How Geisha Work

Geisha in Kyoto. See more pictures of Japan.
Photo courtesy Alina Hagen

The best-selling novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" depicts life as a geisha in Japan in the World War II era. The heroine arrives at a geisha house as a slave and becomes one of the most successful women in Gion. She is a dancer, a musician and a woman without a lot of choices. Her virginity is sold to the highest bidder for a record sum, earning her a place in geisha history.

It is a story of hardship, exploitation and tremendous success -- but it is, first and foremost, a work of fiction. The geisha who provided first-hand information for the book proceeded to sue the author because she believed he twisted her accounts and missed the mark entirely. So what is the truth of the geisha? In this article, we'll examine who and what a geisha is and how the "flower and willow world" fits into Japanese culture.