February 17, 2014

by Maria Kakiuchi and Akane Ogawa

Oiran was a kind of ‘woman of pleasure’ of the Edo period (1600~1868) in Japan. Unlike common street prostitutes, oiran were glamorous courtesans, who were cultivated in the traditional Japanese arts, the classics, calligraphy, tea ceremony, waka poetry, the shamisen (Japanese harp), and the game of go. This made them primarily entertainers. They were very popular in the brothels of the Yoshiwara in Edo (now Tokyo), Shinmachi in Osaka, and Shimabara in Kyoto. One can read about oiran in traditional Japanese literature, as well as see images of them in ukio-e, a genre of woodblock prints and paintings. Of course the oiran seen in ukiyoe works is more opulent than real.

The Way of Oiran

Back in the Edo period, sometime prostitutes were put on display behind bars for potential customers to look at. This practice was called harimise. Oiran, however, did not practice harimise. On the contrary, oiran took an active role in the process of selecting a customer. In this way, we might say that the oiran chose the customer, rather than the other way around.

If a man really wanted to be with an oiran, he first had to make contact with a tea house and have lots of money. Next, he had to engage in a three-step process to get together with an orian. In the first step, the oiran just sits and observes the customer. She does not eat, drink, or talk, but rather just gets a feeling for the potential customer. If he passes that stage, the next time he comes, the oiran gets closer to the customer, but doesn’t interact much. This is also a testing period. Finally, if the man makes it to the third stage, he can go into a room with the oiran. He must present her with a set of chopsticks with his name engraved into them, along with an envelope of congratulatory money. From that point, he is forbidden to visit other prostitutes. To do so would be considered cheating, and would be seen as a great insult.

What is Oiran-Dochu?

In edo period, the oiran would dress in their best costumes to go and collect their valued customers and bring them to the teahouse and on a special day. Then they would parade around the area of the pleasure quarter with their most beautiful and ornate clothing on display. This included the wearing of two combs, and six Japanese hairpins in the front and six in the back. This style of Japanese hairpin was particular a sign of nobility.

Differences Between Oiran and Geisha

Some people might certainly ask the question, “What is the difference between a geisha and an oiran? Aren’t they the same thing?” The answer is, “No.” Although they appear to be similar, in that they both dress up in beautiful traditional clothing and entertain guests, the geisha never were involved in prostitution like the oiran were. Instead, the geisha specialized in playing the host at private parties, with dancing, music, and games. In fact, the rise of the geisha corresponded with the fall of the oiran. They were much more accessible to the common visitor, rather than just for rich men who wanted sex.

Dress Up Like Oiran for a Day

Although the oiran have died out, the tradition of dressing like one still remains. In fact, you can experience dressing like oiran yourself right here in Kyoto! The place is called, Oiran Keiken Studio Yumekoubou, which translates into something like ‘Oiran Experience Dream Studio.’ If you want to take some amazing photos of yourself dressed like an Edo period Oiran, there are the steps you need to take:

1. Call to book an appointment. You should try to book one as soon as possible, because sometimes it’s already fully scheduled.

2. Go to the studio on the day and time of your appointment and the staff will give you some information about oiran.

3. Get your face made up by professional make-up artist. Then, if you have an image that you want to be, for example, looks big eyes, be sexy, pretty and so on, just tell your image to them and they will make it happen. It doesn’t matter if you are already wearing make-up or not when you arrive. They will take care of everything. If, however, your skin is weak or has some alleges, you should tell your artist about it before he or she gets started. It’s okay to put contacts on, but it could be a bit uncomfortable, so make sure you bring your contacts case with you in case you have to take them out. Also, if you really want to put on the make-up by yourself, you can. But there is no telling how it will look.

4. Choose your hairstyle. There are mainly 2 styles.

Classic style. This is a wig. Ornamental hairpins are the main characteristic. We recommend it for people who have short hair.
Modern stylehttp://search.creativecommons.org/
Modern style. This is done with all of your real hair. No wigs involved.
You can choose the hairstyle you want, and the artists will do it for you.
The classic style is popular with most customers because it gives them the traditional image of being Japanese, just like the oiran really were back then.

