Geisha Show and Experience Gion Kyoto

Kyoto's best geisha show and experience by Gion Maikoya

This is the official page of Gion Maikoya which offers traditional geisha experiences and authentic geisha shows in Kyoto everyday. On this site, you can also get complete and accurate information on Kyoto's geisha districts, Gion district, daily geisha shows, geisha houses, geisha tours, maiko shows and the private geisha entertainment that are written by Kyoto's geisha experts.
The location of Geisha Show & Maiko Experience GION MAIKOYA Reviews & Photos

How to meet a geisha

How to meet a Geisha

Where to see a Geisha in Kyoto?

Where to see a Geisha

Geisha shows

Geisha shows

Geisha tea ceremony

Geisha tea ceremony

Geisha experiences

Geisha experiences

Geisha tours

Geisha tours

Gion Geisha district

Gion Geisha district

What is a Geisha

What is a Geisha

What is a Maiko

What is a Maiko

Private Geisha Meeting

Private Geisha (Maiko) Meeting

This is a fully private geisha meeting in a traditional room where the geisha dances for you and also performs tea ceremony for you. The meetings can be arranged in a teahouse, a Japanese restaurant or an izakaya. Most of the time the meeting lasts for 2 hours where you meet the geisha at the designated spot, usually a restaurant, the geisha and an interpreter sit at your table and the geisha pours your drink and has the meal with you. The private meeting cost ranges between $400~1000 per person based on what you eat and drink. Private geisha tea ceremony costs around $300 per person.

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Geisha Tea Ceremony: a geisha is preparing tea

Geisha (Maiko) Tea Ceremony

By participating in the geisha tea ceremony, you get to interact with the geisha and also learn about this unique tradition. The apprentice geisha demonstrates how to make the tea in a proper way and also prepares the tea for you in a traditional setting. Maikoya is the only venue that offers geisha tea ceremony experience everyday in Gion Kyoto. The geisha tea ceremony also includes sweets tasting and asking questions to geisha.

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Geisha Dinner Show Kyoto: geisha is welcoming customers

Geisha Dinner Show

After a long day in Kyoto, you may want to relax and enjoy delicious meal by waiting the traditional dance performance of a Kyoto geisha. There are a few options for geisha dinner show in Kyoto most of which are offered in or near the Gion geisha district. This experience lasts about 2 hours where you go to a restaurant and have a set menu items of fresh meal and then watch the geisha performance. After the meal you can ask questions to the geisha and even participate in traditional geisha games called “ozashiki asobi.” usually it is an all-you-can-drink for 2 hours.

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Geisha Dance Show Kyoto

Geisha Show - Miyako Odori

The Best Geisha Dance Show in Kyoto Minamiza Theater, Miyako Odori, will be held between the 1st and 3rd weeks of April. In this unique event, the geisha (geiko) and apprentice geisha (maiko) will perform various dances to depict the well-known Japanese novel“the tale of Genji.” The locals in Kyoto consider this event to be the the beginning of the exciting Spring season. There are multiple geisha dance events in Kyoto, but, locals prefer attending this special performance because the Gion geisha district is considered to be special.

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Gion Geisha Walking Tour

Gion Geisha Walking Tour

This is a walking tour offered every other hour in Gion by Geisha and Tea Ceremony Museum Maikoya. You will enjoy learning about the culture, history and hidden gems of Gion but it is not guaranteed that you see a geisha in every single tour. An English speaking local tour guide will show you historical buildings in Gion and teach you where the geisha of Gion usually hang out. If the weather is bad the tour is held inside the Tea Ceremony & Geisha Museum of Gion.

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Geisha and Tea Ceremony Museum:the museum displays gheisha and tea seremony tools

Geisha and Tea Ceremony Museum

The museum has many exhibitions, artifacts and explanations on the history and culture of geisha. There are guided tours which last for about 30 minutes but the visitors can also walk inside the museum on their own. The museum collection is limited to geisha musical instruments, geisha hair accessories and geisha kimono. The museum has simple and easy-to-understand visual aids on the differences between maiko and geisha and the geisha training phases. The museum also hosts various geisha shown and geisha experiences.

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Geisha Online

Geisha (Maiko) Online PRIVATE Meeting

You can meet a real geisha from Kyoto’s geisha district online. Since this is a limited time opportunity, you may be one of the few in the world to get a chance to talk to a real geisha from Kyoto at your living room. This is a PRIVATE geisha meeting. You can invite your friends and family as the price covers up to 10 people. The geisha will be wearing her traditional white make-up and her traditional outfit which takes hours of preparation.

