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Working Lives Kyoto

Umeka has been a geiko, as geisha are known in western Japan, since she was 16 years old.

She was encouraged to become a geisha by her father, who wanted his daughter to find a job that was traditionally Japanese.

Umeka adopted her name when she became a geiko. It means "plum happiness". She considers herself to be an independent businesswoman. Clients, who must be recommended by regulars, call to book her to attend banquets.

They take place in a teahouse in one of Kyoto's geiko districts, Kamishichiken. Umeka dances, plays traditional musical instruments, pours sake and makes witty conversation.

Looking the part is important for a geiko, who with their white make-up and elaborate outfits have been likened to living works of art.

Umeka has to wear kimonos that match the occasion and season and estimates she has nearly 200. Made by craftsmen, they can cost up to $12,000 each.