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Understanding the Info, Historical past & Myths

Have you ever ever had the prospect to observe the film: ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’? Or at the very least learn the ebook? I’ve achieved each at a younger age and I immediately fell in love with Japan’s geisha as I witnessed their distinctive magnificence, grace, and self-discipline. The truth is, ever since then, I’ve been deeply enamored by their mystifying world — which, fortunately, has nonetheless survived as much as this present day!

I say ‘survived’ as a result of I used to be additionally within the samurai (Japan’s olden warriors who sometimes serve a feudal lord or daimyo). I badly wished to witness their noble lifestyle; nonetheless, it stumbled upon the upsetting incontrovertible fact that they not exist.
Apparently, their social class has died down across the late 1800s after the emperor favored a contemporary western-style military. Right now, there could also be descendants and individuals who nonetheless attempt to follow samurai swordsmanship, BUT it’s not the identical given how the entire samurai way of life and system are non-existent anymore.

The geisha custom just isn’t as previous because the samurai but it surely IS previous and I need to say… I’ve developed some form of delicate concern that they could finally disappear too — which I hope to goodness, they received’t. This fear of mine makes a little bit of sense as a result of there aren’t that a lot of them anymore. To place it into numbers, again within the Twenties geishas numbered round 80,000. The present quantity? It’s now estimated to be just one,000 to 2,000! Due to this, I’ve truly made ‘assembly or seeing a legit geisha‘ as an merchandise on the very prime of my bucket listing.

Fortunately, I’ve already made that dream come true from a few of the many journeys I’ve achieved to Japan! As an example, I talked to a geisha in Tokyo and Kyoto over a dinner banquet, I performed video games with 2 younger senior maiko in Niigata, I caught sight of a official maiko (who was on her method to work) in one among Kyoto’s slim alleys, and I even watched two younger Japanese maikos carry out in Gion Nook amongst many others.

I undoubtedly really feel fortunate for having the prospect to endure these breathtaking experiences, and now that I’ve met and seen them, my want for his or her practices to proceed for eternity has been strengthened much more! It’s also my want that extra folks would get to know their custom — and the true one at that.

I say this as a result of there’s a LOT of misunderstandings concerning the geisha career. The truth is, ‘Memoirs of a Geishais a main instance of this! Because it was made in Hollywood, it certainly had a number of elements that had been false (if not overly romanticized) thereby contributing to the already rising misconceptions of the tradition. Because of my discussions with a number of geishas, in addition to to my lengthy analysis sprees, I’ve come to be taught MORE of the reality.

Right now, I might be imparting that data with you in order that you can also be cleared of any misconceptions that you’ll have about them.

~ Topmost photograph from Shutterstock

Geisha Info

» What’s a Geisha?

A geisha, which interprets to English as “performing artist” or “artisan”, is a high-class skilled and conventional feminine entertainer in Japan educated in numerous types of artwork. Within the west of Japan akin to in Kyoto, they use one other title which is geiko. Whereas within the Kanto space (round Tokyo), they name them geigi. For Tokyo and different locations, they simply generally use the phrase geisha.

For the sake of consistency on this article, I’ll use the phrase geisha. Moreover, it’s a widely known time period that’s used to embody each that of western Japan’s geiko/geigi and Tokyo’s geisha.

Geishas are normally employed to take care of company (who’re predominantly and historically male) throughout banquets, meals, events, and different events as they show their expertise by means of numerous methods akin to dancing to a tune performed with a shamisen (a Japanese stringed instrument), initiating video games, doing the artwork of dialog, and extra.

For these affairs, they meet up with their company at an ochaya* (tea home) or at a ryōtei (conventional Japanese restaurant) and cost their prospects by the hour with flat charges.

Ochaya are extremely unique locations that usually solely grant entry to common or trusted prospects. That is primarily due to how they function: they don’t invoice their company on the finish of the night, however reasonably as soon as a month for all of the bills accrued.

That being mentioned, there’s a particular stage of belief concerned. As an example, not nearly anybody can go as much as an ochaya with out being launched to it first by an already present buyer (and that present buyer would basically danger their repute by trusting the habits of the individual that they’re introducing to the ochaya). Going by this prepare of thought, hiring a geisha to have a dinner banquet with just isn’t simple particularly in case you’re not Japanese and never well-connected, as it’s unique AND costly.

Thankfully, most ochaya have lessened their restrictions prior to now years, and vacationers can now have a geisha dinner in the event that they undergo partnered journey companies and resorts. Nevertheless, you’ll nonetheless want to arrange a substantial price range for this as a result of a full dinner could be value round 50,000 yen and up ($470~ or Php 22,500~) per geisha or maiko. This does NOT embrace dinner but which begins at 10,000 yen ($95~ or Php 4,500~), in addition to an interpreter in case you don’t know find out how to communicate Japanese (since geishas and maikos don’t prepare in English dialog).

Wish to meet with a geisha?

Come and take a look at these encounters and/or dinner actions that you are able to do both in Nagoya or Tokyo! (English translators included).

TRIVIA: Some folks will say that it’s a ‘waste’ of cash to have a geisha dinner in case you don’t communicate Japanese — the magic of all of it could stop to exist! They are saying that it’s because you’ll be lacking out on one among their finest skills: dialog or witty banter.

Irrespective of the case, that is all as much as you in fact! The best way I see it, it’d certainly be a waste of cash, BUT I don’t assume it’s a nasty concept to do it anyway and get an interpreter (higher but, drag alongside your Japanese pal). And in case you’re up for it, there are additionally already a number of educated and acknowledged foreigner geisha in Japan who can communicate English. I went by means of this expertise myself and I loved it a lot! (To be taught extra about these fashionable foreigner geishas, go right here).

Why are geisha costly to ebook?!

