These photos would have been taken during what is generally known as the golden age of geisha.
The literal translation of the word “geisha” is closer to the term “artist.” They’ve never been officially defined as prostitutes (and not all were sex workers), although that is the popular view that came to define them.
A geisha in traditional garb, circa 1890.
This 1868 portrait shows off the obi — the sash portion of a kimono — which ties at back and can be styled in many different elaborate fashions.
Geisha trained to specialize in certain arts such as dance or music. Calligraphy was a rarer skill.
An 1885 shot of a geisha serving tea.
Not all geisha had sex with their clients; some were strictly entertainers.
A geisha poses with a koto, a harp-like traditional instrument.
Geisha were carefully trained in the art of the tea ceremony, serving, and entertaining.
1885: A geisha plays the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument.
Because their hairstyles could be so elaborate (and were meant to last for several days), geisha slept with head rests to keep their hair from touching anything.
Geisha had to stick to strict rules when it came to their appearance.
Geishas playing Hanetuki — essentially Japanese badminton.