In the early Tokugawa period, geiko ("arts child": 芸子) were dancing girls who were too young to be called geisha (accomplished person: 芸者) but too old (more than twenty years of age) to be called odoriko (dancing girl: 踊り子). Although some geiko operated as illegal prostitutes, most were entertainers, not indentured sex workers (yûjo: 遊女). Geiko was a term preferred in the Kamigata region; however, by the nineteenth century, the term geiko became synonymous with geisha.
At first, in the seventeenth century, only males were geisha. Mostly, they were taikomochi ("drum carriers"), male comics and musicians of the pleasure quarters who danced, sang, told jokes, and recounted stories, often hired to entertain at parties with courtesans, maids, and female bathhouse attendants. Their name derives from the use of taiko (small hand-drums: 鼓 also 皷) often used as they entertained. The first female geisha was reputedly the yujô Kasen of the Ôgiya ("House of the fan") brothel in Yoshiwara,, Edo, who had paid off her debts and began an entertainment business around 1761. Geiko/geisha could not marry without sacrificing their careers, although some did have children through liasons generally of their own choosing. All were adept, of course, at pampering the male ego. Many Japanese viewed geiko/geisha as "more Japanese" than nearly any other group (and still do today). Geiko were often trend setters in deportment and dress. As entertainers, they were admired for a refined eroticism and sophisticated accomplishment in music, dance, tea service, poetry, and calligraphy, gained through years of disciplined education and practice.
Portraits of geiko ("arts child": 芸子) in Kamigata (Kyoto-Osaka) printmaking are among the rarities in that region's production of ukiyo-e. This is even more the case with surimono, privately issued prints for notable occasions or in response to special commissions.
Three geiko are preparing for the New Year. One geiko holds a potted fukujusô (福壽草, bot., Adonis amuraisis or amurensis), which translates into "plant of good fortune and long life." The fukujusô blooms in very early February in Japan, signaling that winter is ending and spring is near. The poems are signed by the geiko who also included their house names. The publisher's name is given as surimono-shi Wasa Toy and the printer as suri Dazaemon.
Very few surimono by Yoshitaki are known.
This impression retains excellent color and is printed in double-ôban format, making it a most impressive design. The vertical creases are due to the original presentation of the surimono, which was folded and enclosed in a wrapper; a few natural paper "chain lines" are also visible.