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Geisha Makeover experience in Gion

Geisha Makeover experience in Gion

Enjoy unique geisha transformation experience with full white face makeup, beautiful kimono, Japanese traditional hairstyle wig and professional cameramen. The experience of geisha makeover in the city in the city of geisha is a dream come true for many women from all around the world. You will remember this geisha makeover experience forever.

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Kimono Tea ceremony Kyoto

Gion Kyoto Geisha District

There are 5 geisha districts in Kyoto and Gion Kobu is the most prestigious one where a geisha experience without a reference is almost impossible. Most travelers visit the historic streets of Gion Kobu and the southern side of Hanamikoji street during their travel to Kyoto. There you will find geisha houses, teahouses and historic temples.

the Gion walking tour map
Gion disclaimer

Disclaimer

Recently there are many incidents where tourists engage in irresponsible behavior in Gion which include

Please remember!!!

The geisha are human beings, they are not objects. You have to respect the privacy of the geisha. You have to understand that you endanger yourself and the geisha on the narrow streets of Gion when you come too close. You have to understand that geishas are likely on their way to work and they should not be late. You also have to understand that the geisha may be accompanied by their private client whose privacy must be respected.

Update : As of November 25th, 2019, on many side streets of the Hanamikoji Street, photo taking has been banned.

How to meet a Geisha in KyotoHow to meet a geisha in Kyoto

The easiest and most affordable way to meet and talk to a geisha is a geisha tea ceremony or geisha dinner show both of which can be booked on this site. In the past, it was impossible to meet a geisha for the first-timers because in Kyoto there is a rule called “ichigensan okotowari'' which means personal reference is necessary for a geisha meeting to keep the exclusivity. Nowadays, our teahouse organizes geisha tea ceremony experiences and geisha shows which allow you to meet and talk to geisha through an interpreter. While private geisha meetings are expensive, costing $500 plus meals and drinks, a geisha tea ceremony can be as affordable as $100 per person. Kyoto also has geisha tours, public dance performances, geisha festivals and geisha beer garden events that are held certain times of the year. For those who want to transform into a geisha, there are even geisha makeover experiences available.

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Where to see a geisha in Kyoto?Where to see a geisha in Kyoto?

You can see a geisha in front of Maikoya teahouse everyday but you may also randomly spot a geisha on the corner of Hanami Koji Street and Shijo Street right in front of Ichriki Chaya during the early evening hours. You are more likely to see a geisha on Fridays and Saturdays and less likely to encounter them on Sundays, Mondays and national holidays. However, recently, especially after the Coronavirus pandemic, it is rare to spot a geisha in Kyoto and the geisha association in Gion is getting more and more strict on tourists chasing geisha for a photo op. After the recent incidents of hordes of tourists’ blocking the way of geisha who are on their way to work, they introduced new regulations where even taking a photo of the geisha beside the main street is punished by a 160 USD fine.

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What is the Geisha Tea Ceremony?Geisha Tea Ceremony

Geishas usually entertain their guests in teahouses and all geisha must learn to properly serve tea and hold a tea ceremony. Once a year, the geisha from the Kamishichiken area serve matcha tea to the locals at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. To continue the geisha and tea ceremony tradition, Maikoya organizes a tea ceremony every afternoon led by a geisha in its historic teahouse which is a registered cultural property. By participating in the geisha tea ceremony, you get to interact with the geisha and also learn about this unique tradition. The geisha demonstrates how to make the tea in a proper way and also prepares the tea for you in a traditional setting. Maikoya is the only venue that offers geisha tea ceremony experience everyday in central Kyoto. The geisha tea ceremony also includes sweets tasting, wearing a traditional kimono and asking questions to the geisha. You are more than welcome to take a picture with the geisha.

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Are there daily geisha shows in Kyoto? geisha shows in Kyoto

There are two venues in Kyoto that organize geisha dance shows everyday: Maikoya and Gion Corner. Maikoya geisha dance performance is held inside the historic tea house near the Gion district. The ticket for the dance performance includes a Gion walking tour, watching the performance, brief explanations on the history and tradition of geisha and the Q &A session. The two geisha shows held in Gion Corner start at 6 PM and 7 PM respectively and last approximately 50 minutes where you can watch geisha dance shows (around 10 mins) and various cultural performances by locals (bunraku puppet show, Kyogen theater and etc.). There used to be a geisha & maiko shows at Kyoto Tower but they are no longer held. Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto also sometimes holds geisha shows for its guests in the lobby on weekends.