To begin with, not solely is their coaching lengthy, meticulous, and expensive (which they need to slowly pay again to their okiya or geisha home), however their complete apparel (handmade kimono that are designed only for them) are expensive too — it will possibly begin at $10,000!

» What Is a Maiko?

A maiko, which interprets to English as “dancing baby”, is an apprentice geisha.

Traditionally, a maiko begins her coaching at a younger age of round 3 or 5 years previous. However now, their coaching begins at a a lot later date. In Kyoto, they begin at 15 or 16, and in Tokyo, they begin at 18.

However, any woman who needs to enter the group doesn’t have to start as a maiko as a result of it’s mentioned that they’ll already proceed to be a geisha. Nonetheless and the identical, they’re required to do at the very least a yr’s value of coaching earlier than debuting as a full-fledged geisha. For girls who’re aged 21 to 23 and above, they’re deemed to be too previous to change into maikos in order that they already change into a geisha after they get accepted to the group — once more, nonetheless with coaching beforehand.

In Tokyo, maikos are known as as hangyoku (“half jewel”) and so they can stay to be so till they’re 23. For the sake of consistency on this article, I’ll use the phrase maiko.

Historical past of Geisha

» The First Geisha

Geishas began to look within the pleasure quarters of Japan earlier than the flip of the 18th century — however one attention-grabbing incontrovertible fact that you will need to know is that the primary geishas had been truly males, known as taikomochi (drum or taiko-bearer, although not all of them used this Japanese drum) or hōkan (jester).

These male geishas principally began as ‘jesters’. They attended to daimyo (feudal lords) within the thirteenth century and offered leisure, if not assist advise their lord about navy methods. Within the sixteenth century, they grew to become storytellers (otogishu or hanashishu) and even battled alongside their lord at occasions. When peace started within the seventeenth century, they reasonably needed to change their position to being pure entertainers.

The primary feminine geisha (onna) appeared round 1751 and he or she was known as a geiko (which now stays to be the time period for geisha in Kyoto). Finally, teenage odoriko who had been expensively-trained “dancing women” or dancers-for-hire began to look as nicely.

By the top of the 18th century, feminine geisha outnumbered the males and the latter’s roles have as soon as once more modified — this time round, as assistants to the ladies throughout events. As time handed additional on, being a geisha was primarily considered a feminine occupation. It grew to become so widespread that quite a lot of them began to work primarily as entertainers. Anybody who was promoting intercourse (which was towards their supposed form of work) had been imprisoned with the intention to defend the oiran who had been licensed high-class courtesans or prostitutes at the moment.

Right now, there are solely about 8 taikomochi in Japan — 4 in Tokyo, 1 in Kyoto, and the remainder are scattered across the nation.

UPDATE: I used to be instructed that as of 2012, there exists a working geisha who additionally owns an ‘okiya’ and he’s male! His title is Eitaro, dubbed as Japan’s solely male geisha who performs as a feminine dancer, and he’s present in Tokyo’s Omori district.

When World Conflict II started, geishas began to say no. They needed to shut their okiya (geisha homes) and the teahouses, in addition to bars, needed to shut store as nicely. In consequence, they went to different locations in Japan for security or for work (akin to in factories, and so on.). It didn’t assist both that some prostitutes began to confer with themselves as “geisha women” to American navy males.

Nonetheless, when the battle ended, the returning geishas made it a degree to reinstate their conventional requirements as highly-skilled entertainers, and on the identical time, they proposed elevated rights for his or her career.

» Is an Oiran a Geisha?

By no means! As I’ve beforehand talked about, the geishas set themselves other than oirans who had been high-ranking courtesans.

In Japanese historical past, courtesans have completely different ranks and oiran had been thought-about larger in standing than the frequent prostitutes generally known as yūjo (lady of delight). The oiran had been even recognized for his or her exclusivity as they serviced higher clientele at exorbitant costs; in any case, even when they had been engaged in prostitution, they had been extremely expert in numerous conventional arts. The truth is, the highest-ranking oiran even has a say within the prospects that they wish to absorb.

In 1800, nonetheless, the oiran slowly fell out of demand when rich Japanese males and retailers began to choose geishas as their companion of selection on account of their ‘stylish’ and fashionable demeanor..

Merely put: the rise of the geisha was the autumn of the oiran.

The numbers of oiran steadily declined after which vanished when Japan outlawed prostitution in 1956. Right now, there are solely oiran “reenactors” who proceed to carry out in Japan (principally in Kyoto) — however they don’t present courtesan companies, they principally do reveals and parades generally known as oiran dōchū.

Left & center photograph by: Japanexperterna / CC | Proper photograph by: Keisuke Makino / CC

Right now’s Geisha

» Present quantity

The geisha custom is dwindling on account of its exclusivity, costly value, and conventional kind; nonetheless, it’s in Kyoto the place it stays to be the strongest at the moment. Kyoto can be the head space the place assembly geishas stays to be one of the best and most prestigious in its 5 hanamachi (geisha districts or “flower cities”), specifically: Gion Kōbu, Ponto-chō, Kamishichiken, Gion Higashi, and Miyagawa-chō.

If now we have to place it into numbers, as I’ve beforehand talked about, there solely about 1,000 to 2,000 geisha now, and they’re present in a number of cities throughout Japan — Kyoto, Tokyo (with well-known hanamachi of Shimbashi, Asakusa, and Kagurazaka) and Kanazawa. It’s mentioned that there are about 300 in Kyoto — however the precise numbers there in addition to in different areas are unknown to us outsiders.

