When two girls are bound together as sisters, they perform a ceremony like a wedding. Afterward they see each other almost as members of the same family, calling each other “Older Sister” and “Younger Sister” just as real family members do. Some geisha may not take the role as seriously as they should, but an older sister who does her job properly becomes the most important figure in a young geisha’s life.
She does a great deal more than just making sure her younger sister learns the proper way of blending embarrassment and laughter when a man tells a naughty joke, or helping her select the right grade of wax to use under her makeup. She must also make sure her younger sister attracts the notice of people she’ll need to know. She does this by taking her around Gion and presenting her to the mistresses of all the proper teahouses, to the man who makes wigs for stage performances, to the chefs at the important restaurants, and so on.
There’s certainly plenty of work in all of this. But introducing her younger sister around Gion during the day is only half of what an older sister must do. Because Gion is like a faint star that comes out in its fullest beauty only after the sun has set. At night the older sister must take her younger sister with her to entertain, in order to introduce her to the customers and patrons she’s come to know over the years. She says to them, “Oh, have you met my new younger sister, So-and-so?
Please be sure to remember her name, because she’s going to be a big star! And please permit her to call on you the next time you visit Gion. ” Of course, few men pay high fees to spend the evening chatting with a fourteen-year-old; so this customer probably won’t, in fact, summon the young girl on his next visit. But the older sister and the mistress of the teahouse will continue to push her on him until he does. If it turns out he doesn’t like her for some reason . . . well, that’s another story; but otherwise, he’ll probably