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Japan. Maiko is an apprentice geisha in western Japan, especially Kyoto. Their jobs consist of performing songs, dances, and playing the shamisen (three-stringed Japanese instrument) for visitors during feasts. Maiko are usually aged 15 to 20 years old and become geisha after learning how to dance (a kind of Japanese traditional dance), play the shamisen, and learning Kyō-kotoba (dialect of Kyoto), regardless of their origins.

Maiko Kimika during her sakkou period - when a maiko is in the last stages before becoming a geisha. Kyoto, Japan. May 10, 2009. Text and photography by watanabe san

I find Geishas incredibly beautiful. Geisha literally means art. They have to train from young to master the many different forms of art, for instance making traditional Japanese tea, playing an instrument like a Shamisen, dancing and being an entertainer. I hate how almost everyone pictures a Geisha as a prostitute. Not all Geishas sleep with their customers to make money.

This was a time when many Western men were arriving in Japan, due to the increasing interest in the east from the west economically. Geisha Girls were simply prostitutes to these men, and often the girls became smitten with their wealth and different, less constrained culture.

Benzaiten (弁才天, 弁財天) is the Japanese name for the Hindu Goddess Saraswati. Worship of Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th through 8th centuries, mainly via the Chinese translations of the Sutra of Golden Light, which has a section devoted to her. She is also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra and often depicted holding a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute. Benzaiten is the goddess of everything that flows: water, words, speech, eloquence, music and by extension knowledge.

A Geisha's hair is simply ornamented. This is another difference between the Geisha and the Prostitutes of that time, who would try to disguise themselves as Geisha in order to trick foreign clients.

Hunting Fireflies by Kajima Seibei 1897. This black and white photograph of threehangyoku (young geisha) from the Shinbashi geisha district of Tokyo huntingfireflies, was taken in 1897 by Kajima Seibei.