Talking of hanamachi, these are locations which are typically known as the ‘flower and willow world’ (karyukai). On condition that they’re speckled with okiya and ochaya institutions which are owned and run by ladies, all the facility is held by females. Males in these districts are reasonably primarily artisans, dressers, or wig makers. If I’ll add, youngsters who’re women are additionally most well-liked in order that they’ll later tackle the enterprise — apparently sufficient, it is a trait that’s in distinction to the remainder of Japan.

» Foreigner or Non-Japanese Geisha

So as to sustain with the occasions, some okiya have been accepting international nationals as geishas. To date there are only some of them which were admitted and under are their Japanese names. (Knowledge under is as of 2016.)

  1. Ibu — Debuted in Anjō of Aichi Prefecture within the Ichikoma okiya on October 5, 2010
    • Eve is initially from Ukraine [Retired ~ source]
  2. Juri — Debuted within the resort city of Yugawara in Kanagawa prefecture
    • Maria is initially from Peru [Unsure if still working or retired ~ source]
  3. Fukutarō — Debuted in Izu-Nagaoka district of Shizuoka Prefecture in 2011
    • Isabella Onou is initially from Romania [Retired ~ source]
  4. Sayuki — Debuted in Asakusa district of Tokyo in 2007 and have become the primary registered international geisha in Japan. In 2011, she has been disassociated with the Asakusa Geisha Affiliation and has since labored independently in Fukugawa district.
    • Fiona Graham is initially from Australia [Working ~ source]
  5. Rinka — Debuted in Shimoda of Shizuoka Prefecture on September 2011
    • Zhang Xue is initially from China [Unsure if still working or retired ~ source]
  6. Mutsuki — Debuted in Shinagawa district of Tokyo
    • Yixin is initially from China [Working ~ source]
  7. Kimicho — Debuted in Oimachi district of Shinagawa, Tokyo on August 2015
    • Sydney Stephens is initially from America [Retired in 2017 due to personal reasons ~ source]

I had the pleasure of assembly and speaking to Kimicho! Learn concerning the interview right here.

You’ll not see foreigner or non- Japanese geishas admitted (but) in Kyoto since they nonetheless stay to be strictly conventional. However, it’s nice to see that the remainder of Japan is slowly opening its geisha custom to others who love the tradition, even when they aren’t of Japanese descent!

High Myths

1 MYTH: Geishas are prostitutes.
TRUTH: Geishas are NOT prostitutes.
They’re and all the time might be highly-skilled entertainers. It helps to notice as nicely that prostitution is illegitimate in Japan ever since 1956. Plus, though there have been a few of them within the olden occasions who provided intercourse to their purchasers, it helps to notice that it was NOT part of their true conventional perform or coaching — name them rebels if you’ll, and so they may simply be so since as I’ve mentioned beforehand, a geisha is imprisoned prior to now ought to they ever supply intercourse to others casually (additionally as a method to defend the oiran).

In fact, a geisha is free to pursue private relationships with any man that she meets by means of work; however such would almost certainly by no means be informal nor will it ever be her objective for such an interplay. They reside in a geisha district (hanamachi) which is a really closely-knit group, and given how significantly they worth their repute, they’d all the time choose their relationships fastidiously. Ought to they ever fall in love and wish to marry, then generally they have to retire as a result of geishas (most particularly in Kyoto) are anticipated to be single. However, there are actually quite a lot of locations in Japan like Tokyo that enable married, divorced, and/or ladies with youngsters to change into geishas.

2 MYTH: Geishas have private relationships with a patron or danna.
TRUTH: That is NOT true at the moment.
It might have been a convention prior to now for them to take a danna or a patron who was rich sufficient to help the bills associated to her coaching and different prices with the intention to have a private relationship in return (which was not inherently sexual). However at the moment, it is extremely uncommon for a geisha to have a private relationship with a danna, and will they ever have one (which is uncommon as a result of most of them like to be autonomous now), it’s primarily due to the patron’s want to assist lengthen the geisha arts and traditions — nothing extra. Once more, a geisha and her danna can fall in love however intimacy is rarely considered as an alternate for the danna’s monetary help.

3 MYTH: Younger women are offered to okiya (geisha homes) by their dad and mom due to poverty.
TRUTH: It might have occurred approach prior to now, however these days, NO.
Right now, there aren’t any younger women offered to an okiya on account of poverty; in any case, it’s extra of a private profession selection with the intention to change into one. The truth is, quite a lot of women have to influence their dad and mom at the moment with the intention to allow them to change into a maiko/geisha. As soon as a woman’s dad and mom consent to it, she should be interviewed first by the affiliation in addition to the feminine homeowners of the okiya (geisha home) earlier than being accepted.

4 MYTH: Geishas are led by males and cash (as portrayed within the film: Memoirs of a Geisha).
TRUTH: That is NOT true.
It helps to all the time do not forget that the film was primarily fictional and set to be ‘sellable’ to audiences. (Effectively, hiya Hollywood!). Being a geisha is like being an artist or a performer — it’s a good career. And very similar to any profession you pursue in life that you’re keen about, you do it since you adore it whereas additionally incomes your dwelling from it. They don’t go round chasing after males both; it simply so occurs that the those who they current their artwork and performances to are predominantly males.

5 MYTH: Maiko goes by means of mizuage whereby a patron would pay to take their virginity. (As additionally seen in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’).
TRUTH: Nope, under no circumstances!
This type of mizuage was truly a ceremony achieved by younger courtesans and prostitutes prior to now — NOT by maikos. Although there are speculations that this mizuage (taking of the virginity) was achieved by some maikos prior to now, what’s vital to recollect is that that is NOT achieved at the moment nor was it ever historically accepted to be achieved by geishas for his or her maikos. The one form of mizuage that maikos have achieved was a ceremony whereby older geishas would symbolically lower the topknot of the maiko’s hair to indicate her coming of age (of changing into an grownup).

