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What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 2 (From the Meiji Era Onwards)

Updated: 5 days ago


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 2 (From the Meiji Era Onwards)

The Evolution of Geisha Districts from the Meiji to Showa Era


When the Edo period ended, and the Meiji era began (1868-1912), the practice of indentured servitude for Geisha was abolished, and their debts were forgiven, making them free individuals. New regulations known as the "Kashiseki Tosei Kisoku" and "Geigi Kisoku" were established, allowing anyone who wished to become a Geisha to apply for and receive a license. These regulations led to the creation of new geisha districts across Japan. The six geisha districts that still remain today—Shinbashi, Akasaka, Yoshicho (Nihonbashi Ningyocho), Kagurazaka, Asakusa, and Mukojima—were also established.


The Meiji government, aiming to modernize the nation, organized and regulated the geisha districts for better tax management. The top-ranking districts were Shinbashi and Yanagibashi. Shinbashi, located near government offices, became particularly popular among government officials, leading to its growth. Some Shinbashi Geisha even became the wives of high-ranking government officials, distinguishing them from their counterparts in Yanagibashi. The cultural expectations for Geisha in Shinbashi deepened as they hosted many tea parties for wealthy businessmen and government officials.


The Akasaka geisha district also saw remarkable development from the Meiji era to the early Showa era (1926-1989). Unlike Shinbashi, which catered to government officials and politicians, Akasaka thrived by serving military personnel.


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 2 (From the Meiji Era Onwards)


The Flourishing of Kagurazaka: A Leading Geisha District in Tokyo


The Kagurazaka geisha district also flourished after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 (Taisho 12), as it was spared from significant damage. Known as the "Yamanote (Uptown) Ginza," Kagurazaka became one of Tokyo's most prominent entertainment districts. By the late 1930s (Showa 12-13), Kagurazaka housed about 600 Geisha and entertainers and around 150 traditional restaurants, making it one of the most influential geisha districts in Tokyo. Hōkan, also known as taikomochi or male Geisha, played a role in supporting Geisha at banquets.


Recognizing Geisha as Highly Skilled Artists


After the devastation of World War II, the Geisha profession gradually revived. The new clientele included American occupation forces, who frequently invited Geisha to various receptions. However, during this period, some general Japanese women, including war widows, posed as Geisha and provided services to American soldiers. This led to the misconception of Geisha as sex workers, a misunderstanding that still affects their perception today. It is crucial for foreigners to recognize that Geisha are highly skilled artists who have undergone rigorous training.


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 2 (From the Meiji Era Onwards)


What Does a Geisha Do During Japan's Post-War Economic Boom?


What does a Geisha do during Japan's post-war economic boom? During the mid-Showa era, the geisha districts saw renewed prosperity. In Kagurazaka, prominent figures from the booming steel industry and influential politicians frequently visited traditional restaurants, spurring further growth. The birth of the current ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, also originated from discussions held at a traditional restaurant in Kagurazaka.


In 1952 (Showa 27), a Kagurazaka Geisha named Kagurazaka Hanko released a hit song called "Geisha Waltz," which brought national fame to Kagurazaka and its Geisha. By the peak of the post-war period in the late 1950s, Kagurazaka had over 200 Geisha and 80 traditional restaurants.


What Does a Geisha Do?: The History of Geisha Part 2 (From the Meiji Era Onwards)

However, from this peak, the number of Geisha and traditional restaurants began to decline. The diversification of leisure activities and the rise of alternative entertainment options, such as bars and clubs, contributed to this decline. Additionally, labor laws and child welfare regulations made it impossible to train Geisha from a young age, requiring them to be at least 18 years old.


Despite these challenges, efforts are being made to revitalize the geisha districts as part of urban development and cultural preservation initiatives. Younger generations of Geisha and municipal policies are working towards the revival of these districts.


With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in foreign tourists visiting Japan, increasing interest in the geisha districts. Traditional restaurants, which used to be exclusive, are now opening their doors to foreign guests. Our company also offers various Geisha experience tours, aiming to provide foreign tourists with the opportunity to witness the beauty of Geisha performances, enjoy the hospitality of traditional restaurants, and savor exquisite cuisine. We hope that through these experiences, tourists will gain a deeper appreciation for Japan's rich cultural heritage.


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How to Access Kagurazaka


The Kagurazaka area is conveniently located within 30 minutes from any major station in Tokyo. This is because Kagurazaka is situated in the heart of Tokyo, at the center of the Yamanote Line. Please come and visit this convenient and charming Kagurazaka.











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