gei·​sha ˈgā-shə How to pronounce geisha (audio)
 also  ˈgē-
plural geisha or geishas
: a Japanese girl or woman who is trained to provide entertaining and lighthearted company especially for a man or a group of men

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In Japan, a geisha is a member of a professional class of women whose occupation is to entertain men. She must be adept at singing, dancing, and playing the samisen (a three-stringed musical instrument), in addition to being skilled at making conversation. The geisha system is thought to have emerged in the 17th century to provide a class of well-trained entertainers set apart from courtesans and prostitutes: though geisha sometimes had sexual relationships with clients, they were supposed to entertain primarily through their accomplishments. The numbers of geisha have declined from some 80,000 in the 1920s to a few thousand at present, almost all confined to Tokyo and Kyoto, where they are patronized by only the wealthiest businessmen and most influential politicians.

Examples of geisha in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web And in Kyoto, officials recently implemented a ban on tourist photography in certain historic areas following reports of visitors harassing geisha. Connor Sturges, Condé Nast Traveler, 7 May 2024 Like Japan’s geishas, their presence on special occasions was seen as a statement of class and wealth among the noble families of pre-independence India. Astha Rajvanshi, TIME, 2 May 2024 Her father commits suicide, so with no money or status, she is forced to become a geisha. Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 Apr. 2024 Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of a geisha on her way to her next appointment. John Clifford, Travel + Leisure, 20 Apr. 2024 The red lips against the white of the coat and snow remind me of the face of a geisha. Lizz Schumer, Peoplemag, 9 Mar. 2024 The city is a living testament to Japan’s past, with thousands of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, Zen gardens, palaces, and pagodas, not to mention artisans keeping traditional craft alive, and working geishas in the historic district of Gion. Ingrid Abramovitch, ELLE Decor, 7 Aug. 2023 There are estimated to be fewer than 1,000 geisha in Japan today. Time, 12 Jan. 2023 Since the 18th century, Japanese geisha have protected their skin from the constant duty of wearing heavy makeup by covering their faces first with bintsuke abura, a solid oil from the hazenoki tree that is applied like wax (and is also obligatory for sumo wrestlers, to finesse their topknots). New York Times, 7 May 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'geisha.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Japanese, from gei art + -sha person

First Known Use

1881, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of geisha was in 1881

Dictionary Entries Near geisha

Cite this Entry

“Geisha.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


gei·​sha ˈgā-shə How to pronounce geisha (audio)
plural geisha or geishas
: a Japanese woman who is trained to provide entertaining company for men

Japanese, from gei "art" and -sha "person"

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