The right way to Change into a Geisha

Coaching to change into a geisha through which you begin as a maiko begins at 15 or 16 in Kyoto and 18 in Tokyo (prior to now, it began at 3 – 5 years previous). Nowadays, women will need to have at the very least graduated from center college (besides Kyoto who has particular legal guidelines for it) earlier than they’ll make the choice to coach as a maiko and finally change into a geisha.

Nevertheless, it’s extra frequent for younger Japanese ladies to start out coaching after highschool or faculty, and much more would start later. If they’re above 21 to 23, they’ll already begin as a geisha (with a yr’s coaching) since they’re too previous to be a maiko. Having mentioned that, one doesn’t have to start out as a maiko since they’ll already begin to prepare as a geisha — however in fact, the attract of the general complete coaching course of as you progress from a maiko to a full-fledged geisha could be fairly an expertise. It could additionally add extra to at least one’s hype or repute locally.

So with the intention to change into a geisha, when you attain the age requirement, you or your guardian must contact, for instance, Ookini Zaidan or the guild for all of Kyoto’s hanamachi companies. You will need to fulfill their different primary necessities, specifically: you will need to not be taller than 160cm, you’re at the very least 43kg in weight, are prepared to coach within the conventional arts for years with out contact with your loved ones, and so on. As soon as they contemplate you candidate, they’ll ship out your profile to okiya homes that is perhaps fascinated with coaching you.

NOTE: An okiya will shoulder all of your bills for meals, coaching, garments, and so on. as soon as you’re accepted by them. From that time onward, you’re bonded by a contract, and if you begin working, you possibly can slowly repay these money owed.

If you’re non-Japanese, Kyoto is a tough atmosphere to crack in so that you’re higher off making use of to different locations like Tokyo. If not making use of to an okiya your self, will probably be loads higher if somebody who can introduce you to an okasan or a mom of an okiya/geisha home. Talking of which, do NOT attempt to apply in case you don’t know the Japanese language but; in any other case, completely no okiya will take you!

» Maiko Coaching

Photographs by: My Kyoto Picture / CC

There are a number of phases to endure in case you first prepare as a maiko. To begin with, the stage of…

Shikomi. As you’re taken in, you’ll first be considered a shikomi or somebody who principally works as a helper for the okiya as you do errands, assist different geishas and maikos gown up, and so on. Throughout this stage, you’re additionally slowly being educated into the approach to life. Instance: you’ll be taught to regulate to carrying a conventional yukata as regular clothes, develop out your hair, be taught the correct demeanor, go to high school (kaburejo or nyokobo) to be taught the humanities of the shamisen instrument, dance, tea ceremony, and so on.
» This could final for about 6 months earlier than going to the following stage.

Minarai. At this level, you’ll begin your formal coaching and be considered a minarai which accurately means “studying by watching”. On this stage, you’ll have an older geisha for a mentor whom you’ll name onēsan (sister) and this might be a bond that may keep for all times. You’re then anticipated to accompany your onesan to ozashiki (dinner banquet occasions) so as to sit and observe her in addition to different geishas and maikos work together with the purchasers. By way of this manner, you’ll not solely acquire actual insights into the job however additionally, you will acquire the prospect to know potential purchasers. At occasions, your onesan will mean you can carry out however she’s going to maintain an in depth eye on you. (FYI: Oftentimes, you’ll know in case you noticed an actual maiko or geisha if you see them being accompanied by a singular shikomi or minarai wearing a easy kimono or yukata with no make-up or equipment on.)
» This coaching interval begins a month earlier than your official debut as a maiko.

Misedashi. That is your official debut as a maiko and this ceremony is sort of a grand public celebration whereby your title might be unfold out throughout the hanamachi. Additionally, you will endure a ritual known as as sansankudo (additionally achieved in marriage ceremony ceremonies) the place you alternate cups together with your onesan, different geishas, and senior maikos — individuals who you are actually sure to. Afterward, you are actually free to carry your personal events and carry out in festivals; however you’ll all the time be a part of your onesan at her occasions and additionally, you will proceed studying from her.
» Usually, this stage will final about 4 to five years.

» Debuting as a Geisha

Picture by: My Kyoto Picture / CC

Erikae. Across the age of 21 to 23, you’ll be promoted as a full-fledged geisha in yet one more public ceremony known as erikae or “turning of the collar” whereby because the title implies, they’ll flip your crimson collar to white as an indication of your transition to maturity from that of a maiko woman right into a geisha lady.

Geisha. You’ll proceed finding out, working, and holding ozashiki banquets till you repay your money owed to your okiya. You could possibly additionally tackle a minarai/maiko beneath your wing. When your money owed to your okiya are settled, you could select to maneuver out, work independently, or proceed dwelling within the okiya.

Hiki-iwai. It is a celebration that marks your retirement as a geisha, and it may be due to numerous causes: you wish to give up the geisha life, you wish to pursue one other profession, you’re too previous to work publicly, you wish to get married, otherwise you wish to change into an okami-san (proprietress of both an ochaya or okiya).

Realistically-speaking nonetheless, not quite a lot of maikos make it to the geisha stage as a result of the approach to life could be fairly tough. Additionally, as soon as somebody does change into a geisha, it’s additionally frequent for them to retire inside 5 years of their debut.

Anyhow, geishas and maikos alike are celebrated and so they have a HUGE fanbase — not solely in Japan however worldwide too!

The right way to Determine Geisha & Maiko

As you go to Japan, be aware of the under factors that will help you shortly differentiate a geisha from their apprentice (maiko):

» Age

As I’ve already mentioned, maikos normally begin their coaching at a younger age (15 to 16 for Kyoto and 18 for Tokyo) so they’re much youthful than a full-fledged geisha who typically begin at round 21 to 23.