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How to reserve a geisha dinner show in Kyoto? How to reserve a geisha dinner show

A typical geisha dinner show with the traditional Japanese kaiseki meal costs around $200 and you can reserve for one on this site. One of the options for geisha dinner shows is Gion Hatanaka which has been held for 10 years usually on Friday evenings. You can also ask the concierge of your hotel or ryokan to arrange one for you, though it may cost a little more. There are a few options for geisha dinner shows in Kyoto most of which are offered in or near the Gion Kyoto geisha district. This experience lasts about 2 hours where you go to a restaurant and have a set menu item of fresh meal and then watch the geisha performance. After the meal you can ask questions to the geisha and even participate in traditional geisha games called “ozashiki asobi.” usually it is an all-you-can-drink for 2 hours.

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Gion walking tours & geisha tours in Kyoto Gion walking tours

Maikoya offers various geisha tours in Kyoto. The most popular Kyoto Geisha Tour is the Gion Walking Tour offered both night time and day time. During the walking tour you will enjoy learning about Japanese culture, history and hidden gems of Gion but it is not guaranteed that you see a geisha in every single tour. An English speaking local tour guide will show you historical buildings in Gion Kyoto and teach you where the geisha of Gion usually hang out. If the weather is bad the geisha tour is held inside Maikoya’s teahouse. Maikoya also organizes private geisha tours where you can enter an old geisha house and talk to the okiya owner who is a retired geisha. Find out more about geisha tours in Kyoto.

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Is it possible to meet a geisha privately? meet a geisha privately

Private Meetings with a geisha is recently possible thanks to some okiya owners who are flexible and who want to introduce Kyoto’s traditional geisha culture to the world. If you are staying at a pricy ryokan such as Hiiragiya or Tawaraya, where Steve Jobs stayed at, the ryokan can invite a geisha to the private dining hall for you. They can also arrange a private meeting at Maikoya’s teahouse, a Japanese restaurant or an izakaya. Most of the time the meeting lasts for 2 hours where you meet the geisha at the designated spot, usually a restaurant, the geisha and an interpreter sit at your table and the geisha pours your drink and has the meal with you. The private meeting cost ranges between $400~1000 per person based on what you eat and drink. The most affordable way to have a private meeting with a geisha is a private geisha tea ceremony that costs around $300 per person. This is a fully private arrangement in a traditional room where the geisha dances for you and also performs a tea ceremony for you. Many honeymooners in Kyoto opt for this option at Maikoya.

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Where can you dress up as a geisha in Kyoto? dress up as a geisha

Recently there are geisha makeover experiences and geisha dress up transformation experiences near the downtown Kyoto area. One popular geisha transformation venue is Gion Aya maiko & geisha makeover experience though the staff have limited English skills. Maikoya also provides the geisha dress up experience where professional staff who are highly skilled makeup artists and kimono experts will transform you into a modern day geisha. Then professional photographers will take your picture in the studio as well as designated photo spots outdoors. You will receive a professional top-quality photo booklet with your beautiful shots right away. The cost of this experience varies from 10,000 JPY to 25,000 JPY based on the photo quality. One thing you have to keep in mind is the experience takes around 3 hours as it is a tedious experience that involves make-up, hairdo dress up and studio photography and changing back. Ladies who want to experience this with their boyfriends or husbands must consider the waiting time.

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Geisha Dance Shows in Kyoto for Public Geisha Dance Shows in Kyoto

Every major geisha district in Kyoto performs an annual dance show open to the public.These are the geisha shows where you can see so many geisha performing on the stage. The best geisha dance show is the Miyako Odori, which translates to ‘The Dance of the Old Capital’. This is performed at the Minamiza Theatre, and has been performed between April 1st and 21st commemorating the cherry blossom season since 1873. This ensemble, participated by over 80 geiko and maiko, is quite popular so it is important to book the geisha show tickets quickly if you wish to attend. There is a smaller dance during November called the Gion Odori performed by the geisha in Gion Higashi. This is celebrating the leaves changing for autumn, though there are fewer performances at the Kaburenjo Theatre. The other notable seasonal geisha performances are Kyo odori by the geisha in Miyagawacho, Kamogawa odori by the geisha in Pontocho and Kitano Odori by the geisha in Kamishichiken. Also you can see geishas walking on the Shijo Street and greeting the public during the official Gion Festival that takes place during the month of July (It has been cancelled in 2020 because of the Coronavirus pandemic).

