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The Japanese name for a "Geisha house" where maiko live. It has a convivial, family atmosphere where girls from their early to late teens live together - indeed they are, for all intense purposes, each other's family. Upon entering the world of the geisha, they have traditionally had to "divorce" themselves from their old family.

It is often wrongly thought that geisha and maiko live in the ochaya where they work. This is incorrect, as they have separate living quaters, where they are not allowed to entertain clients (and doubtless would not want to). Geisha usually live by themselves. Accomodation is provided free by the mama-san, or person who owns the okiya and teahouse. She also holds the geisha's contracts.

The okiya is strictly off-limits to men, except for those who are instrumental to the geisha world, such as hairdressers, kimono cleaners and dressers. Some geisha do have relationships but these are not with clients (unless they really wanted to) and in the privacy of their own home. Maiko normally leave the okiya at 18, in a ceremony called the erigaishi. Then they are free to find their own place to live.

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