» Make-up

.On a typical day, a maiko might be seen carrying essentially the most recognizable characteristic of geishas: the total white face make-up. Geisha, alternatively, do NOT have this make-up on until they’ll do a particular efficiency or dinner banquet.

Maikos will all the time have a noticeable white band of unpainted pores and skin on their hairline (since they don’t put on wigs) and their eyebrows might be shaded in crimson or pink, their cheeks blushed, and their eyes outlined with black eyeliner and crimson eyeshadow. In the course of the early phases of their coaching, ‘junior’ maikos (or minarai) will solely have their decrease lip painted in crimson, and as they advance (as ‘senior’ maikos), each of their lips might be painted however solely in a skinny line.

For geisha who must have their face painted after they work, other than having no seen a part of uncovered pores and skin close to their hairline (on condition that they put on wigs), their eyebrows may also solely have a faint shade of crimson, their eyes outlined in black (if a ‘senior’ geisha) or with a slight crimson (in the event that they’re a ‘junior’ geisha) and their lips painted totally in crimson.

Left photograph by: Joe Baz / CC | Circle & proper photograph by: Annie Guilloret / CC

NOTE: This white make-up totally covers the geisha or maiko’s face, neck, and chest — aside from the nape (known as komata or the again of an individual’s neck) which they’ll ensure is seen after they would, afterward, put on their kimono (as seen in a few of the images on the earlier a part of this put up). This half is taken into account to be a historically erotic space in Japan in order that they intensify this sensuality by usually leaving an inverted “V” form on a geisha and an inverted “W” form (sanbonashi) on those that simply debuted as maikos. This type is named as eri-ashi or eriashi.

TRIVIA: Within the olden occasions, geishas practiced ohaguro or the Japanese customized of blackening one’s enamel and it lasted till the top of the Meiji interval (although at occasions, there are nonetheless some Kyoto geiko at the moment who generally have pitch-black enamel). In these occasions, pitch-black objects had been considered lovely so that they had their enamel blackened particularly when they’re coming of age as an indication of maturity and sweetness (women, boys, and even nobles did it too).


» Hair

Geishas normally put on wigs, whereas maikos have their hair styled naturally. A geisha’s wig and a maiko’s pure hair are usually styled by highly-skilled artisans. These days, nonetheless, conventional hairstyling is slowly phasing out as a result of it will possibly generally result in balding on the highest of their head. However, it stays to be practiced.

Maikos have their hair styled within the wareshinobu type consisting of two “wings” and a giant bun on the heart; however when a maiko turns senior, she’s going to placed on an ofuku coiffure and this normally begins after 2 to three years of being a maiko (the one distinction with the wareshinobu type is how the ofuku type has an oblong piece of material pinned on the backside of the bun with no crimson material protruding).

The wig worn by geisha is named katsura that’s styled within the taka shimada coiffure. At occasions, this wig can change and styled right into a kyoufuu shimada type. In occasions when they aren’t carrying a wig, geishas put up a yohatsu coiffure which accurately means ‘western type’ since it’s modeled to western updo’s or perms.

Left photograph by: My Kyoto Picture / CC | Proper photograph by: Hiromu Aoki / CC

TRIVIA: All maikos have their hair styled elaborately each week. To maintain their coiffure intact, maikos sleep with their necks on small helps or particular pillows known as as takamakura. I can’t discover a picture on-line that I’m allowed to make use of however in case you’ve watched the film Memoirs of a Geisha, you’ll know what I’m speaking about.

HAIR ORNAMENTS. Maikos put on extra elaborate ornamental hair ornaments known as as kanzashi and the designs can differ relying on the stage of coaching that they’re at present in. A primary-year maiko will put on shidare-kanzashi that flows down the whole aspect of their face from her hair to her chin, symbolizing their youth. A junior maiko can have a kanakodome or particular hair decoration in addition to a crimson piece of silk (signifying that she’s nonetheless a baby) on the middle of her bun together with quite a lot of hair ornaments, notably a daikin (most important entrance kanzashi), a giant seasonal kanzashi (worn on the left a part of her hair) and a katsuyama bridge (a giant crown-like kanzashi positioned in entrance of the bun). For senior maikos, essentially the most notable change is that they’ll cease carrying the katsuyama bridge and begin carrying colourful kushi (comb that’s much less ornamental than a katsuyama bridge, thus signifying maturity).

In distinction, geishas put on less complicated kanzashi or smaller hair ornaments like a kushi (comb-shaped kanzashi), maezashi (small hairpins), tama kanzashi (single-colored bead hairpin), and hanemottoi (silver paper wires atop the hair).

That is known as an “aisatsu” which is principally the greeting or introduction achieved by both a maiko or geisha earlier than the beginning of their dance efficiency at an ozashiki banquet.

Photographs by: My Kyoto Picture / CC


» Outfit & Footwear

KIMONO. A maiko normally wears a colorfully-designed hikizuri kimono (Japanese conventional garment) that has furisode or long-sleeves garment that just about contact the bottom (generally worn by single ladies), together with a wider, longer, and heavier obi (sash) that’s set to seem like a bow because it drapes all the way down to their again displaying the top which has the kamon or the emblem of the maiko’s okiya or geisha home — this obi is definitely known as as a darara obi. A maiko’s collar can be a definite characteristic as a result of it’s thick and embroidered, hangs very loosely, and is principally within the colour crimson (different colours can solely be gold or white). It is going to slowly have white embroidered patterns as they advance of their coaching however it is going to all the time stay to be dominantly crimson.

TRIVIA: Wanna know the costliest merchandise in a geisha or maiko’s outfit? It’s the pocchiri or obidome which is an adjunct on the obi (belt) made of costly actual jewels akin to jade, agate, quartz, pearl and extra that may simply match the worth of a luxurious automobile. Typically nonetheless, a pocchiri accent is barely normally worn by a maiko.