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Geisha beer garden experiences in the summer

For those who can’t afford to have a traditional private geisha company, some weeks in the summer there is a chance to meet with a geisha in places called beer gardens. As the name implies, these are usually terrace-style open air restaurants where you can have a beer and enjoy snacks accompanied by an apprentice geisha. The most popular beer garden where geisha occasionally come sit at your table and have a small chat is Kamishichiken Kaburenjo Theater. The beer and the light appetizer only costs about $20 and you can go there after 6 pm during the months of July and August. The downside is the geisha usually show up in the casual yukata without the traditional white-powdered make up and don’t speak much English. Also remember that the venue is not in the downtown Kyoto area and they don’t allow kids in the venue. If you’d like to go there with an English speaking geisha expert please contact Maikoya.

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Is there a geisha museum in Kyoto? geisha museum

Maikoya owns and operates the Gion Geisha Museum but it is currently under renovation. At the same time, both Maikoya Teahouse and Gion Corner have exhibitions, artifacts and explanations on the history and culture of geisha. Both venues have rather limited collections as people usually prefer interacting with geisha instead of looking at artifacts. Maikoya’s geisha museum which used to be located in Gion was recently closed. Nevertheless, Maikoya teahouse has simple and easy-to-understand visual aids on the differences between maiko and geisha and the geisha training phases some of them shared on this page.

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What is a Geisha?What is a Geisha?

Geisha (芸者) means "Person of Art" or "Artist." Also called geiko (sounds like geico) in Kyoto dialect, they still maintain a traditional lifestyle similar to the Edo Period. While geishas are sometimes mistaken for concubines in the Western literature, geishas are well respected cultural performers in Japan because of their skills that require so much training and effort. According to historian Lesley Downer, first geisha were males who emerged in the 1600s as theatrical entertainers that performed skits on the riverbed of Kamogawa in Kyoto. Later in the 1700's geisha became elite dancers and teahouse owners creating the floating world where everything is run and controlled by women. Today geisha are the cultural ambassadors of Japan and the symbol of Kyoto.

Geishas, called geiko in Kyoto dialect (pronounced as gay-kou), are artisans who dedicate their lives to traditional Japanese arts such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement and buyo dance. Geishas entertain their guests with dance, music, conversation, and other arts at banquets held at teahouses. While these terms are quite vague, they have come to be identified with highly trained women who entertain exclusive clientele in special districts. Each geisha is registered to work in a Hanamachi (花街), which means "Flower Town," and will live and train in these districts while they remain active in the profession. Geisha take classes in various art forms six days a week and get two days off from work each month. The number of geisha is 254 (by April, 2020) based on the figures provided by Ookini Zaidan down from tens of thousands in the early 1900's. Among the existing geisha, around 70 are called maiko or "apprentice geisha" who mostly come from different towns outside Kyoto. There are some rumors that some maiko may quit after the Coronavirus pandemic.

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What is the difference between a geisha and maiko? What is a Geisha?

The main differences between maiko and geisha (geiko) are age, appearance and skills.

Maiko is usually younger than 20, wears more colorful kimono with a red collar and lacks conversation skills. Maiko means “dancing child” which refers to apprentice geisha who are still training. Maiko have to live in the geisha lodging house (okiya) with their mother (okamisan) for 5 years. Maiko, the apprentice geisha, are not allowed to have a cell phone, carry any money or have a boyfriend.

Maiko and Geisha (Geiko)

Maiko are the colorful and flashy apprentices. Maiko’s outfits are more eye-catching to divert attention from the lack of knowledge and experience. Geisha’s fashion is more mature and subtle. Maiko must live in the “mother”s house and depend on the little stipend she receives from the geisha house while geisha are more independent and live in a separate house of their own in the geisha neighborhoods. You can easily distinguish between geisha and maiko based on the image below that shows the differences in terms of outfit and appearance.

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Where is Gion, Kyoto's Major Geisha District? Kyoto's Major Geisha District Gion

Gion is the most prestigious geisha district in Japan which was established during the Edo period in the 17th century.The area is right in front of Yasaka shrine since the shrine’s pilgrims needed an entertainment area where they could take a rest, drink, eat, relax, and prepare for the journey back home. In 1871, Yasaka Shrine, which used to be called the Gion Shrine, was recognized as the kanpei-taisha (the highest ranking government supported shrine). Afterwards, a number of tea houses near the shrine were built and many geisha started serving tea to visitors. During the Meiji period, there would be over 700 teahouses and over 3000 geiko and maiko inside Gion. In 1881 Gion was separated into two parts, Gion Kobu (The Western side of the Hanamikoji Street) and Gion Higashi (The Eastern side of the Hanamikoji Street).