5. Choose a kimono. There are about 30 different kinds of kimono in the studio, so you can choose the one you want to try. Kimono are all the same cost, so you can choose the color and design freely.

6. Take pictures. A professional photographer will take your picture. The purpose of taking the picture is you get right into oiran. Then, the photographer will capture your beauty. A space is also provided so that you can take pictures with your own camera. You can’t have an experience like this so often, so this is a perfect opportunity to capture your memories of Japan.

Our photoThe authors of this article dressed as oiran.

7. Choose the photos you want to keep. If you see some really good ones, you can buy them directly from the studio.

Points to note

* Pregnant women cannot dress up like oiran, because of the tight girdle they must wear.

* There is no parking area. Therefore, you should come by bus or taxi. The studio is very close to Gion bus stop.

How to get there from Kyoto station…

  • Use the bus…Catch the bus that number 100 or 206 and get the bus off by Gion bus stop. Then, your back toward to Yasaka shrine and go straight the Shijyo-street. When you can see “Akaneya”(あかねや), turn right.
  • Use the taxi…Tell the driver “Shijyo-kiritoshi”. You go about 50m in Kiritoshi, then the place is left side.
  • Any photos you buy are sent to your house one month later.
  • It takes about 3 hours from start to finish to complete the dressing up like oiran process.
  • There is no age limit, so anyone can dress up like oiran.
  • There are people who can speak English, so don’t worry about language.

You want to make good memories in Japan, why don’t you try it!


花魁体験STUDIO 夢工房
Oiran Keiken Studio Yumekoubou


Kyoto-city, Higashiyama-ku, Yasaka shinchi sueyoshi86


Junya Kitagawa and Miki Suzuki


As sushi is now well known all over the world, there are many sushi bars located in many different countries, and a lot of people have become familiar with it.  All over Japan you can find sushi bars serving many different kinds.  “Mamezushi”, which we would like to introduce here, is one type that originated in Kyoto.

“Mamezushi” is often called “Maiko zushi”, too, because its birthplace was Gion, in Kyoto, an area which is also famous for Maiko, or apprentice Geisha.  Maiko have a cute little button for a mouth, with the perfect size and shape for eating sushi.  Mamezushi means small sushi bean in English, as the shape is small and spherical.

In top-class Japanese restaurants, 15 kinds of Mamezushi are presented in a box and served to customers.  The kinds of mamezushi shown here, are from the upper left, squid sandwiched between sheets of kelp, mackerel oshizushi, bamboo shoot, pickled tuna, masuzushi, pouch of fried bean curd stuffed with vinegared rice, shrimp, butterbur, egg, pickled rape blossoms, kelp boiled in sweetened soy sauce, eel, Japanese ginger, with squid and pickled ginger to the lower right.  When the customer first removes the lid to begin to eat, they cannot help but be impressed with the beautiful colors before them, and almost always feel the urge to take pictures of it.  However they not only look elegant but also have a very refined taste.  Each one tastes different to the others, and we do not have to put on any soy sauce, which makes it a little healthier for us.









Restaurant Mametora

There is really only one place where we can eat Mamezushi in Kyoto, and this is the top-class restaurant “Mametora”.  This restaurant has a calm atmosphere and is peaceful and comfortable.  The restaurant is located on Hanami-Koji Street, which is actually quite  noisy, however, you do not notice that once inside the restaurant.  There are 3 types of seating available here:  the counter seat, where you can see the inner garden, a private room, where you can eat lunch or dinner in privacy and relaxation, and on a covered table placed over a recess in the floor of a Japanese-style room.  Of course, you can enjoy a special lunch or dinner whichever seating arrangement you choose.

