Geisha Culture and Arts for Use  at
Amatsu Okiya in Second Life




?   This is a very brief overview of geisha for the purpose of building a foundation. Here you will learn some history, the intent of geisha, appearance, and relationships. The goal is for you to have basic understanding and be able to discuss what it means to be Geisha.


Geisha are female entertainers who use their talents in music, art, dancing, and communication to amuse customers who pay for their time and services. The word geisha comes from gei = art and sha = person. Another term for geisha is geiko. This word is often used to distinguish the traditional arts geisha from “onsen geisha” who practice prostitution and who have also adopted the title of “geisha”. One way to distinguish onsen geisha from traditional arts geisha is that prostitute geisha tie their obi in the front.

Geisha wear several layers of kimono and undergarments. They usually require a professional dresser called an otokosu to assist them with their kimono and obi.
They tie their obi in the back and always wear tabi. The obi is the sash that holds the complicated layers of kimono together and tabi are specially made socks that separate the large toe from the other toes, kind of like a mitten separates the thumb from the fingers.

Apprentice geisha are called maiko. This word means dancing and young girl. The maiko is the stereotype of geisha to Westerners. Maiko wear furisode and bright kimono in comparison to the geisha. Furisode are the most formal style of kimono worn by unmarried women in Japan. They wear ornate hairstyles like the peach bow. They wear white make up in different stages depending on their level of progression as a maiko. Geisha wear plainer kimono and only white make up for special performances.


Ukiyo-e painting of Nakamura Shikan as Taikomochi Jakuhachi by Kunisada, 1861

Originally, most geisha entertainers were male. There were town geisha (machi) who worked outside the pleasure quarters and quarter geisha (kuruwa) who worked within the pleasure quarters. They entertained at parties with art, music, dance, games, and storytelling. Many mannerisms of geisha come from Kabuki theater. Male geisha especially would add sexual humor without intimidating the male customers. They were called hokan or taikomochi. Their numbers began to decline and by the 1800’s, female geisha (onna geisha) outnumbered them by 3 to 1. Gradually the term geisha referred only to the female geisha. 

Being a geisha is a profession. For the geisha the profession entails being an entertainer and conversationalist. Though they give public concerts, the majority of their entertaining is done at private parties. The geisha may be specialists in their chosen form of entertainment (certain instruments or dance) or be proficient in various types of entertainment. 


  Shikomi: When the young girls first arrived at the geisha house, or “okiya”, they would be put to work as maids. The most junior of the shikomi would often have to wait up long hours for the maiko and geisha to return from their engagements. The work was very difficult and the idea was to “make” or “break” the new girls. They would have to pass a very difficult dance examination and learn geisha arts before they could be promoted to the next stage. Once a person has completed three months of SL they are eligible to be considered for Amatsu Okiya. Stipulations include a human form, read/write/speak English.

Minarai:  The minarai would no longer have to do housework and could be hired for parties at a much reduced fee. Generally they would be assigned to a particular tea house and learn from the Okaasan or mother figure of their house. This was a very short stage of training lasting about 1 month. The girl would learn conversation and games. We start geisha training with Minarai stage. They live at Amatsu Okiya, participate in discussion groups and teahouse, and then we hold a ”coming of age ceremony” to mark when they become Maiko (misedashi). They may have a special older sister or oneesan they would like to bond with at this time (san san kudo). The purpose of this is to establish an important kinship relationship between older sister and junior sister during the maiko training.

Maiko: The third stage could last for months and/or years. The apprentice geisha learned from their senior geisha mentor or older sister “onee-san”. She would accompany her to all her engagements. The older sister/junior relationship (onee-san/musume-bun) was a very important relationship. Everything about working as a geisha was passed on to the maiko during this period. Including activities like:

  • The proper way to serve tea
  • Dancing
  • Storytelling, poetry recital
  • Playing shamisen and other instruments
  • Casual conversation

The nature of the maiko was to be demure and innocent, perhaps a little flirtatious. The onee-san would help choose the maiko’s new professional name, usually only one word, part taken from the oneesan’s name. Within 6 months to 3 years, the maiko was promoted to geiko, a full-fledged geisha and able to charge full price for their services.

The maiko at Amatsu Okiya may charge for her services after she has gone with her older sister to at least one outing and served tea under supervision to a patron. When all lessons and activities in the Amatsu Okiya series have been completed and a recital provided to an audience, Maiko will “turn the collar” in a special ceremony and become geisha.  At this time she may choose to formally unite with her older sister (Oneesan) in a 3 times 3 ceremony (san san kudo).  Amatsu Okiya Geisha are responsible for their own success as Second Life Geisha.

It is important to note that Amatsu Okiya's intent is to promote a healthy, loving learning environment.  Being a non-courtesan Amatsu Okiya Geisha in Second Life is more about spreading the culture and role-play than it is about "making lindens". 


In modern Japan, geisha and maiko have become rare outside the hanamachi or flower towns. In the 1920's there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan. It is estimated that fewer than 20,000 remain. It is thought the decline is due to a sluggish economy, declining interest in traditional arts, and the expense of being entertained by geisha. 

