Translated by Jasmine Nishino
The World Of Maiko And Geiko - How To Meet Them
Take a peek at the mysterious world of the geiko and maiko of Kyoto, the elegant artisans performing traditional music and dances in beautiful kimonos.
Written by Sawada Tomomi
What Are Maiko And Geiko?
When visiting the ancient city of Kyoto, many visitors might hope to meet a maiko or geiko.
Unfortunately, you cannot simply meet them anywhere. You would have to go to a specific place and, if your timing is right and you are lucky, you just might manage to encounter one. In this article, we will introduce basic information about these women along with the differences between the maiko and geisha themselves. Why not check it out before stopping by Kyoto?
Ladies who perform music, dances, and converse with party guests as an occupation are called maiko and geisha (or geiko).
Maiko and geiko originated in the teahouses around the Gion area where the Yasaka Shrine is located in Kyoto, around 300 years ago during the Edo period. Teahouses were shops that served tea to travelers heading to shrines and temples. In those shops, those ladies who served their guests along with songs and dances were the origins of the maiko and the geiko.
What are the Differences Between Maiko and Geiko?
The maiko mainly perform dances as a form of entertainment to their guests. Normally their performances make use of the shamisen (a traditional string instrument), classic Japanese music, and other traditional performing arts, but the maiko herself is mainly concerned with dancing, as they are considered to still be undergoing training. Maiko are mainly beginners while they are under 20 years of age. After five years of training, they are finally able to move onto other performance arts such as classical Japanese music, shamisen, tea and flower arrangement (*1) to become a geiko.
*1 Japanese music, shamisen, tea, and flowers: A variety of traditional Japanese performing arts and culture, wherein the shamisen (a 3 string banjo-like instrument) is played as songs are sung, tea is prepared and served as in a tea ceremony and flowers are arranged in front of the guests.
Where to Meet Maiko And Geiko
In Kyoto, there are districts called Hanamachi where the geiko gather. You are more likely to encounter a geiko in these areas than elsewhere in Kyoto.
Out of the five Hanamachi in Kyoto, currently, this is the oldest Hanamachi.
This tea house began in the Edo era in front of Yasaka Shrine and is the largest of the five Hanamachi in Kyoto.
There's also a high chance for you to see them at the Hanamachi between 4:30 - 6:30 PM.
How To Spot A Real Maiko
During peak tourist seasons, most of the maiko around Kiyomizu Temple, Gion or Arashiyama are not real maiko. They are tourists enjoying the activity of becoming a maiko for a aday. During the day, real maiko tend to be practicing their arts, so most ladies dressed as maiko during the day are not likely to be real maiko. If you spot a maiko or geiko after sundown hurrying along their way somewhere, they may be real.
Rules and Manners When Meeting Maiko or Geiko
Upon encountering a maiko, please do not touch or pull on the kimonos worn by them. Do not flag them down or stand in front of them to take photos - let them pass through. If you happen to spot a maiko or geiko, watch them from afar or take a photo without being in their way.