Once numbering in the tens of thousands, there are less than 2,000 geishas in Japan today. Traditionally, being a geisha was a form of high art. With snow-white makeup (made from a lead-based powder), their plucked eyebrows replaced with thick, black ones (painted high on their foreheads) and their lips dyed with the red juice of the benibana plant, they were indeed living paintings.
While visiting Kyoto, Sue Ann Simon photographed this “Maiko” (an apprentice geisha). The word “geisha” means “arts person” or “one trained in the arts,” and geisha were not to be confused with consorts; they poured tea, played stringed instruments and didn’t look like anybody’s wife. Wives stayed home, cooked and raised children. Men (husbands) went out at night, drank sake and were waited on by works of art.