The Japanese have elevated prostitution to a fine art. There are many grey areas - between pure hooker (who are usually Chinese or Phillipina girls) versus Geisha. Hostess bars plop a beautiful woman down - in between each business man - who put their hand on your knee, laugh at your jokes and pour your drinks. They then accompany you outside and hail a cab for you. But sex is never a part of the equation.
Lots of blond and buxom American and Europeans are imported for both hostess bars and strip joints, but only a pure bred Nippon Jin (Japanese) can be a Geisha (do don't believe that Shirley MacClaine movie!) Japanese actually take pride in their Geisha tradition.
I'm not going to take a moral stand here, but will try to point out some interesting facts and thoughts that this quote from Marc Canter highlights.
First of all, it's amazing what gets lost in the translation and the difficulty I am having in explaining the whole geisha thing really shows how different cultures can be.
I think almost all cultures have prostitution and I don't think Japan's sex industry is any different, but you're more likely to get a sex for money offer from Jr. High School girl in Shibuya than from a geisha.
I think geisha represent the polygamist past of Japan more than they represent prostitutes. Even one generation ago, many men had many women with whom they had children. One of my good friends has over 40 siblings, many of the mothers are geisha. Japan is still very arranged marriage oriented and until recently was almost entirely so. What was really happening in a marriage was two families negotiating a relationship that was solidified in the exchange of children. The geisha and other mistresses were often treated at part of the large extended family and were treated well and often publicly recognized. The children were not as recognized as the official children, but were also treated with a great deal of respect.
The geisha have gone through a variety of changes in their roles in the past and are now totally different from where they started out. I think the height of the geisha's role was when poor families would sell their young women to the okiya and the okiya would provide young women to the tea houses to take care of the powerful men. The powerful men would choose from these maiko their favorites and sponsor them to be geisha. The power men would support the geisha financially and indirectly the traditional dance and arts that the geisha performed. These days, people don't "sell" their children so most geisha become geisha to learn the tradition and to meet interesting people. Most people who go to tea houses can not afford to be a full sponsor of a geisha and corporate expense accounts pay for most of the drinks. People still sponsor geisha but it only usually works when both are truly in love and in many cases, this turns into a true marriage.
So, there are a lot of bars and even tea houses that are about prostitution. In fact there is even a service in Gion that provides prostitutes who double as geisha to tea houses for the foreigners who come to Kyoto thinking that geisha are prostitutes and insist on having sex. On the other hand, the bars that have evolved from the traditional tea houses and the old tea houses in Kyoto are still fairly legitimate places for people to meet future wives and for women to look for future husbands outside of the arranged marriage system.
I forget her name now, but there is a female academic who asserts that monogamy is a plot by the weak and poor men in Japan to get their fair share of women. She blames the drop in birthrates in Japan on this. She said that she would rather be the second wife of a wealthy man than the first wife of a poor man and that there weren't enough good men to go around now. ;-)
And as I said at the beginning of this post. I have a very torn moral stance here. I don't think it is fair that women are not treated equally in Japan and the "tradition" is not supportive of women's' rights. On the other hand, there are a lot of amazing things that tradition supports including a great deal of art and culture. The "value" of a man probably should not be defined by their wealth or their political influence. On the other hand, having children that you can't support is probably not a responsible thing to do. Then we can later about whether the fact that there are men who can't support their children is the fault of society or the men...