ImageWhether we’ve read it or not, the 1997 novel Memoirs of a Geisha by American author Arthur Golden is a story we’re all familiar with. After all, the book not only became a bestseller, it drew the attention of Rob Marshall, who made it into a motion picture that earned six Academy Award nominations.

What few Westerners know, however, is what the definition of a geisha actually is. According to a review on Amazon.com, it’s a “rigorous” profession. And according to dictionary.com, it’s “a Japanese woman trained as a professional singer, dancer and companion of men.”  

While the geisha culture isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, it does still exist in certain parts of Japan. One such place is beautifully balanced Kyoto, which was the country’s capital for more than 1,000 years.

But think again if you think you can just take it all in by walking around the geisha districts of Kyoto.

“There is no guarantee you will see a geisha,” says Ms. Hisae Komatsu, a travel specialist in Japan, “unless you are with a guide like ours.”

Our guide is one of the foremost Western experts on geisha — a man who has lived in Kyoto for more than 20 years, was married to a former geisha, studies Japanese arts and is a lecturer on Geisha Studies at Kansai University.

“The travelers I’ve talked to are blown away by the elegance and beauty of it all,” says Hisae. “It’s such a unique experience. You not only get to have a conversation with a real geisha, you have access to someone who can answer any question about a geisha’s life.”