Many young women were brought into the profession at a young age. Some girls were as young as 3 or 5 when they became a maiko or apprentice geisha. However, older women are allowed to enter training as well and can become full geisha after just about a year of practice. In the past, however, training could last for years and develop across various stages of learning.
When a girl or woman becomes a maiko, she must give up all the conveniences of modern life. To learn their new job, they must enter an okiya or training house where they are taught by an oka-san or mother. Conditions in the okiya can be strict and severe, and if a maiko or full geisha offend the oka-san, she may be kicked out of her training or service for good.
Essentially, these women come to the oka-san in debt and are committed to her until their debt is repaid.
Unsurprisingly, men are forbidden to live in the okiya, and while a maiko or geisha can have a child, only girls are allowed to stay These daughters, called atotori, would often become geisha themselves. Protege who have sons must choose to send the boy away or leave altogether.