Maiko & Geiko

April 14, 2009

by Airi Okubo and Ayumi Yamamoto

Differences between Maiko and Geiko

Most people have seen pictures of maiko or geiko in books or have actually seen them on the streets of Kyoto, but how much do they really know about maiko and geiko, and can they really tell them apart? Let’s do some research.

Please check your own knowledge about maiko and geiko by answering “True” or “False” to the following statements:

1. A maiko’s hair style is the same as a geiko’s hair style.
2. A maiko paints only her lower lip.
3. A maiko’s obi (a kimono sash) that she wears on her back is long.
4. There are three types of painting on the back of a maiko’s neck.
5. Maiko and geiko have different colors of neckband.

After giving some basic information about maiko and geiko, we will explain the answers to the above questions.

≪ Maiko ≫
Maiko are younger than twenty years of age. They must train for at least one year, and be an apprentice for one month in a Japanese-style teahouse. After this hard training, they actually become a maiko. They study for four or five years.

≪ Geiko ≫
It is only in Kyoto that we call geisha “geiko.” After a girl finishes training as a maiko, she becomes a geiko. Geiko are expected to do many things in a more sophisticated manner than maiko, so they can create a wonderful atmosphere and good relationships with guests. In addition, they not only dance but also play shamisen (a three-stringed musical instrument) and sing at the same time.

Now, let’s check your answers and explain the details with pictures

1. A maiko’s hair style is the same as a Geiko’s hair style.
Answer False

A maiko’s hair is all own hair, not a wig. And there are several kinds of hair styles, for example, wareshinobu (picture 1), ofuku, sakko and so on. On the other hand, geiko wear a wig that is usually called a shimada (picture 2).

picture 1 wareshinobu

picture 2 shimada

2. A maiko paints only her lower lip
Answer True

During the first year, a maiko puts lipstick only on her lower lip. From the second year, she puts it on both her lower and upper lips.

3.A maiko’s obi (a kimono sash) that she wears on her back is long.
Answer True

A maiko’s obi is long and crested. It is called a dararino-obi. The length seems to reach her feet and the crest shows everyone the okiya (training house) that she is from.

4.There are three types of painting on the back of a maiko’s neck.
Answer False

There are two types. She usually paints “one mountain” as in picture 4. When she wears crested kimono on a special day, she paints “two mountains” as in picture 5.

picture 4

picture 5

5. Maiko and geiko have different colors of neckband.
Answer True

When maiko becomes an adult in age and appearance, an event called eri-kae is held for her. It means exchanging the red neckband for a white one. So maiko wear a red neckband (right), and geiko wear a white one (left).

Did you answer all the statements correctly?

An ochaya (teahouse where maiko and geiko come to entertain guests) turn away first-timers, so we Japanese can’t go to one easily. We need an invitation from someone who goes to the teahouse. Therefore, even Japanese know little about the differences between maiko and geiko. However, you now have a lot of new information. You’re so lucky!! If you can meet a maiko and geiko or see pictures in books, you will now be able to tell the difference.

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