The restaurant has two service times, lunch time and dinner time.  Lunch time is from 11:30 a.m. to 02:00 p.m. and dinner time is from 05:00 p.m. to 09:00 p.m.  At lunch time two options are available, one is “Mamezushi-Zen”, which consists of five courses.The main course Mamezushi, is served 4th, and before that courses containing foods in season are offered, with the final course being a dessert.  The other option is “Mamezushi-Sara Zen”, which consists of 6 courses, and offers many kinds of foods in small dishes in addition to the courses of “Mamezushi-Zen”.  At dinner time there are other options.  The first is ”Mamezushi-Kaiseki”, with different courses.  With this you can eat Mamezushi, deep-fried food, grilled fish, meat, or chicken, and 4 courses containing foods in season.  The second is “Choice Mamezushi-Kaiseki”, which offers 6 courses.  In addition to the courses offered in “Mamezushi-Kaiseki” we can eat one-pot type dish cooked at the table.  “Mamezushi-Kaiseki” costs ¥3,800 per person, “Mamezushi0-Sara Zen ” costs ¥5,800 per person, “Mamezushi-Kaiseki” costs ¥9,680 per person, and “Choice Mamezushi-Kaiseki” costs ¥13,200 per person.  As the dinner courses are so expensive, we recommend you try the lunch courses.  They are very reasonable and you can enjoy plenty of Mamezushi.  Fundamentally, the restaurant does not close on a regular day, however, on holidays, there will surely be a lot of customers and few empty seats.  Therefore, making a reservation before arrival is certainly a good idea.  You can actually now make reservations either by telephone or online.


 There are a lot of ways to access this restaurant because it is located in the heart of Kyoto city, and near some famous places, for example, Kiyomizu-Temple and Yasaka-Shrine.

・Kyoto City Bus: you can take the “Gion Express” bus from Kyoto Station to Gion Bus Station, and thereafter it is a 3 minutes   walk to the restaurant.

・Keihan-train: if you take the train, please get off at Sanjo-Keihan Station, and thereafter take a 5 minute walk to the restaurant.

・Hankyu-train: if you take this train, please get off at Kawaramachi Station, and then take an 8 minute walk to the restaurant.

・phone number:075 532 3955

Additional informationI

In addition to enjoying this great traditional cuisine, please visit the two places of interest mentioned before.  Kiyomizu-Temple is very famous, and many travelers wish to visit it.  The view from this temple is really beautiful, and will give great memories.  Yasaka-Shrine is also famous, and especially for its connection to the “Gion festival”.  If you have time, please visit these wonderful places, too.

For Women Tourists: Dress Up Like a Maiko

by Yukari Maruoka; Miku Nogami

Part One by Miku Nogami

In Kyoto, you can still spot maiko and geisha when you walk around well-known hanamachi districts such as Gion or Miyagawa-cho, because Japan still has women who are carefully trained in the traditional arts and ways of this refined and renowned element of our culture. But if you’re a woman visiting Kyoto, even a non-Japanese, you can go a step beyond just seeing maiko; you can also try the transformative “maiko experience”. While you won’t learn to play music on a shamisen, speak an arcane local dialect or walk as if you’re floating on air, you can dress up to look real enough to fool many tourists into taking your photo!

Costume play or “cosplay” is a key part of contemporary Japanese culture, and the maiko makeover is the ultimate example. There are several businesses in Kyoto which make it possible to “be” a maiko for a day. One chain is called Yume Koubou (夢工房), which means “dream atelier.” Its three Kyoto locations are perfect, because whichever you choose, you can easily make a convenient plan for costumed sightseeing. One store is at Kyoto Station, and another is even close to Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto’s number one tourism spot, so after you’ve donned your kimono, makeup and wig you can stroll over to the lovely ancient temple and take a picture with the ideal exotic atmosphere.

If you are stuck in Tokyo and haven’t got the chance to come to Kyoto, don’t worry, because there is a Yume Koubou store in fashionable Ginza.The staff at these shops are all women, so they do everything for you from applying makeup to dressing you in your complex kimono. Once you “look the part”, a professional photographer takes a digital picture of you, after which you can adjust the image to make yourself look even more beautiful.

Koubou has six ways to make customers happy: location, facilities, makeup, kimono, transformation and photography. The facilities include a reception room, where you can wait in luxury with an excited heartbeat. And there’s a powder room where you can use all the amenities and the staff will help prepare for your return. Lockers allow you to store your valuables safely during your makeover or while you are out on the town.


A professional makeup artist does your makeup for you — one who is studying every day under real maiko’s and geiko’s instructions. They are aiming for the ultimate beauty; it’s like their motto. And they use oil-free makeup, so everyone from children to adults, including people with delicate skin, can use it without worry.

