A geiko entertaining a guest in Gion (Kyoto)The Gion geiko district (hanamachi) of Kyoto, Japan, Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi (花街 "flower towns"), particularly during their apprenticeship. Many experienced geisha are successful enough to choose to live independently. The elegant, high-culture world that geisha are a part of is called karyūkai (花柳界 "the flower and willow world").
Before the twentieth century, geisha training began when a girl was around the age of four. Now, girls usually go to school until they are teenagers and then make the personal decision to train to become a geisha. Young women who wish to become geisha now most often begin their training after completing middle school, high school, or even college. Many women begin their careers in adulthood.
Geisha still study traditional instruments: the shamisen, shakuhachi, and drums, as well as learning games,traditional songs, calligraphy, Japanese traditional dances, tea ceremony, literature, and poetry. Women dancers drawing their art from butō (a classical Japanese dance) were trained by the Hanayagi school, whose top dancers performed internationally. Ichinohe Sachiko choreographed and performed traditional dances in Heian court costumes, characterized by the slow, formal, and elegant motions of this classical age of Japanese culture in which geisha are trained. A maiko and a geiko hosting tea ceremony. By watching other geisha, and with the assistance of the owner of the geisha house, apprentices also become skilled dealing with clients and in the complex traditions surrounding selecting and wearing kimono, a floor length silk robe embroidered with intricate designs which is held together by a sash at the waist which is called an obi.
Kyoto is considered by many to be where the geisha tradition is the strongest today, including Gion Kobu. The geisha in these districts are known as geiko. The Tokyo hanamachi of Shimbashi, Asakusa and Kagurazaka are also well known. Tourists dressed as geisha in KyotoIn modern Japan, geisha and maiko are now a rare sight outside hanamachi. In the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan, but today, there are far fewer. The exact number is unknown to outsiders and is estimated to be from 1,000 to 2,000, mostly in the resort town of Atami. Most common are sightings of tourists who pay a fee to be dressed up as a maiko.
A sluggish economy, declining interest in the traditional arts, the exclusive nature of the flower and willow world, and the expense of being entertained by geisha have all contributed to the tradition's decline. Entrance to Ichiriki Ochaya, Gion, one of the most famous tea houses where geisha entertain.Geisha are often hired to attend parties and gatherings, traditionally at tea houses (茶屋, Chashitsu|ochaya) or at traditional Japanese restaurants (ryōtei). The charge for a geisha's time (measured by burning incense stick) is called senkōdai (線香代, "incense stick fee") or gyokudai (玉代 "jewel fee"). In Kyoto, the terms ohana (お花) and hanadai (花代), meaning "flower fees", are preferred. The customer makes arrangements through the geisha union office (検番kenban), which keeps each geisha's schedule and makes her appointments both for entertaining and for training.
However, in recent times, Non-Japanese women have also become geisha. In 2007, Australian national Fiona Graham debuted under the name Sayuki in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, and in 2010, Romanian national Isabella Onou debuted under the name Fukutarō in the Izu-Nagaoka district of Shizuoka.
While traditionally geisha have led a cloistered existence, in recent years they have become more publicly visible, and entertainment is available without requiring the traditional introduction and connections. A maiko from the Kamishichiken district serving tea at the plum blossom festival at Kitano Tenman-gū.Notably, the geisha (including maiko) of the Kamishichiken district in northwest Kyoto serve tea to 3,000 guests on February 25 in an annual open-air tea ceremony (野点, nodate) at the plum-blossom festival (梅花祭, baikasai) at Kitano Tenman-gū shrine. As of 2010, these geisha also serve beer in a beer garden at Kamishichiken Kaburenjo Theatre during summer months (July to early September); another geisha beer garden is available at the Gion Shinmonso ryokan in the Gion district. These beer gardens also feature traditional dances by the geisha in the evenings.