Nowadays, Gion Kobu is inhabited by about 70 geiko and 30 maiko, and they work at 60 teahouses. The map below shows the southern side of Gion Kobu also known as Gion Minamigawa which is the area visited by most tourists. While this part of Gion is most popular housing the Kenninji Temple with Zen Gardens and Kyoto’s oldest geisha house Ichriki Chaya, the other side of Shijo Street known as Gion Shirakawa is called the most beautiful street in Kyoto. Gion Kobu’s geiko and maiko study the Inoue school of dance which is influenced by Noh theatre. The geiko and maiko of Gion kobu also present the Miyako Odori stage performance every April. The crest of Gion kobu represents a dango (sweet rice cakes) skewer with “Ko” sign inside.

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Major Geisha Districts in Kyoto Gion Geisha Districts

Kyoto has 5 hanamachi, each with their own history and flavours. Collectively they are known as the Gokagai (五花街), which means “Five Flower Towns.” The Gion geisha district is considered to be the most popular among locals and international travelers. The oldest geisha district is Kamishichiken but it is not well-known as it is outside the city center. Pontocho geisha district is the one closest to the city center. It is near the Pontocho canal which was used by rich merchants to transport goods from Osaka during the Meiji period who were entertained by the geisha in the nearby teahouses. Miyagawacho geisha district is right by Minamiza Kabuki Theater as in Japan it is custom for kabuki artists to hangout with the geisha. In the map below you can only see 4 areas as the Gion district is shown as one area even though it consists of two separate districts: Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi.

Kyoto Geisha Districts

The largest and most prestigious of them all is Gion Kobu (祇園甲部). Located beside Yasaka Shrine, it was once a single hanamachi together with its neighbour, Gion Higashi (祇園東), but the split occurred in a fantastical fashion. In 1872 the capital had recently been moved to Tokyo from Kyoto, and Kyoto was experiencing a drop in tourism and its economy was on a downturn. To remedy this issue Kyoto would hold a World Expo that would bring people from around the world to see the wonders that Kyoto had to offer. In order to wow the spectators the governor and the mayor of Kyoto asked the head of a prestigious dance school, Yachiyo Inoue (井上八千代) of the the Inoue School of Dance (井上流), to choreograph and stage a set of dances so that average people could see real geisha dancing for the first time without an invitation to an ochaya. The expo lasted for just over a year, and at the end the dances proved to be the biggest success of all. To show their gratitude to Yachiyo Inoue the governor and the mayor would honour any single wish that she had. Her request was to divide eight neighbourhoods from the total area of Gion and make it into a new hanamachi where only her school of dance would be taught. The new area, Gion Kobu, means “First Class Gion,” and continues to be renowned around the world for its annual dances that take place each April called the Miyako Odori (都をどり), which is known as the “Dances of The Old Capital” in Japanese and the “Cherry Blossom Dances” to English audiences. The symbol of Gion Kobu is eight interlinked dumplings with the “甲”character in the middle.

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Geisha Kyoto Events Calendar 2020
A Typical 24 Hours of a Geisha's Training24 Hours of a Geisha's Training

8:30-9:30 Getting up, putting on a casual kimono and going to the school of art.

10:00-12:00 Time reserved for the art classes. Each class is usually 30 minutes, but before big stage performances the classes can last for 6 hours even!

12:00-14:00 Free time for lunch and relax.

15:00-17:00 Getting ready for work. Applying makeup and putting on a dance kimono (a special dresser comes and dresses the maiko and geiko up. It takes only up to 10 minutes!).

18:00 First work engagements of the night. Usually there are 3 banquets or 3 separate meetings with the clients until midnight 00:00-1:00 Last work engagements.