Geishas, who’re extra mature, put on extra subdued however refined kimonos with shorter sleeves (kosode) which are normally in a single colour with a easy sample on the backside. Their kimono can be mentioned to be within the tomesode type or essentially the most formal kimono a married lady can put on which is actually signifying their maturity. Additionally, their obi is shorter and it appears like a sq. bow knot on the again known as a ‘taiko musubi obi’. Lastly, their collars are utterly white and should not as unfastened. (However, each maikos and geishas put on kimonos in keeping with the season).

NOTE: Wanna try to put on a kimono? There are kimono rental outlets in Tokyo! Learn right here to be taught extra.

TRIVIA: Questioning concerning the ‘bag’ that they normally deliver together with them? That’s known as a kago or a bag with a bamboo base and it incorporates enterprise playing cards, dancing followers and different equipment — however by no means electronics, as they aren’t allowed to deliver them whereas working. Furthermore, even a maiko and geisha has variations within the bag: maikos have brilliant and colourful kago, whereas geishas have minimal or solid-colored kago.

FOOTWEAR. Maikos typically put on excessive wood sandals to forestall their kimono from touching the bottom, and they’re known as as okobo. Geishas use shorter wood sandals known as zori or senryo geta. Maikos will put on this too if the state of affairs requires it; however they put on okobo extra.

Left photograph by: Japonismo / CC | Proper photograph by: Tugumi Yoshikawa. / CC

IMPORTANT NOTE: The maiko within the photograph above is carrying a black kimono as a result of she has simply formally debuted as a maiko. However total, a maiko’s kimono is way more colourful and daring with larger patterns (a geisha’s patterns on her kimono solely begin on the backside hem and by no means goes over the waistline). Plus, a maiko’s obi normally has her okiya’s crest printed on the backside (as additionally seen within the photograph above).
You may even differentiate a junior from a senior maiko from the patterns on their shoulders — a junior maiko has them on each shoulders, whereas a senior maiko solely has it in a single shoulder.


» The right way to spot faux a maiko and geisha

You might need heard of makeover (henshin) studios in Japan that may gown vacationers up as a geisha or maiko for a day. With this in thoughts, in case you have ever seen one when you are round fashionable spots in Japan — like in components of Kyoto or Tokyo — it’s extremely possible that you’ve witnessed or took an image with a faux one.

That can assist you establish and spot these vacationers who’re solely dressing up, see under the a number of options that they’ll possess. In the end, henshin studios make it a degree to NOT gown up their purchasers authentically; in any other case, they are going to be shut down by the authorities.

Have a look at the third one, she has a digicam together with her! Maikos should not allowed to make use of their cellphones and any electronics whereas working.
  • They’ve mismatched hairstyles, make-up, and clothes. Making an allowance for the descriptions that I’ve made beforehand of genuine geishas and maikos’ options, a vacationer in disguise will all the time have a improper mixture of traits. For instance, most of them can have the ornamental lengthy hair decoration (of a junior maiko) but with each her lips painted (like a senior maiko or geisha) and with a wig on (although some outlets can now do your hair too). They may also have shorter sleeves on the kimono regardless of being dressed up as maiko.
  • They’re strolling round crowded areas. A real maiko or geisha is aware of that she is sought out by vacationers and so they can get ‘mobbed’ in a way; so, you’ll NEVER discover them strolling by means of a populated space whereas of their full regalia. What they normally do is stroll by means of again streets and alleyways with the intention to keep away from the group. Therefore, in case you ever see a maiko or geisha strolling casually by means of a widely known place, she is definitely a vacationer dressed up as one.
  • They’re out throughout the early time of the day. Geishas and maikos generally work within the evenings; although it’s potential that they’re booked for an early banquet, it virtually occurs hardly ever.
  • They’re willingly taking images with others. Geishas and maikos are literally paid for the time that requires them to get from level A to level B; so when they’re out on the streets, they’ll by no means cease by to take images with vacationers. (You may all the time ask them although in case you can take a photograph, however do it fast). Due to this fact, in case you see one who’s taking her candy time pleasing a crowd of vacationers to take a photograph of her (until it’s an official occasion) then she is a vacationer who had a makeover.
  • They’re accompanied by different people who find themselves in regular clothes. Noticed a geisha or maiko with an elder or a companion who has to help her whereas she walks in her excessive wood sneakers? That’s a vacationer. Actual geishas and maikos are educated to stroll nicely with their zori or okobo sandals. Moreover, they all the time know their approach round city too. If they’re ever accompanied, it is going to normally be by a younger woman in a kimono who will carry her belongings (as talked about beforehand, this might be a brand new maiko in coaching who is named a ‘shikomi’ or ‘minarai’).

Really, you wouldn’t concentrate on it however you might need had a official geisha or maiko in your midst particularly if you’re strolling round in Kyoto. After they’re of their regular garments (akin to a yukata), figuring out them will naturally be powerful — until you’re a fan who acknowledges their face or until they’re carrying their signature kimono and conventional white make-up (shiro-nuri).

NOTE: There’s one other sort other than henshin vacationers whom you could possibly simply mistake as official geishas and maikos, and so they’re known as furisode-san or kimono-san.

A longtime enterprise by ‘Furisode Gakuin’ at Tokyo’s Asakusa district within the Nineteen Nineties, these furisode-san are paid entertainers solely who mimic the look and companies of geishas and maikos at a less expensive value (normally round 25,000 yen or $250 for a 2-hour celebration). They solely have about 3 months of coaching and once more — they’re NOT actual geishas nor maikos.

