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Do kisaengs (female Korean entertainers, sometimes described as analogous to geishas in Japan) still exist, and is it possible to watch a performance or book an evening with them? The Wikipedia article suggests they're somewhere between endangered and extinct, but couldn't find any sources more focused on tourism describing whether they still exist.

I'm open to traveling to South Korea or Japan, but not North Korea.

  • Tried to give this a more explicit title but I'm not fully satisfied. Feel free to edit/burn it. ;) – JoErNanO May 29 '15 at 19:26
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I'm an undergraduate in Korea (South). Quick answer for your question is "impossible" though you can find some people "acting" kisaeng (-_-?!)

There are 2 types of kisaeng in korea nowadays

  1. Real kisaeng They are who really worked(?) as kisaeng until 1940's but not anymore since kisaeng has become illegal "job" (1945 I can't find the exact bill related at the moment). However Korean government chose some famous kisaeng still alive and let them teach young people to learn kisaeng skills such as dancing, poems, drawing and so on in order to preserve the culture of kisaeng but for you it would be really hard to meet these people since there are very few left

  2. Who learned skills. They are the one you can find in Korea if you visit here http://www.koreanfolk.co.kr/multi/english/

In today's Korea people don't have a job called kisaeng but some remain as nationally approved kisaeng; this is somewhat like American Indians as I know there are no Indians in US but you can find some in some preserved places (this may not be true but to help you understand).

ki = 技 (hanja/Chinese character) = skilled
saeng = 生(Chinese character) = person

kisaeng == kinyo (hard to tell you correct pronunciation)
ki = same as above
nyo = 女(Chinese character) = female

You might find it curious that Koreans use Chinese characters to write Korean but during the Chosun dynasty (1392-1897), when kisaengs lived, people used Chinese characters for written language although the Korean alphabet (Hangul) was invented in 1443 by King Sejong.

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I didn't see any real kisaengs while in Korea, but while visiting one of the castles in Seoul, I saw a tourist dressed up as one. This was pointed out to me by a guide giving an English-language tour of the castle.

The blog post Queen, Maiden, or Gisaeng?: How to choose your Hanbok in your next photo trip confirms that it's possible for tourists to dress up as kisaengs (spelt as "Gisaeng" in the blog post):

Seoul (and the whole of Korea, for that matter) teems with places where you can try the Hanbok, Korea’s traditional attire. From the airport to tourist spots like palaces, traditional villages, and museums, the Hanbok experience is an ever present attraction which signals that you are, indeed, in Korea.

...

Not all Hanbok are created equal, though. During the Joseon period, one’s social status was made apparent through the kind of Hanbok one wore. And if you intend to relive your Hanbok fantasy down pat, accuracy is key. That is, would you want to appear as a queen, maiden or gisaeng in the next photo you’ll proudly post on Facebook (or any other social network you use)?

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