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Traditional female entertainers who provide singing, dancing, conversation, games, and companionship to customers in certain restaurants. The total number of geisha in the 1920's was roughly 80,000. In the late 1980's geisha numbered around 10,000, but they are estimated today to number around a thousand. One reason for their current decline in number is the encroachment by Western-style bar hostesses. The profession of geisha is rather unusual in the Japanese entertainment business because women can make it a lifelong career. Since the premium is on artistic skills and conversational abilities rather than just youth and good looks, geisha may continue to work to an advanced age. When geisha marry, they leave their profession. While they are working their relations with men may be of several types. It is generally considered desirable to have a patron with whom the geisha is involved emotionally, sexually, and economically. Every geisha also tries to build up a clientele of dependable favorite customers. To become a geisha, lessons in various traditional arts -- classical dancing, playing the shamisen (a stringed instrument), and several styles of singing -- are required. The geisha system emerged around the mid-Edo period (1600-1868). By the 1700's the profession of geisha was associated with the government-licensed brothel quarters. From the end of the Edo period to the present, geisha have had considerable connection with politics, as the teahouses and restaurants that they are affiliated with provided convenient gathering places for political meetings. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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