There are many styles and colors of kimono, so you can choose whatever you want, and the same goes for the obi (sash).Concerned about your hair? No need! They use a full katsura wig that fits everyone well, and have contracted with a famous katsura maker of long standing. As a result they offer an attractive, original shape that is one-third lighter than conventional katsura. These six ways of pleasing customers are the secret of the popularity of the best shops in the business of “maiko/geiko transformation”.


There are many plans for maiko experiences, so you can choose whichever suits you. For example, if you want to “be” a maiko, then take pictures in the studio, it costs 9,975 yen. If you’d also like to ramble around town the price rises to 13,125 yen. Or you can go to a good location to be photographed like an actress for a bit more: 14,175 yen. You can have both the studio shoot and a location shoot for 16,800 yen. In addition, there are mother and daughter plans, children’s plans for kids ages 5-12, student field trip plans, and a jinrikisha plan and they also have 3 men’s makeovers, one of which is samurai warrior style, which harkens back to the Age of Warring States (sengokujidai).

Part Two by Yukari Maruoka

My Maiko Experience at Yume Koubou

My mother and I chose the parent and child plan, which was simply to dress up as maiko and take pictures. The parent can choose either geisha or maiko, whichever she wants. My mother chose maiko at the recommendation of the staff, but usually older people choose geisha. Maiko are more gorgeous and colorful. Geisha are simple and their kimono must be black. Still, if you are not so young but you want to be a maiko, just choose a dark-colored kimono and it will not be strange. However, before you put on your chosen kimono, do not forget to use the restroom. While you are wearing a kimono it is difficult to use a toilet.

First of all, they put on your makeup. And your face and neck will be pure white, with delicate eye shadow in red and eyeliner which is brushed on in bold strokes. Bright red will be painted onto your lips. That is a maiko’s face. And then, don’t forget, you cannot touch your face and neck or your hands will get white and you may stain your expensive kimono.

Next, you will select a kimono and obi. There are between 20 and 30 kimonos to choose from, with many kinds of color schemes, motifs and designs. Only about 10 minutes is needed for putting on the kimono. Then comes your wig. And your breathing may become labored because your torso will be wrapped tightly with a cord and obi sash.

At last, my mother and I had our pictures taken by a professional photographer in a studio with a number of furnishings and props. About 20 exposures were taken of various poses. Afterwards they let us take some pictures by ourselves with our own cameras or cell phones. And then we were able to choose five pictures from the 20 pictures we had been shown. The finished prints were sent to our home one month later. The total “transformation experience” took us about two hours. We did not need to prepare anything in advance.

I asked some questions to the staff, who told me that many foreigners come to this shop. Some days only foreigners come! Spring is the busiest and most crowded season because it is the best season in which to see cherry blossoms.

Please try the “maiko transformation” experience when you come to Kyoto. Another good makeover studio which has an English section on its website is Studio Shiki.

Dressing Up as a Maiko in Kyoto

by Naoko Iseki and Hajime Yozaki

Maiko and geiko are traditional performers whose job it is to add zest to a dinner by singing, dancing, and playing the shamisen. They are also a symbol of traditional Japanese culture. Are you interested in maiko and geiko and the kimono they wear? Kimono is one of the most well-known traditional costumes in Japan. Perhaps, we associate kimono with maiko and geiko. They are really beautiful!

Visitors to Kyoto can also dress up as a maiko. Here is what some customers said about their experience:

  • “I study about Japanese culture at a university in the United States. I became interested in Japanese culture when I first saw kimono. Though I have been to Kyoto three times, it was the first time for me to dress up as a maiko. Kimono was easier to wear than I expected. There are lots of beautiful kimono, and it is very hard to find a kimono I love.”
  • “Becoming a maiko was one of my dreams since I was a child. The material of kimono is very good, and also the staff were very helpful.”
  • “My daughter was very pleased to dress up as a maiko. And through the experience of dressing up as a maiko, she seemed to be able to understand Kyoto’s traditional culture.”
  • “When I dressed up as maiko, many foreigners believed I was a real maiko and took pictures of me.”
  • “I felt that face powder was cool. At first, I was shy to apply ruby lipstick because I’m not accustomed to using make up.”
  • “Because I wore a beautiful kimono, I tried to walk deliberately, I could become a maiko.”

Now, we will introduce some shops where you can dress up as a maiko in Kyoto.


