March 26, 2020
by Arisa Yamauchi, Haruki Ishimoto and Aki Kawashima
A Maiko is a girl who trains as a Geiko. To become a Maiko, people have to be 14 years old, and they must have Japanese nationality. To train as a Geiko, Maiko have to live in Okiya (see below) and do a lot of hard training on performance and behavior. Maiko is one of the most famous cultures of Kyoto and also one of the oldest Japanese traditions, so we have to have pride in this tradition.
History of Maiko
Maiko is a girl whose job is to add entertainment at a banquet hall and tea ceremony for the performing arts such as dance. She is also called a geisha’s apprentice who is in the training stage. About 300 years ago, the tea ceremony in a teahouse, which served tea to those who visited Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto during the Edo period (1603-1868), was originated. At first, tea and dumplings were served but eventually sake and other dishes were added. Maiko danced there. Maiko live in a place called Okiya (as mentioned above). It is mainly for living, and they train as a Maiko from a woman trainer. Maiko are usually just 15 or 16 years old, and after graduating from junior high school, the trainer, the “mother”, takes care of their life as their guardian. In 2014, Maiko were registered as an intangible cultural heritage. It is one kind of Japanese culture. There is also a Geiko. A Geiko does the same job as Maiko. However, they differ from Maiko as they are paid money and can live independently. A Maiko has a 20-year old age limit, but a Geiko can last a lifetime.
Maiko usually wake up at 8am every day. They get ready and head for their dance performance to perform at a tea ceremony or banquet hall, to play the shamisen (like a guitar), and have song lessons. Rehearsals are held at the Kaburenjo, which is a type of Maiko school. Recently, the number of foreign tourists visiting Kyoto has increased, so English lessons have been introduced to Maiko so that foreign customers can communicate with them. After their morning lessons, they return to their Okiya and have lunch. In the afternoon, they continue to practice, and on days when there are no lessons, they practice in a bar or relax a little. Then they start preparing for their night job in a teahouse. In the beginning, when Maiko started, their makeup took more than an hour to complete, but nowadays it takes them about 40 minutes. Then they head to their night work where customers are waiting for them. In a tatami room, they perform dances and play games. A tatami is a mat made of straw and is a kind of traditional flooring in Japan. After finishing all their tea ceremonies, they return to their Okiya around 1 o’clock in the morning, and they usually go to bed around 2 o’clock.
Troublesome Behavior for Maiko by Tourists
Recently, the number of tourists visiting Kyoto is increasing, and they are unable to keep their manners. For example, in Gion, one of the most famous areas in Kyoto, it has a more serious problem. We will talk about the problem the Maiko have in Gion. First, we interviewed a woman who was a Maiko. She experienced nuisances by tourists as well. For instance, they wanted to take photos with her (with Maiko), and then they took her hair pin (a Maiko’s hair pin), and she was late for her job because she was surrounded by a lot of tourists from overseas. Also, the woman told us some more examples. She told us that to stop these kinds of rude behavior, the government made signs, hired security guards and explained manners in Kyoto by handing out pamphlets. However, despite these rules, more and more people are not following them. In addition, some tourists enter private areas. As a result, these kinds of behavior are annoying the Maiko, and the local residents, too. Therefore, it was banned to take photos on private roads in Kyoto. In addition, shooting videos of Gion and Maiko by tourists’ cameras has had a bad influence on the traffic. A plan was proposed to solve this problem. In the southern part of Gion-Cho in the Higashiyama area (the east side of Kyoto), unauthorized photography on private roads is prohibited. It is not legally binding, but you will get a “fine” and if you take a photo on private roads, you will be charged without exception. The bill is written in Japanese, English and Chinese. “No photography on private roads” is written, and for unauthorized photography, you will be charged 10,000 yen (about $100 US). Tourists should know that people (residents) live in Gion, too, so they have to know about this problem; thus, we then hope they enjoy Kyoto sightseeing and enjoy learning about Maiko!
At first glance, being a Maiko looks like a beautiful job; however, it’s quite a hard occupation. Maiko go back and forth between many tea houses every day. They need to go to each workplace for two hours, so they return home late. Therefore, they get about 5 to 6 hours of sleep each night on average. In addition, it takes a long time in the morning for them to get ready because a newcomer Maiko; for example, can not get dressed up in a kimono (please look at the photo), can not set up their traditional Maiko-Japanese hair style, and can not put on their make up quickly. In addition, due to the increased number of foreign tourists in Kyoto, a lot of tourists chase Maiko and Geiko to take pictures. These situations are becoming a serious problem year by year. In fact, Maiko have a lot of stress because of tourists behavior. For example, tourists speak to them, take unauthorized photos, touch them, and so on. These bad manners have been called, “Maiko Paparazzi (see photo above).” Moreover, we also heard incredible stories about bad manners for Maiko such as some people put cigarettes in Maiko’s sleeves. For these reasons, some tourists behavior is dangerous for Maiko. We want to say that they are not a costume but a human, so we should definitely not bother them. Additionally, we should learn information about Maiko; for instance, that one of Maiko’s manners is they cannot talk while they are walking. So, if you see Maiko on the road, you should not talk to them. This is the reality of the Maiko. According to the Kinki Regional Development Bureau they will send information to tourists via smartphones about the manners to follow about Maiko and Geiko. Additionally, they have decided to install signboards to give a heads-up to tourists about them. We have to protect the Maiko and Geiko and pay attention to them.