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In the West, “geisha” is a winking word, a two-syllable invocation of Japan’s mysterious, ritualistic approach to recreational sex. Geishas do indeed provide some of their clients with sexual favors, but in fast-paced contemporary Japan there are quicker, easier ways to make money from lecherous businessmen than spending years learning the elaborate traditions of the geisha trade. Today, the median age for Kyoto and Tokyo’s dwindling number of geishas is over 40, and these women are now as much repositories of cultural tradition as they are elegantly dressed playmates. For her book Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art, D.C.-based National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb managed to get extraordinary access to the geisha districts, which are usually off-limits to foreigners, non-geisha women, and pretty much everyone else who’s not a longtime regular or a friend of someone who is. Her remarkable photographs show both geisha life behind the scenes and the nearly comic contrast between the venerable lifestyle and the modern Japan of bullet trains, high-tech vending machines, and kiddie kitsch. Cobb discusses her book at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 11, at Arise Gallery, 6925 Willow St. NW. Free. (202) 291-0770. (Mark Jenkins)