The main office is located near Kiyomizu Temple. After being transformed into a maiko, you can go for a walk around Kodaiji Temple, Nene Road, Sannen-zaka, Ninen-zaka, Yasaka Shrine, and Chion-in Temple. Shiki has 200 kimono, and you can choose which one you want to wear.

Sample Plans

Maiko Studio Photography Plan
Cost: 9,975 yen
Time required: two hours and ten minutes
・Contents: twelve poses taken in the studio, and a photo book containing twelve pages

Maiko Stroll Plan
Cost: 13,000 yen
Time required: two and a half hours
・Contents: twelve poses taken in the studio, a stroll lasting an hour, and a photo book containing twelve pages

Samurai Plan (for men)
Cost: 8,500 yen
Time required: one hour and 50 minutes
・Contents: twelve poses taken in the studio, and a photo book containing twelve pages


Address: 351-16, Masuya-cho, Kodaiji-Minamimon, Higasiyama-ku, Kyoto, JAPAN
Access: a five-minute walk from the city bus stop “Kiyomizu-michi”
Tel: 075-531-2777 Fax: 075-533-2244

HP: http://www.maiko-henshin.com/index2.html

Shiki also has two branches, Sakura and Kitano.


The first branch is located in Gion. You can take a walk around Kiyomizu Temple, Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Sanjusangen-do, and Kenninji Temple. Sakura has 150 kimono, and you can choose which one you want to wear.

Sample Plans

Maiko Sakura Plan
Cost: 6,500 yen
Time required: one hour and 50 minutes
・Contents: two poses taken in the studio, and an album containing two pages

Maiko Studio Photography Plan
Cost: 8,900 yen
Time required: two hours
・Contents: six poses taken in the studio, and an album containing six pages

Samurai Plan (for men)
Cost: 6,500 yen
Time required: one hour and 20 minutes
・Contents: two poses taken in the studio, and an album containing two pages


Address: Building-Shiki, 110-9 Tatsumi-cho, Todaiji-Matubara noboru, Higasiyama-ku, Kyoto, JAPAN
Access: the shop is front of the city bus stop “Kiyomizu-Michi”
Tel: 075-533-6666 Fax: 075-533-6667
E-mail and HP are the same as the main office


The second branch of Shiki is located near Kinkakuji Temple. Nearby are Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine and Ryoanji Temple. Kitano has 150 kimono, too, and you can choose which one you want to wear. The plans available at Kitano branch are almost the same as the main office, Shiki.

Address: 54-4, Hiranotoriimachi-Cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto, JAPAN
Access: Near the city bus stop “Wara-Tenjin-Mae”
Tel: 075-462-3777 Fax: 075-462-1117
E-mail and HP are the same as the main office

※If you want to dress up as a geiko, you have to pay an additional 2,100 yen.


The shop is located near Kyoto Station. Maika has 400 kimono, and you can choose which one you want to wear.

Sample Plans

Okigaru Plan
Cost: 6,500 yen
Time required: one hour
・Contents: two pictures, and free photography in the shop

※If you want to dress up as geiko, you have to pay an additional 1,500 yen.

Aoi Plan
This is the most popular plan in this shop!
Cost: 13,650 yen
Time required: one hour and a half
・Contents: four pictures, 60 minutes’ free photography, and a 30-minute stroll from the shop to Ebisu Shrine

Miyako Plan
Cost: 15,750 yen
Time required: one hour and 45 minutes
・Contents: four pictures, 60 minutes’ free photography in the shop, and a 45-minute stroll from the shop to Kenninnji Temple

Okigaru Samurai Plan
Cost: 6,500 yen
Time required: one hour
・Contents: two pictures, 60 minutes’ free photography in the shop

Shinsen-Gumi Plan
Cost: 12,600 yen
Time required: one hour and 20 minutes (max.)
・Contents: two pictures, and 60 minutes’ free photography in the shop


Address: 4-297, Miyagawa-suji, Shijo-kudaru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, JAPAN
Access: a three-minute walk from the station “Gion-Shijo,” on the Keihan line or a five-minute walk from the station “Shijo-Kawaramachi,” on the Hankyu line
Tel: 075-551-1661
HP: http://www.maica.tv/index.htm


This shop is located near Kiyomizu Temple.

