Kagurazaka is a trendy neighbourhood in Tokyo, near Iidabashi Station. It has a sloping street at its center, lined by numerous cafes and restaurants. In the early 20th century, the area was renowned for its numerous geisha houses, of which several remain today. Currently, Kagurazaka is experiencing a popularity boom due to its traditional, sophisticated atmosphere in the middle of modern Shinjuku.
Kagurazaka is also widely regarded as an important center of Japanese cuisine within the Kanto region. Several old and famous "ryotei" are to be found in the winding back streets, often accessible only by foot. These ryotei provide expensive "kaiseki" cuisine, which is generally regarded as the pinnacle of Japanese food. Ryotei also allow diners to invite geisha to provide entertainment during the course of the evening.
The Kagurazaka Awa Odori festival is held the fourth Friday and Saturday each July.
Geisha, like all Japanese nouns, has no distinct singular or plural variants. The word consists of two kanji, 芸 (gei) meaning "art" and 者 (sha) meaning "person" or "doer". The most literal translation of geisha into English would be "artist" or "performing artist". Another name for geisha used in Japan is geiko, which is usually used to refer to geisha from Western Japan, including Kyoto.
Apprentice geisha are called maiko (舞子＝dance child) or hangyoku (半玉＝half-jewel --- meaning that they are paid half the wage as opposed to a full geisha), or by the more generic term o-shaku (御酌＝one who pours alcohol). Maiko's white make-up and elaborate kimono and hairstyle is the popular image held of geisha. A woman entering the geisha community does not have to start out as a maiko, having the opportunity to begin her career as a full geisha. Either way, however, usually a year's training is involved before debuting either as a maiko or as a geisha. A woman above 21 is considered too old to be a maiko and becomes a full geisha upon her initiation into the geisha community. However, those who do go through the maiko stage can enjoy more prestige later in their professional lives.
Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi (花街＝flower towns), particularly during their apprenticeship. Many experienced geisha are successful enough to choose to live independently. The elegant, high-culture world that geisha are a part of is called karyuukai (花柳界＝the flower and willow world).
Young women who wish to become geisha now most often begin their training after completing middle school|junior high school, even high school, or college. Many women begin their careers in adulthood. Geisha still study traditional instruments: the shamisen, shakuhachi, and drums, as well as traditional songs, Japanese traditional dances, tea ceremony, literature, and poetry. Women dancers drawing their art from butou (a classical Japanese dance) were trained by the Hanayagi school, whose top dancers performed internationally. Ichinohe Sachiko choreographed and performed traditional dances in Heian court costumes, characterized by the slow, formal, and elegant motions of this classical age of Japanese culture in which geisha are trained.