Secret World

KYOTO, Japan, Jan 22, 2007 (AFP) – In these days of the Internet, cellphones and iPods, few Japanese girls still dream of becoming a geisha with a strict life of training and duties. Facing growing competition from nightclubs and karaoke, Kyoto’s geisha are having to adapt to survive. At one tea house in Japan’s ancient capital, Tokyo correspondent Daniel Rook meets trainee geisha Ichimame whose Internet blog is giving a rare insight into a secretive world and providing inspiration for teenagers thinking about following in her footsteps.

Ichimame’s life is already an endless blur of parties, visits to the hairdresser, kimono fittings, lessons in traditional dance, music and tea ceremony, and countless hours in front of the mirror painting her face chalk white and her lips impossibly red.

Even so the Japanese 18-year-old still manages to find the time to keep what is probably the first Internet blog by an apprentice geisha, opening a small window onto a world shrouded in mystery and often misunderstood.

The elite entertainers of Japan’s pleasure quarters have for centuries been fawning over wealthy guests in the cosy confines of teahouses and restaurants.

Now, facing growing competition from nightclubs, karaoke and hostess bars, Kyoto’s geisha are gradually joining the 21st century with websites, English lessons and gradually less rigid introduction rules.

Some do modelling or even go on overseas tours.

Wedged in a row of wooden buildings on a narrow street in Kamishichiken, the oldest of Kyoto’s five geisha distr