The charms of the Japanese singing-girl, or geisha, as the Japanese term her, have been dwelt on so often that we gladly leave them to her more ardent admirers. Deprived of her, Japanese social gatherings would lose much of their vivacity and pleasing unconstraint, and many a match, interesting to the gossips, would never be made; for quite a number of prominent men have shown their partiality for the fair warblers in the most practical of ways, namely, by marrying them. The singing-girl's talk, more even than her songs, helps her to such occasional good fortune; for she alone, of all classes of her countrywomen, has divined something of the art of conversation. Or the antecedents of the marriage may have been on this wise. A poor student becomes enamoured. His friends, hearing of what they deem evil courses, stop supplies. The singing-girl supports her lover, who thereupon passes brilliant examinations, and obtains an official post. They are married, and he rises to be one of the leading men in the empire, while she of course is a great lady, with her carriage and her weekly reception days. Such is the outline of more than one modern Japanese romance in real life.
Of late years the field of the singing-girl's operations has been limited by the fact that in official circles, the European banquet, with its familiar salmis and aspics and its intolerable after-dinner speeches, has well-nigh supplanted the native feast. Waiters in swallow-tails replace the damsels of the guitar and the wine-cup. The training of a singing-girl, which includes lessons in the art of dancing, often begins when she is seven years old. She is then practically engaged for a number of years, the career once entered on being difficult to quit, unless good fortune brings some wealthy lover able and willing to buy her out. There is a capitation tax of four yen per month on the actual singing-girls, and of half that sum on the little 'prentices. Such, at least, are the present rates in Tōkyō. They vary in the provinces.
Book recommended - The Geisha's Calling, in Inouye "Sketches of Tōkyō Life."