Sample Plans

Hannari Plan
Cost: 8,800 yen
Time required: one hour
・Contents: a post card, and a free photograph
※This shop accepts only 3 groups per day for the plan.

Maiko Geisha Henshin Plan
Cost: 19,800 yen
Time required: one hour and a half
・Contents: four pictures, and free photography
※With this plan, you can experience dressing up as both a maiko and a geiko.

Shinsen-gumi Plan
Cost: 9,000 yen
Time required: 40 minutes
・Contents: two pictures, and free photography
※Women also can experience this plan.


Address: 6-583-70, Gojobashi-higashi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, JAPAN
Access: a five-minute walk from the city bus stop “Gojo-Zaka”
Tel/ Fax 075-531-1166
HP: http://www.maiko-taiken.com/index.html

Dança de Gion

by Tomomi Serizawa

Todos os anos, entre os dias 1 e 10 de novembro, é possível assistir à dança das famosas Maiko e Geiko de Quioto. Durante estes dez dias, são realizadas duas apresentações diárias, às 13:30 e 16:00, respetivamente.

Em Quioto, existem cinco grupos tradicionais de Maiko e Geiko. A dança de novembro pertence ao grupo de Gion-Higashi.

Na primavera, os restantes quatro grupos também representam as suas danças:

Miyako-odori (1~30 abril)

Kyo-odori (7~22 abril)

Kitano-odori (15~25 abril)

Kamogawa-odori (1~24 maio)

Esta é uma das raras ocasiões em que qualquer pessoa pode assistir ao vivo à atuação das Maiko e Geiko.


Praça Gion-Kaikan

Telefone: 075-561-1224

Estação de trêm: Shijo (Keihan Line); Kawaramachi (Hankyu Line)

Estação de metrô: Higashiyama

Data: 1 a 10 de Novembro (13:30~14:30 e 16:00~17:00)

Entrada: 4000 ienes (inclui chá verde e um prato japonês)
3500 ienes (sem chá e sem oferta de prato)

Japanese beauty, Maiko

by Mariko NAKAMURA
Kyoto is a place where you can encounter the traditional, beautiful, and slender , a “Maiko”. Maiko paint their faces white, have red lips, wear beautiful kimono, and have arranged hair with ornamental hairpins. They seem like dolls, and their appearance, and dance fascinates many people. Their job is entertaining guests by serving sake, performancing dance, songs,and playing instruments.

Maiko and Geiko

Firstly, most people know about “geisha”. Actually, “geisha” is a term used in Kanto area; people call them “Geiko” in Kyoto. Besides, “maiko”, which is Kyoto dialect, is called “hangyoku” in the Kanto area. After graduation from junior high school, a girl will debut as “maiko”. They mainly dance in front of guests because they have practiced only for a few years. They work as maiko until the age of 20. After that they become Geiko, sing and play instruments, because these take a long time to acquire. There is no age limit for being Geiko.

History of Maiko

The origin of Maiko can be traced back 300 years. At that time, women served guests green tea and dango, a traditional dessert, in teahouses. These women then began to dance and sing songs to attract customers, and serve Japanese sake instead of green tea. This was the origin of Geiko. Girls started to wear pretty kimono, and dance at the end of a flirting contest. This was the origin of Maiko.

Maiko’s daily life

Maiko dance and sing beautifully in front of their guests, and their lives look gorgeous. Their daily lives, however, are hard and strict. In the morning, they strive for progress in their skills. They usually practice Japanese dance, tea ceremony, shamisen, a Japanese traditional stringed instrumental, flower arrangement, and so on. They learn a lot of Japanese culture. After lunch and a rest, they start to prepare for work by making up, arranging hair, and putting on kimono. At night, they entertaion customers in a Japanese-style room by serving alcohol, dancing, singing and playing shamisen. They finish work around one or two. Their daily lives are really hard, but they take great pride in their job.
They are one of Japan’s cultural treasures.

* Maiko can often be seen in kagai districts where there are many okiya, or geisha houses. There are five such districts in Kyoto: “Kamishitiken”, “Gionkoubu”, “Gionhigashi”, “Pontochou”, and “Miyagawachou”.


where maiko & geisha live & perform
by YONEO Kazumi

Maiko and geisha are the living image of Kyoto. Even Hollywood films featuring them in leading roles are being produced, so these colorful, kimono-clad figures will continue to draw attention from all over the world.

