So, wait, geishas are not prostitutes? Ah yes, good question.
From reading Memoirs of a Geisha I understood that there was a distinction between a geisha and a 'common' prostitute because Sayuri's sister was split from her when it was remarked that the former's beauty and intriguing grey eyes promoted her in caste to the level of a geisha trainee. Her sister was seen by the protagonist later in the book, wearing her bow in the front (unlike in the back as in the case of a geisha dressed by members of her Okiya), assumedly for easy removal for clients who were less concerned with tea parties, if you know what I mean. These houses, of varying levels of esteem, were all on the perifery of Kyoto where girls were raised as proverbial nuns, ironically, isolated from the outside world until they were ready to debut as full geisha. This process often lasted from the age of 13 to 21, but did vary on the needs of the house and the financial valuability of that particular fledgling.
It was actually 'counterfeit' geishas known in Yankie slang as "Geesha girls" (for that is what it may have sounded like when the ladies professed their desired title to the GIs) who instigated the wide-spred misconception to the West regarding geishas. The title once held in esteem as the quintessential artiste was now usurped by illiterate (oftentimes) prostitutes. Equally though, the misinformation that geishas do not sell sex at all probably arose when prostitution was finally made illegal in Japan in 1958. Previous to this, 'Mizuage' was the coming of age ceremony which involved the deflowering of the maiden by an extremely wealthy patron, the function of which was to provide her and her house with some capital as she embarked on the career as an artiste. Geisha training is expensive! This patron did not have any further relations with the lady who was now a bona fide Geisha upon completion off the ritualistic loss of her virginity. Yes, the Confucian mores allowed for a different set of codes that are still not obvious to people that are not aware of that context.
I love all these guaze-like layers of ambivalence!!!
Until then, love-you-long-tiiime!