The truth is, many of the geisha experiences that you simply might need learn in different journey blogs are literally experiences with a furisode-san. How do the Japanese really feel about these folks? A mixture of approval and disapproval. Approval since they assist collect curiosity in actual geishas; disapproval since they deem it as disrespectful to the true custom.

How then can you make sure that you’re not reserving an expertise with a furisode-san? Other than a budget value as an indicator, just be sure you ebook by means of official journey companies who solely search to offer actual geisha/maiko experiences (observe: I’ll replace this part quickly with related hyperlinks for reserving legit geishas).

The place to Discover and Meet Geisha?

The geisha world must survive. It used to solely be solely out there for the wealthy or well-connected Japanese, however now it’s potential for different folks in addition to vacationers to satisfy and see them by means of journey companies and resorts.

However actually, like I discussed above, a personal face-to-face dinner banquet or celebration can nonetheless show to be dear. If such is the case for you — don’t fret as a result of there are nonetheless different methods to see REAL geishas and maikos at a a lot reasonably priced value as listed under…

  • Go ebook a spot in Niigata Hanamachi Chaya’s program in Niigata Metropolis. That is the most cost-effective method to meet, play, and speak to an actual geishas up shut because you solely need to pay 3,000 yen ($26~ of Php 1,300~). It’s similar to an ozashiki (dinner banquet) expertise. To seek out out extra about it, learn this: Meet, Play & Discuss with Niigata’s Furumachi Geigi (Geisha) for Solely $26!
  • Go to Miyako Odori in Kyoto. It is a yearly spring dance throughout April achieved by Kyoto’s geishas and maikos. Ticket costs begin at 2,500 yen ($24~ or Php 1,100~) and you may see extra data about this right here.
  • Go to Kamishichiken in Kyoto throughout February and July to September. Geishas and maikos of this district serve tea and wagashi (conventional Japanese sweets) to about 3,000 company in an annual open-air tea ceremony held on February 25 (the plum-blossom pageant within the Shinto shrine of Kitano Tenman-gū). Moreover, ever since 2010, there’s a beer backyard that opens as much as the general public on the Kamishichiken Kaburenjo Theatre from July to August (6PM to 10PM) the place you may get the prospect to be served by maikos and geishas. At night time, geishas would additionally generally to conventional dances.
  • Go to the slim alleyways of Gion, Kyoto to catch sight of a maiko or geisha. The primary time I caught a glimpse of an actual maiko was after I was strolling by means of Gion (on my method to Gion Nook). It was all unplanned since I used to be simply following the quickest strolling route proven to me by Google Maps! I used to be mindlessly going by means of slim streets when ‘lo and behold, I noticed a maiko rising from a close-by alleyway who proceeded to face on the nook, seemingly ready for her taxi. From what I bear in mind, it was across the Tominagacho space; my mates instructed me that it was potential that the maiko I noticed visited a close-by shrine/temple earlier than going to work (which they normally do).

“When is one of the best time to identify a maiko or geiko in Kyoto?”

Their work typically begins at round 6PM to 8PM so it’s potential to see them whereas they’re on their method to the teahouse (strolling or getting on a taxi). However ordinarily, you possibly can have a greater likelihood of discovering geishas or maikos at round 10PM to 11PM on the streets of Gion after they make their approach again to their okiya. (Once more, be aware of my suggestions above on find out how to spot the true ones!).

Sadly, there may be NO assure that you will note them as they are often elusive and they are often anyplace! Although in case you have the time, it’s advisable to linger in a single place to extend your probabilities of sighting them. It’s mentioned that the commonest hubs could be the road of Pontocho Alley finish of Shijo-dori and Hanamikoji-dori (round 5-6PM) on condition that quite a lot of the okiya are discovered there. Plus, as I discussed above, it doesn’t damage to cross by the encircling shrines or temples since they could have made a cease there to hope earlier than going to work.

TIP: If you wish to do a guided tour round Kyoto and be taught extra about geishas, you possibly can be a part of this geisha district tour.


NOTE: Don’t count on to see geishas and maikos of their full regalia round Gion throughout “Obon Pageant”, the annual Buddhist occasion for commemorating the souls of 1’s ancestors, as a result of they don’t work at the moment. This occurs throughout the center of August.

ETIQUETTE: Must you ever see a geisha or maiko as you undergo the alleyways of Gion, be respectful. Taking a fast photograph is ok so long as you don’t get of their approach; however in fact, it’s additionally extra tactful in case you ask for his or her permission first. Additionally, NEVER ever contact them and their kimono nor pull them again to make them cease and pose for you; that’s simply plain impolite BUT additionally as a result of it’s important to do not forget that their kimonos are INCREDIBLY costly. A well-known geisha as soon as mentioned this: “We aren’t Mickey mouse and this isn’t Disney World, we’re not right here to entertain the general public, we’re right here to entertain our patrons.”

  • Go and watch the present at Gion Nook in Kyoto. It is a theater that presents common one-hour reveals of seven performing arts in Kyoto — one among which is the well-known kyo-mai dance efficiency by maiko dancers. There are 2 reveals every single day at 6PM and 7PM [see schedule here] with costs for adults at 3,150 yen ($30~ or Php 1,400). I went to this present and I beloved it! (Lots of people on TripAdvisor left such dangerous opinions for this present, however that’s primarily as a result of they didn’t learn their pamphlet beforehand; most of them didn’t perceive that there are 6 Japanese performances which are other than the well-anticipated maiko dance.)
  • Go to Azuma Odori in Tokyo. A dance efficiency by the geishas of Shinbanshi, Tokyo is held yearly on the Shinbanshi Enbujo Theater in Might. (For more information, go right here).

Different FAQ About Geisha & Maiko

Are geishas prostitutes or courtesans?