Geishas are often hired to attend parties and gatherings at tea houses (ochaya) and traditional Japanese restaurants (ryotei). Their time is measured by the time it takes for a stick of incense to burn and is called senkodai - the incense stick fee. Other terms more preferred in Kyoto are ohana and hanadai meaning flower fees. The customer makes the arrangements with the geisha union office or kenban which keeps the geisha's schedule and makes her appointments for her. 


Geisha may be flirtatious, but it is not an expectation of the geisha’s time. Amatsu Okiya geisha are to be chaste and not pursue sexual relationships while they are in costume and under our name. Please refer to the Ethics code. 

Geisha are expected to be single women. Those who choose to marry were expected to retire from the profession.

In the past it was traditional for geisha to take a “danna” or patron. A danna was generally a wealthy man, sometimes married, who had the means to support the very large expenses related to a geisha’s training and other costs.  In return, the danna could expect to have priority among the Geisha's clients.  Sex was not an expectation in exchange for the danna’s financial support. So a danna and geisha could have a business relationship and understanding or it could be a romantic relationship without expectations of sexual favors, or it could be romantic and sexual.

In Amatsu Okiya, one may not have a danna until they have achieved the title of geisha.


Youtube video of makeup application

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Maiko are who we think of as geisha in the Western world.  They are very "showy" with their white makeup, elaborate hair styles, and expensive kimono. Established geisha usually wear white make up for special performances. 


The makeup is a thick white base that was originally made with lead or rice powder. Red lipstick, red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows completed the look. The makeup is very difficult to apply. It must be put on before getting dressed to avoid soiling the kimono.

First a waxy or oily substance is applied to the skin called ?hintsuke-ahura?. Next, white powder is mixed into a paste and applied to the face with a bamboo brush. The white makeup "shironuri" covers the face, neck, and chest. On the nape of the neck, a V or W shape is left that shows bare skin to accentuate this traditionally erotic area. A line of skin is also left bare at the hairline to give the appearance of a mask.   Once the foundation is applied, a sponge is patted over all the areas to remove excess moisture and blend the foundation.

Next the eyes and eyebrows are drawn in. The eyebrows and edges of the eyes are colored black. The maiko also applies red around her eyes.   The lips are filled in next using a small brush. The color comes in a small stick which is melted in water. Crystallized sugar is added to give the lips luster. Rarely will a geisha color in both lips as white gives an illusion. The lower lip is colored in for Maiko. A geisha will color in the top lip and leave a stripe for the lower lip. For the first 3 years, the maiko wears white makeup almost constantly. During her initiation, her older sister helps her with her makeup. Her makeup becomes more subdued after the three years to emphasize her natural beauty. The mature geisha only wear full white makeup for special dances which may require her to wear makeup for her part. 


Geisha always wear kimono. Apprentice geisha (Maiko) wear very colorful kimono with extravagant obi. Older geisha wear more subdued patterns and styles.

The sign of a prosperous okiya is that their geisha only wore a kimono once. So storehouses of kimono were kept to be shared among the geisha of the okiya  The color, pattern, and style of kimono worn depends on the season and the event the geisha is attending.

In winter, the geisha will wear a ¾ length overcoat lined with hand painted silk. A kimono can take 2-3 years to complete because of the handpainting and embroidering.  Geisha wear a flat-soled sandal called zori outdoors, and tabi (white, split-toed socks) indoors.

Raised wooden clogs called geta are worn in inclement weather.

Maiko wear black lacquered sandals called okobo.

Naturally in SecondLife we do not expect geisha to only wear their kimono once.

What is an inr?? It was a case for holding small objects. Because traditional Japanese garb lacked pockets, objects were often carried by hanging them from the obi, or sash. Most types of these sagemono were created for specialized contents, such as tobacco, pipes, writing brush and ink, but inr? were suited for carrying anything small. Consisting of a stack of tiny, nested boxes, inro were most commonly used to carry identity seals and medicines. Inr? were made of a variety of materials, including wood, ivory, bone, and lacquer. Lacquer was also used to decorate inro made of other materials. Inr?, like the ojime and netsuke they were associated with, evolved over time from strictly utilitarian articles into objects of high art and immense craftsmanship.


Geisha have worn many hairstyles, sometimes wearing their hair down and sometimes up in a chignon called a shimade.

There are four major types of shimade:

taka shimade?a high chignon usually worn by younger, single women

tsubushi shimade?a more flattened chignon generally worn by older women

uiwata?a chignon usually bound by a piece of colored cotton crepe

momoware, or split peach worn by maiko  These hairstyles are decorated with elaborate combs and hair decor called kanzashi. We will learn more about kanzashi in another lesson. Please recognize though that courtesan often wear many stick-like kanzashi, true geisha would never wear more than two!

Retrieved 1/2007, from,


Amatsu Okiya dress code: 

  • Shikomi (maids) hair down and neat, little or no makeup, yukata
  • Minarai (level 1 student) hair down and neat, little or no makeup, kimono in soft colors, simple obi
  • Maiko (level 2 student) hair in traditional maiko style, showy hair decor, white makeup, showy kimono red inner collar (this is not always available in SL) 
  • Geisha (graduate) everyday wear - hair up or down but always neat, normal makeup - not too much, performances and special occasions - white makeup, white inner collar



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