The Sydney Morning Herald has a piece entitled “Behind the Masks“, featuring two geisha from a geisha house in Tokyo and discussing the modern life of geisha. (Via Japundit.)

In practice, the arts of the geisha tradition – the dances, the music of the banjo-like shamisen, the shrill singing, the light-hearted games, the serving of food and drink, the way of the kimono and the complex manners – are done as a devotion to Japanese-ness that is nigh on a religious rite.

In Japan geisha are regarded as keepers of important cultural rituals, not as elaborately tricked-up bar girls.

“The practice is hard and very exhausting,” says Noriye, smoothing her kimono as she lowers herself into kneeling position on the hard matting. As her guests succumb to numbness and rearrange their limbs into more comfortable positions, Noriye holds still.

I found this particularly interesting:

Noriye’s hope is that Memoirs of a Geisha, the movie that is having its world premiere in Tokyo on Tuesday, will inspire international interest and respect. Foreigners, who she sees now about twice a month, might be more inclined to engage a geisha because of it, she thinks. “I’ve heard that the geisha of Kyoto are not happy at all with the movie,” she says shaking her head at the lost opportunity to promote one of the most recognisably Japanese of icons.

According to the article, the geisha business is slowing down. While the Kyoto geisha seem unhappy with the book/movie–due to the controversy? the revelation of their secrets?–the Tokyo geisha apparently believe they’re good for business.