being sold to brothels, but the pretty Chiyo is lucky enough to be bought into a geisha house to be a servant, and later, if she proves worthy, an apprentice, thus becoming the famous geisha Sayuri. Despite how the book gives the impression of being a biography and based on real life, it's pure fiction and contains its share of inaccuracies. The one most aficionados would name first is the auctioning of the virginity of maiko about to graduate as geiko.
- In fact, the book was "inspired" by the life of the real geisha Mineko Iwasaki. Iwasaki got so upset at the author, Arthur Golden, that she sued him and then wrote her own book (Geisha of Gion) to counter all the fictionalization.
- In non-fiction 1890 travel memoir Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, Nellie Bly visits Yokohama and attends a performance by "dancing, or geisha, girls." She is enchanted by their beauty and grace.
- Night and Day's Jane Harper is working as a geisha by the time we finally re-encounter her in the flesh, a full year since her initial disappearance. She's now black-haired, amnesia-stricken, and in residence at a club called the Black Chrysanthemum, where it seems she is required to work as a prostitute.
- The cover of KISS's 1977 album Love Gun is a painting of the band members standing at the entrance to what looks like a Greco-Roman temple, and on the steps just below them are several scantily-clad women in whiteface who could possibly be geisha, although they have long hair and are not wearing kimonos. In fact, given that Gene Simmons's "demon" makeup is directly inspired by kabuki theatre, and the massive popularity Kiss have enjoyed in Japan since their earliest days, that could very well be what these women are.
- The album cover for Sparks' breakthrough album Kimono My House had two geishas with one winking and another with her hair down.
- Averted: Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly may look like a geisha, but isn't: she still lives with her family (a geisha would live in a geisha house) and is getting married, which in real life geisha are not allowed to do unless they retire.
- Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing are three Maiko (apprentice Geisha) in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. The work is far from being accurate, and many productions play it Up to Eleven, making these characters a pile of anachronisms and inaccuracies.
- In Pacific Overtures, the number "Pretty Lady" is sung to a pretty Japanese girl whom the three sailors can't figure out is a geisha or not.
- Portrayed pretty accurately in The Teahouse of the August Moon, with Sakini specifically explaining to Capt. Frisby that Lotus Blossom is not a High-Class Call Girl but provides entertainment, conversation, and companionship.
- Pokemon SoulSilver and Heart Gold features six Geisha (called "kimono girls" in the English version) who the protagonist meets though his or her journey, cumulating in an event where they use a dance ceremony to summon Lugia or Ho-oh depending on the version. (Who you have to try to tame.)
- Can be trained by daimyo in Shogun: Total War and Total War: Shogun 2 games. They're pretty far up the tech tree, but if you get them they are excellent at assassinating targets - unlike ninjas their presence in a province is known to your target, but they cannot be openly killed because that would be considered dishonorable (the only ways to get rid of the threat is to either sic a ninja or send a geisha of your own for a Mutual Kill).
- The character design of Deande from Battleborn uses many traits common to the typical Geisha look - a waist ribbon from the back, pale white face makeup and the use of fans. Her small red lip makeup and hair done up with thin blades sticking out of no doubt were inspired by it as well. The thing she just really lacks is the kimono.
- Yakkohan from GENCO's Charawood shorts is about two journeying tofu-shaped maiko sisters.
- Yumi's Lyoko form in Code Lyoko seems to be based at least in part on that of a Geisha, altered into that of an Action Girl. (Until the fourth season where Jeremie's upgrade makes her look more like a Ninja.)
- The makeup that the Action Girl team Kyoshi Warriors from Avatar: The Last Airbender sport is influenced by geisha makeup in addition to using influences from Kabuki makeup, plus their outfits are Samurai-influenced. It's not surprising that their makeup is based on Avatar Kyoshi's makeup.