Real Japanese “geikos” unhappy with new Geisha movie

This article offers an interesting peephole into a most mysterious aspect of Japanese culture, with interviews with real Geishas (“Geiko” is actually the correct term, they say) who see the new film Memoirs of a Geisha giving the world an unfair and innacurate picture of what being a Geiko is all about.

Co-produced by Steven Spielberg, the movie tells of a little girl from a poor fishing village who is sold to a Gion geisha house and achieves legendary status, secretly falling in love on the way with a rich businessman.

The book was criticized by its subject, former geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who accused Golden of making the legendary Japanese hostesses seem like prostitutes.

For the “geiko” of Gion, their profession is far more nuanced. Some past geishas in other districts offered sex and the geiko say that foreigners often mistake them for prostitutes because of their showy outfits.

The geiko believe they are far different, preserving a sophisticated tradition and creating a fantasy world in which modern concepts such as gender equality have yet to enter.

As soon as they finish Japan’s compulsory education at the age of 15, girls in Gion start training in the performing arts, gracious social etiquette and conversation skills, which all will be necessary when they host customers at a tea house’s hosting room.

They are soon called “maiko” — dancing girls. Becoming more skilled in dancing and performing musical instruments, usually around age 20, they finally assume the title of geiko.

Mamehiro, now 36, moved into a geiko house upon graduation from middle school, just like the around 90 other geiko currently serving in Gion, and went through an apprenticeship for five years to learn the social graces.

“One tough thing in the process of becoming a full-fledged geiko is to eat meals in other people’s house,” she says, referring to the apprenticeship. “A geiko house brings you up as if you were a child of the house.”

The aspiring geikos learn how to show respect to the elder girls and the mother of the house. Phrases such as “Excuse me for taking a bath before you” and “Excuse me for going before you” into a hallway become second nature.

Excerpting from this article doesn’t really work – you have to read it all. Every paragraph has something worth quoting.

The Discussion: 10 Comments

Sounds like they would all be perfect for the White House Press Corps.

December 11, 2005 @ 4:11 am | Comment

“We all believe men are greater than women. Women should follow them three steps behind. Even maiko of 16 years old feel the same way.”

They should all be glad communists haven’t take over Japan, otherwise they’ll end up in reeducation camps for such anti-revolutionary thinking.

December 11, 2005 @ 4:16 am | Comment

I don’t know much about Japanese culture, but isn’t the ‘geiko’/’geisha’ nomenclature a case of regional differences?

December 11, 2005 @ 4:23 am | Comment


These ladies call themselves geiko, and some people from Kyoto. Others call them geisha. So I guess the answer is “yes”.

I’m not really surprised these women are annoyed. If you watch the trailers, Sayuri’s “big dance” seems more like a part from a porno movie given the sexual gyrations she’s doing.

The film’s limitations became apparent when the producer/crew said that the white makeup was being toned down “so as not to shock the American audiences”.

WTF?!?!!!! o_0

December 11, 2005 @ 4:47 am | Comment

Hollywood-films (or film in general?) and reality allways a tricky relation.
Anyway here is a link to encrease our Japan related literacy :


December 11, 2005 @ 6:53 am | Comment

Judging by the gender ratios of local, provincial, and the national governments, the CCP needs some good ol’ fashioned re-education.

December 11, 2005 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

Hollywood indulges in ridiculous exoticization and historical inaccuracies in a film in order to appeal to mainstream prejudices and make money?


December 12, 2005 @ 5:45 am | Comment

Were Japan to make a movie about a culturally sensitive US epitaph and were to tell the story from a foreigners perspective, I’m certain that people in the US would be equally upset with the movie (how about astory of the first thanksgiving that depicted the founding fathers as being a group of English disidents, for example).

This movies just goes to show how you can know a story, but be completely unable to appreciate the aspects of it that differ from your own cultural point of view.

Maybe the US should sit quietly and listen to foreigners telling their own stories.

What really saddens me about this, is that this movie wil be exported around the world, and shown in countries where there is nobody to set the record straight, or to say that this view is slanted.

December 12, 2005 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

For what its worth, I think that there is a subtle difference–in definition and connotation–between Geisha & Geiko. Definition-wise, a Geiko–otherwise known as a ‘Maiko’–is a Geisha in training. A ‘Geisha’ is just that: a geisha. There may also be a subtle transition within their circle of Maiko -> Geiko -> Geisha–denoting the change in half of the kanji during each phase.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the kanji and its inferred meaning play a big part in the discrepency between our use of the word and their use of the word. Also, depending on the age of the ladies being interviewed, there is a probably an age-bias too. Some Japanese girls–I’ve seen it more in ladies than with the men–hate to lose title suffixes, etc that denote a younger age.

Similarly, I’ve seen single American women get rather aggitated when I address them as “Ma’am” or “Ms. [Name]”.

December 13, 2005 @ 10:44 am | Comment

Some cultural notes

Geigi = another name for a trainee Geisha, Maiko is only really used in Kyoto and the surrounding area

Geiko-san = the prefered title and suffix for the higher quality Geisha but only really used in more traditional areas like Gion and Pontocho.

December 13, 2005 @ 12:48 pm | Comment

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