“Hanamachi” is the area where the guests are entertained by Maiko and Geisya. There are 5 Hanamachi areas in Kyoto, (祇園甲部) Gion-Kobu, (先斗町) Ponto-cho, (宮川町) Miyagawa-cho, (祇園東) Gion-Higashi and (上七軒) Kamishichiken.
The Geisha and Maiko are the successors of the beauty of Kyoto. They entertain guests with Japanese traditional performances, such as dances and shamisen play. The Geisha and Maiko are always being elegant and creating the fantasy world free from the daily life for a little while. They aim to the highest level of sophistication in the Japanese hospitality businesses.
This profession doesn’t have too much information about it. Even the Japanese people can easily misunderstand their unique manners, verbal expressions and behaviors. That could be one of the reason why we get fascinated by their mysterious charm.
What a Maiko is ?
Maiko is defined as a person between 15-20 years old under training to become Geisya. She’s yet to start performing on her own. They live with an experienced Geisha or Maiko and “Shikomisan” (girls who are training to become Maiko) under the supervision of “Okami” at a training place called “Okiya” (a tea house) to learn traditional customs, wearing a kimono, manners, hanamachi accents and performances.
The relationship between juniors and seniors, and the training are extremely tough. They say there are many applicants who give up trying to become a Maiko.
Okiya takes complete care of the living expenses, food and clothing, training fees. Because of this arrangement, Maiko earns about 5,000 yen per month (also, the tips belong to Maiko) and the rest of the income is used to cover the training and education fees.
In most cases, she trains for 5 or 6 years before graduating from the Maiko level, and then It is her choice whether to become a Geisha or quit. The whole experience must have had a huge influence on her life, even if she quits at that stage.
Maiko have their face painted white, and eyebrows and eyes with two colors of red and black. Junior Maiko have only their lower lip painted red.
Hair Their hair is parted into four sections in a style called “ware-shinobu“. The hair accessories worn change with each seasons.
“Darari-obi “is a type of kimono belt that hangs at the back. They are about 6-meter long and are quite heavy.
”Okobo” are shoes that can be up to 10cm high. Those worn by Junior Maiko have a bell inside that makes a sound every time they walk.
Where you may see the Geisha and the Maiko in Kyoto!
①Gion-Kobu Area (There is a theater called Gion-Corner where you can see many kind of traditional performance by Maiko)
⑤Shirakawa-Minami-dori street (You may come across Geisha and Maiko heading to a banquet in the late afternoon)
⑥Hanami-koji-dori street (There are many Okiya and banquet places)
⑦Tatsumi-Daimyojin Shrine (Geisha and Maiko visit to pray for improving the technique of their perfoemance)
※ Please respect the Geisha and Maiko as they are not mascots of Kyoto. Real Geisha and Maiko on the streets in those areas tend to be busy and on their duty. I strongly recommend not to interfere with them by asking to have photos taken with them.
But there are many “fake maiko” on the streets of Kyoto and Many of them will be glad if you ask them for a photograph. Nowadays tourists would not just visit the temples and shrines. Becoming a fake Maiko is the second most popular things to do for tourists. There are around fifty fake Maiko transformation studios in the area. They are in full Maiko gear and walking down any street in Gion area.
The easiest way to tell between real and fake one
Fake maiko are not in a hurry and leisurely walk through the touristy areas. You won’t see real maiko taking a walk in the park. They usually just quickly walk from the taxi to the nearby banquet place or the other way around.
Real Maiko don’t need people to help them walk with, but Fake Maiko are not accustomed to wearing special maiko shoes and a kimono, so they walk very slow.
Real Maiko are very young girls, mostly teenagers. They have their hair done every week and not wear wigs. They are not allowed to use cellphones, to get ears pierced, to have fake nails on or polished nails. They don’t smoke and eat and drink on the streets.