Maiko, which literally means “dancing girl,” are apprentice geisha, and geiko are fully fledged geisha. These cultured women live as boarders in hanamachi — literally, “flower towns,” which are special districts where maiko and geiko practice and perform their dancing and other traditional arts. Kyoto has five hanamachi: Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi, Pontocho, Kamishichiken, and Miyagawa-cho.

To become a maiko, a girl graduating from junior high school at age 15 gets an introduction through an acquaintance who has a relationship with a geisha house, known as an o-chaya (or okiya) In other words, she starts to train when her compulsory education finishes. In an interview with the applicant, the o-chaya’s head lady, or okami, explains what the challenging work will involve, such as years of training and strict rules, and if the girl still wishes to become a maiko she leaves the parental roof and begins to live in the hanamachi. She will begin her apprenticeship by doing the chores of her house and by learning Kyoto dialect for about 11 months. Every day she also practices Japanese dance, the shamisen (a stringed instrument), tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy and Japanese poetry, in addition to learning about kimono.

When 11 months have passed, the okami decides the time of the girl’s debut as a maiko.Now, one of the geisha living under the same roof will become her oneesan — an elder sister who teaches her all of the manners in the parlor, the special etiquette and social graces of the geisha’s world. She will also get a new name. When being given new names, maiko usually receive one Chinese character from the oneesan’s name. For example, if the oneesan’s name is 豆千代, the new maiko’s name will be 豆花. You can see from this how very deep their relationship will be.

When four or five years of intensive training have passed, the young woman graduates from the maiko class and becomes a geiko. This event is called erikae. Eri means collar, and erikae means to change the color of her collar, because while a maiko wears a red-collared kimono, a geiko wears a white one. After she becomes a geiko, the woman will also begin wearing a wig instead of making a Japanese coiffure with her real hair. Lucky for her, she can now shampoo every day without any hesitation!

There must be many people living in or visiting Kyoto who would like to meet maiko and geiko. In the hanamachi, however, there is a traditional system for handling customers which is called ichigen san okotowari, in which customers who visit for the first time with no introduction from a regular client are refused service. It’s the most famous system of hanamachi and although it may sound cold or mean, the o-chaya do this for good reasons: first, because they will ask customers to pay their bills one month later by sending someone to the customer’s house; and secondly, because an o-chaya has to know their customers’ preferences to provide them with a truly warm welcome. So, ichigen san okotowari is a good system in the hanamachi.

To tell the truth, however, there is also a method of meeting the maiko and the geisha even if you know no acquaintance who can vouch for you in the hanamachi. The maiko and geiko hold a lot of events throughout the year, and there are some in which even the general public can participate. These are where their dances can be seen. In April, the Miyako-odori (known in English as the “Cherry Blossom Dance”) is held in Gion from April 1st to 30th. The Kyo-odori is held in Miyagawa-cho from the first through the third Sunday in April. The Kitano-odori is performed in Kamishichiken from April 15th to 25th. In May, the Kamogawa-odori is held in Pontocho from May 1st to 24th. In the autumn, the Gion-odori can be enjoyed in Gion Higashi from November 1st to 10th. Details are available by clicking on this link to the Kyoto City Tourists’ Association’s “Event Web Magazine”: http://www.kyotojoho.co.jp/english/index.html#

If you come to Kyoto on a day when none of the above events are scheduled, please wait in front of Ichiriki, the most famous o-chaya in Gion, between 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. You’ll find it on the corner of Shijo and Hanamikoji streets. During this hour you surely can see maiko and geiko entering Ichiriki. Of course, you cannot talk to them even if you try, because they are going to work. However, you will be unable to take your eyes off of them, because their appearances and the way they walk are very beautiful and elegant.

One last tip: If you are a woman, Kyoto’s Higashiyama area has a lot of shops that can offer you the service of dressing and making you up to transform you into a “maiko” or “geisha” (at least in appearance!) for a day. The price is about 10,000 yen. How about adding this experience to the fond memories of your trip to Kyoto?