A Geisha Glossary

darari obi

Danna. A man who gives a geisha economic support. Often (but not always) a sexual relationship is involved.

Darari obi. A unique way of tying the obi, seen only on maiko. Made of heavy brocade, the ends are tied so as to fall from the shoulder blades to the backs of the knees.

Erikae. Literally "turning the collar." The ceremony of a maiko graduating to be a full geiko.

Geiko. The Kyoto dialect term for the traditional entertainers known as geisha in Tokyo (and the outside world). The official Japanese term for women in this profession is geigi.

Geisha. The Tokyo regional term for traditional female entertainers. This term has also become the most common way to refer to these women outside of Japan.

Goshūgi. Term for a tip to a geisha. Also, payment for a geisha's time outside of the zashiki.


Gyokudai. Literally "jewel wages." The Tokyo regional term for a geisha's pay. In Kyoto, it is called hanadai.

Hanadai. Literally "flower money." The Kyoto regional term for a geisha's pay.

Hanamachi. Literally, "flower district." The administrative units which I call "geisha communities."

Han-eri. the decorative collar attached to the underkimono. For maiko, it is red with embroidery and/or metallic sparkles.


Henshin maiko. The modern business of providing maiko dress-up for tourists. 

Hikizuri. Kimono with long skirt let down to trail on the floor when inside.

Hōkan. Traditional male entertainer. Also called otoko geisha (male geisha.) Now rare.

Ichigensan o-kotowari. The unspoken rule practiced in the geisha world of not allowing non-introduced customers. A person may come as a guest of a known customer, but he has to have a proper introduction and in effect prove himself before being allowed access on his own. There are several reasons for this rule. One is that there can be a long gap between the time of a visit to a teahouse and the time the bill is submitted. Both sides must know and trust one another that the bill is fair and that the payment will be made. Another reason is that the geisha and the mother of the teahouse feel that the service they provide is totally personalized to the guest. One cannot provide the proper level of service to a stranger. It is probably also true that the women feel safer in only dealing with known customers.


Jikata. Geisha who specialized in playing the shamisen and singing. (As opposed to tachikata, who are dancers.) At present, geisha chose one or the other to specialize in.

Jimae. Independence. When a geisha’s period of indentureship ends. Usually she moves from the geisha house to her own apartment at this point.

Kaburenjō. In Kyoto, the theater attached to each geisha community, used for lessons and performance of public dances.

Kanzashi. Hair ornaments. Different for geiko and maiko.

Kaomise. Opening of the Kabuki theatrical year. In Kyoto, a time for all geiko and maiko to attend the programs at the Minami-za theater.

jikata and tachikata

Karyūkai. Literally, "flower and willow world." Originally a poetic Chinese phrase applied to the demimonde. Term for the geisha world.


Kenban. The office in each community that keeps track of the geisha's wages and other community related issues.

Kokataya. In Kyoto, the teahouse where maiko and geiko live, and where a maiko undergoes training from her peers and the "mother" of the house.

Maiko. The apprentice stage before becoming a geiko in Kyoto. This stage is rare now in other areas, but was previously known in the Tokyo region as o-shaku, han-gyoku, or hinagi.


Minarai. The process of learning by watching.

Minaraijaya. The teahouse that sponsors a maiko's training.

Misedashi. A maiko's debut.

Mizuage. Ceremonial occasion when a geisha receives her first patron. Because this also involved the man's taking the geisha's virginity, technically mizuage is no longer practiced.

Nenki. Period of indentureship of a maiko before becoming a full geiko. 



Nyokōba. School of traditional arts where the geisha take lessons.

Obi-age. Soft silk scarf-like sash that shows at the top of the obi.

Ochaya. Literally, "teahouse." This is a Kyoto business which is licensed to hold geisha entertainment on its premises.

Ofuku. Hairstyle worn by more advanced maiko.

Okamisan The owner of a teahouse or restaurant. Often an ex-geisha.

Oiran. High-ranked courtesan in the (now abolished) world of licensed prostitution. Tokyo regional term.

O-keiko. Lessons in the traditional arts, primarily dance, shamisen, flute, drums, and singing.

Okiya. Primarily a Tokyo regional term for a house where geisha live before they are independent. Geisha house. The preferred Kyoto variant is kokataya.

Okobo. The 5-inch high thonged clogs worn by maiko.

Onēsan. Literally, "older sister." All geisha who made their debut prior to oneself are called onēsan.

Otokoshū. Profession of men who dress the geisha and maiko.

Pocchiri. Elaborate obi jewelry worn by maiko.


Ryōriya. In Kyoto, the cooking establishments that provide the food for geisha parties.

Ryōtei. A traditional tatami-matted banquet-style restaurant.

Senjafuda. Small decorative cards with a geisha's name and that of her hanamachi. Nowadays, these cards are often replaced by stickers.

Shikomi. The pre-maiko stage of training. Starting around age 15 or 16, girls move into the geisha house to begin learning proper manners, language, and start lessons in the arts to become maiko.


Shukubō. The custom by which a customer may only use one teahouse in a hanamachi to engage geisha. It is another unspoken rule that he has a relationship with that teahouse and may not use another in that community.

Tayū. A high-ranked courtesan in the (now abolished) world of licensed prostitution. Kyoto term.

Wareshinobu. hairstyle worn by new maiko.


Zashiki. Literally, a tatami-matted room. By extension, and event held in such a room. In the geisha world, o-zashiki means a party where geisha are in attendance.