Geisha were traditionally trained from childhood. Geisha houses often bought young girls from poor families, taking responsibility for raising and training them. During their childhood, apprentice geisha worked first as maids, then as assistants to the house's senior geisha as part of their training to contribute to the costs of their upkeep and education. This long-held tradition of training still exists in Japan. There a student lives at the home of a master of one of the traditional arts, starting out doing general housework, observing and assisting the master. She eventually moves up to become a master in her own right . This training often lasts for many years. The course of study traditionally starts from a young age and encompasses a wide variety of the arts, including Japanese musical instruments (particularly the shamisen, similar to a guitar) and traditional forms of singing, dance, tea ceremonies, flower arranging known as ikebana, poetry and literature. Each Geisha is normally a master of one art form. By watching and assisting a senior geisha, they became skilled in the complex traditions surrounding selecting, matching, wearing the precious kimono, participation in various games, the art of conversation, and also in dealing with clients. (Graham, "Immortal geisha", web)
Once a woman became a Maiko (apprentice geisha) she would begin to accompany a senior geisha to the tea houses, parties and banquets that constitute a geisha's work environment. To some extent this traditional method of training persists, though it is of necessity abbreviation. Modern geisha are no longer bought by or brought into geisha houses as children. Becoming a geisha is now entirely voluntary. Most geisha now begin their training in their late teens.
Geisha were very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, and are still in existence today, although their numbers are dwindling. "Geisha," is the most familiar term in English speaking countries, and the most commonly used within Japan as well. But in the Kansai region the terms geigi and, for apprentice geisha, "Maiko" have also been used since the Meiji Restoration. The term Maiko is only used in the Kyoto districts. The English pronunciation ("gee-sha" not the Japanese way of “gay-sha”) or the phrase "geisha girl," common during the American occupation of Japan, carries connotations of prostitution. In that period some young women, desperate for money and calling themselves "geisha," sold themselves to troops. (Graham, "Immortal geisha", web)
Geisha are dressed in a kimono and their faces are painted very pale, a custom that was design to highlight her features in candlelight. As a tourist, you may be able to spot a maiko in some districts of Kyoto, such as Gion and Pontocho or in Kanazawa's Higashi Geisha District. All new Maiko’s are front page news in these areas.
The first known geisha was indeed a courtesan named Kako. Over time, she discovered that she had no need to engage in prostitution within the red-light district. Kako directly or indirectly created many schools of Japanese art related to the Geisha. She called herself a geisha ("arts-person") and confined herself to giving artistic performances. (Iwasaki, Geisha…)
Occasionally a geisha may choose to take a Danna (an old fashioned word for...