Yamamoto Yoko spent 24 years photographing geisha in the districts that represent the Tokyo Geisha communities of which there are many in modern day Tokyo, the best known being in the Shinbashi, Kagurazaka, Yoshi-cho and Asakusa areas.  These communities are trying to preserve the old Edo geisha ways but the traditions are gradually becoming more difficult to maintain.  The images document the generations of geisha from those born in the Meiji period (1868 - 1912) who adhered to and passed on the traditions of the Edo period to the present day geisha who are adapting to suit the times.  They were taken without staging a single scene.

The Edo geisha developed separately from their Kyoto equivalents, who are more well known in the West.  Their basic philosophies of live differ and although the 2 communities celebrate the same traditional Japanese festivals and seasonal events their ways of doing so are different.

The Edo or Tokyo Geisha first appeared during the Edo period in the Yoshiwara Pleasure Grounds in Tokyo, formerly known as Edo.  This was the area where the courtesans, known as Oiran worked and lived.  The geisha entertained the guests by singing, dancing and playing music, whilst they ate and drank before they met the courtesans.  They subsequently moved out from Yoshiwara to many other districts of Edo whether they lived and worked as "Machi Geisha" (Town Geisha).  

They were the leaders of fashion in Edo at the time and adopted a clean-cut style of dress and manner, sometimes even wearing the male "haori" coat and going without "tabi" socks in winter.  The concept of "iki" was created by them: "iki" is an aesthetic philosophy based on a sense of beauty where outward display is muted, concealing the deep feeling within.  The practice of this philosophy extends from ways of expressing emotion through to dress styles.

Geisha: Beyond the Painted Smile

Yoko's work was featured extensively in a travelling exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The galleries below feature some information about and reviews of the exhibitions.

Featured Images


Exhibition Galleries



Yoko's Lecture/Opening at the Asian Art Museum