They’re NOT prostitutes. Geishas are and all the time might be highly-skilled entertainers — nothing extra, nothing much less. It helps to notice as nicely that prostitution is illegitimate in Japan ever since 1956. The truth is, this concept that geishas are prostitutes might need come about not solely from Hollywood films that misrepresented them but additionally from individuals who have mistaken geisha for “oiran” (the true high-ranking courtesans again in olden Japan; since 1956, they not exist).

How can I apply to change into a maiko (apprentice geisha)?

In hanamachi communities like these in Kyoto, a few of the primary necessities is that you simply have to be a Japanese woman who graduated from center college, you have to be 15 or 16 years previous, you will need to have black hair, you will need to not be taller than 160cm, you’re at the very least 43kg in weight, are prepared to coach within the conventional arts for years with out contact with your loved ones, and so on.

Normally, you or your guardian would want to contact the guild of all of the hanamachi companies to use — as soon as they contemplate you candidate, they’ll ship out your photograph and profile to okiya (geisha homes) that is perhaps fascinated with coaching you. Different okiya may even require an introduction, whereas some others will settle for functions from nearly anybody by means of e-mail or phone.

I’m a foreigner, can I change into a geisha?

If you’re non-Japanese, Kyoto is a tough atmosphere to enter into as a result of they’re nonetheless fiercely conventional. You’re higher off making an attempt your possibilities in different places like Tokyo who’re extra lenient in the direction of accepting foreigners. To do that, you possibly can apply to an okiya your self by means of telephone or e-mail, however will probably be loads higher if somebody who can introduce you to an okasan or a mom of an okiya/geisha home. Talking of which, do NOT attempt to apply in case you don’t know find out how to communicate the Japanese language but; in any other case, completely no okiya will take you!

Why do most Japanese women wish to change into geisha or maiko?

The commonest reply is that they’ve been extremely impressed by the elusive and alluring world of the hanamachi and its group of chic geisha. Many of the women, nonetheless, don’t debut as a geisha due to the tough way of life; whereas others merely simply wish to expertise working as a maiko with no plans to realize a geisha debut.

Can a geisha get married?

So long as an individual is working as a geisha, they have to stay single — therefore, a geisha should not get married. The one factor they’re allowed to be “married into” is their artwork or career. If a geisha truly needs to get married, they must give up or retire as a geisha and that is celebrated by means of a ceremony known as hiki-iwai. As soon as they give up, it’s not potential to come back again as a geisha however it’s potential to change into an okami-san (proprietress of both an ochaya or okiya). That is typically the norm in locations like Kyoto, however there are actually quite a lot of locations in Japan like Tokyo that enable married, divorced, and/or ladies with youngsters to change into geisha. Likewise, maiko should not allowed to have boyfriends.

Do geisha and maiko have days off?

For geisha, as they’re already educated for the career, they’ve extra freedom to take days off in addition to create their very own schedule. Nevertheless, for maiko who’re geisha-in-training, the foundations are fairly strict as a result of they’re anticipated to deal with the standard arts. Normally, they’re solely allowed 1 or 2 days off per thirty days!! Which means they’d not see their household throughout their complete coaching interval. Maiko can take longer holidays for the three main holidays in Japan although, akin to New 12 months, Golden Week (a set of 4 nationwide holidays in 7 days held round Might), and Obon (Buddhist occasion in August).

How a lot is a geisha and maiko’s wage?

From the second {that a} maiko is accepted to an okiya, they’re bonded by a contract whereby the okiya will shoulder ALL their bills for lodging and coaching; in alternate, as soon as a maiko truly begins performing, she’s going to regularly repay that debt to the okiya by means of her work. So no, maiko don’t obtain a wage as a result of they aren’t full-fledged geisha but (however on their days off, maiko are given a small allowance).

Geisha, alternatively, obtain compensation and it’ll rely upon the quantity of labor they obtain that’s, in fact, altogether depending on their expertise and recognition. Their precise wage just isn’t extensively shared however to offer you an concept, it will possibly begin from $3,000 to $10,000 — and extra! If they’re extremely fashionable, geisha will even typically obtain luxurious presents and gadgets from followers, patrons, and purchasers.

Why is the make-up on the face of a geisha white?

It’s mentioned that previously, on condition that there was no electrical energy, carrying white make-up as a basis (shiro-nuri) was practiced as a result of a geisha’s face will then be higher seen within the candlelight. This beauty follow remained at the moment and has change into a signature look of each geisha and maiko. In spite of everything, it helps create a placing distinction to their total look in a kimono.

What’s the most costly factor worn by a geisha or maiko?

Other than the kimono, the costliest accent is normally the pocchiri or obidome which is an adjunct on the obi (belt) that’s made of costly actual jewels akin to jade, agate, quartz, pearl, and others. These are sometimes expensive, beginning at a value of $5,000 and past (a few of which may simply match the worth of a luxurious automobile). Typically nonetheless, a pocchiri accent is barely normally worn by a maiko.

• • •


I hope this text helped make you acquire extra perception into the mysterious but charming world of geishas and their apprentice maikos. It took me some time to complete this however I actually loved writing it… and I hope you loved it as nicely!

If in case although that that is the primary time you’ve heard of Japan’s geishas, it’s subsequently additionally my hope that you simply’ve now found a terrific appreciation and help for his or her wondrous traditions.

P.S.: If you’re extra educated about geishas than me and that I’ve by accident made a false assertion above, do let me know within the feedback under. In spite of everything, I perceive that this custom maintains an air of mysteriousness and anonymity because it provides to their total ‘attract’; subsequently, there is perhaps some conflicting info on-line and in some supplies and interviews. Regardless, I’m fairly assured with the accuracy of the issues above particularly after doing lengthy hours of analysis after which conversing with genuine geishas to confirm my info. Let me know!

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