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July 16, 2013

Memoirs of the Geisha: Vintage Photographs Document Everyday Life of Japanese 'Female Entertainers' in the 1950s

Geisha are traditional Japanese entertainers, known for their elegant dance and demure conversation. First appearing in the mid-18th century, geisha have long filled the role of a 'persons of the arts' and even trendsetters.

Traditional geisha - heavily made-up, immaculately dressed and coquettish entertainers - emerged in 18th century Japan, and these women did not officially sell sex - that being the preserve of a different group of female entertainers known as Oiran.

But this stunning collection of photographs of geisha during the second half of the 20th century shows how the ancient Japanese art found its place in a more modern world full of businessmen, beer and steam baths.

Two Geisha girls, professional Japanese entertainers, practising their art; one is playing a samisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, circa 1950. (Photo by Three Lions)

A typical Japanese Geisha wearing a kimono, circa 1950. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions)

A Japanese Geisha wearing a kimono and sitting with her Samisen, a traditional string instrument, circa 1950. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions)

Japanese Geisha girls without their wigs, circa 1950. (Photo by Three Lions)

A young girl wearing a typical Japanese Geisha kimono sits playing the “Samisen”, a traditional Japanese string instrument, circa 1950. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions)

Japanese Geishas wearing Kimonos serve tea in a lounge on board a boat sailing on the Nagara River, circa 1950. (Photo by Three Lions)

A Geisha girl laughing shyly and politely at a joke, circa 1955. (Photo by Three Lions)

A Geisha girl arranges her selection of footwear, circa 1955. (Photo by Orlando/Three Lions)

Geisha girls entertaining a group of men and ensuring their cups are kept full, circa 1955. (Photo by Three Lions)

A Geisha girl pouring a drink for a visitor, circa 1955. (Photo by Fox Photos)

A western visitor enjoying the services of a Japanese Geisha girl, circa 1955. (Photo by Fox Photos)

A Geisha going home and passing a line of drying umbrellas in the alleyway, circa 1955. (Photo by Three Lions)

A group of Geisha girls being instructed by their teacher, circa 1955. (Photo by Central Press)

Japanese Geisha girls playing the traditional game called Go. 2nd May 1957. (Photo by Keystone Features)


  1. You keep using the word geisha--and I'm pretty sure it means something entirely different than what you think it means. Courtesan and geisha are two entirely different things. Geisha are NOT courtesans, and vice versa. Geisha only preform the traditional Japanese arts--dance, sing, conversation, etc. They DO NOT practice sexual activity. The very last photo is of an Oiran, or prostitute/courtesan. I don't even know what the girl in her underwear is doing, but Geisha do not do this.

    1. Other than that, the photos are amazing <3!

  2. The 4th photo is of oiran (courtesans), not geisha. Some of the last photos showing a woman in a bra and shorts are certainly not of a geisha.




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