1:30-2:00 Back home, taking off the kimono (and folding it), wiping off the makeup, bath time, hobby (reading books, watching TV) time. 2:00-3:00 Sleep time

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The Makeup of the Geisha (the materials, procedures)The Makeup of the Geisha

In the past, there was no electricity in Japan, so artists entertained by a dim candlelight. Eventually, they started painting the faces white to look more beautiful in such conditions. Geisha, kabuki actors, court ladies, dancers, etc. adapted the white makeup (oshiroi or shironuri in Japanese) as an essential part of their profession. Not only the face, but also neck is painted in the front and back. Geisha paint lines on the back of their necks to make it appear longer and slimmer. Such makeup is applied almost every day, as the long kimono for dance requires the face to be painted. For stage performances, even hands and calves are painted white. Usually oshiroi takes 30-50 minutes to apply.

1. First step of the shironuri makeup is applying a thick wax base (abura) onto the bare skin. It’ s melted by the warmth of hands and pressed onto face and neck. It smooths the pores and some say it heals the skin and prevents sweating!

2. The eyebrows are layed down with special paste (tsubushi), as they have to be painted with red and black pigment later. Some geisha shave their eyebrows, so it’ s easier to apply the makeup.

3. The white makeup can be applied now ...

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Is memoirs of geisha based on true story?

No, it is not based on a true story. However, a real geisha, named Mineko Iwasaki, sued the author of the book because of defamation. Surprisingly, not the plot, but some characters in the book resembled some of the real characters in Mineko Iwasaki’s life that she shared with the author in a private conversation. Also Mineko Iwasaki was uncomfortable with the way Arthur Golden (the author) portrayed geisha as if they are Japanese courtesans.

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The Hairstyles of Geisha and Maiko (Shimada, Wareshinobu, Sakko)The Hairstyles of Geisha

The hairstyles of maiko are the same as those worn by other girls their own age during the Edo Period and are worn to show seniority and rank. All hairstyles for maiko will feature a red piece of cloth tied in the front called a Chinkoro (ちんころ), which is a physical representation of their childhood and immaturity. The first hairstyle that a maiko will wear is called Wareshinobu (割れしのぶ) and is characterized with its iconic bun that has a red piece of cloth tied through it to match the chinkoro. A special hair ornament known as a Kanokodome (鹿の子留め) is worn in the centre of this bun as a show of opulence.

The Hairstyles of Maiko

After 2 to 3 years a maiko will then style her hair in the Ofuku (おふく) style, which is characterized by a triangular piece of cloth pinned into the back of their hair. The cloth, called a Tegara (手柄), will start out as red and eventually move onto more muted colours like pink, or pastel blue. The tegara and its colours show that she is now a senior maiko and will continue to wear this style until her sakkō period.During special formal occasions senior maiko will also wear additional hairstyles. Yakko Shimada (奴島田) features a high bun with a cloth tied underneath and a string of beads tied on top that’s worn for New Year’s visits in January. Katsuyama (勝山) showcases a tubular shape with a cloth tied underneath and two special hair ornaments known as Bonten (梵天) placed on either side of the roll that’s worn during the Gion Festival (祇園祭) in July.

The Hairstyles of Geisha

Finally a maiko will wear the Sakkō (先笄) style at the end of her apprenticeship. It is characterized by a myriad of tortoiseshell hair ornaments, a set of silver wires that resemble the wings of a dragonfly, and a tuft of hair that hangs down at the back of the style.

A maiko will use her own hair for these elaborate styles and will see a special hairstylist once a week to have it reset. During this time she must sleep on a special pillow known as a Takamakura (高枕) that keeps the hair from falling apart. Traditionally the okaasan of an okiya would sprinkle rice or bran around the takamakura of a new maiko to make sure that she was using the takamakura properly. If the maiko rolled off the pillow then her hair would become covered in grains and she’d have to go to the hair dressers and have the style set all over again. Due to their seniority, geisha will wear wigs called Katsura (かつら) when they entertain. This was originally adopted after World War II when the number of hairstylists was very low and they could not manage to style both the hair of the geisha and the maiko. A geisha’s wig is styled in the Geiko Shimada (芸妓島田) style, named for the term used for geisha in western Japan, and is taken care of by a wig specialist who will restyle the wig once a month to keep it looking fresh. Because they use a wig geisha no longer have to use a takamakura like maiko.

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The Karyukai (what is Ochaya, Okiya, Gohanya)

The Karyukai (花柳界)

meaning “The Flower and Willow World,” is the collective name for the areas in which geisha and the traditional establishments where they entertain are located. All hanamachi belong to the karyukai. Its name comes from the oiran and the geisha who once worked side by side in these areas.
The oiran was the opulent flower whose life was fleeting whereas the geisha is the willow whose bends to serve any customer and grows more sturdy with age.Unlike the majority of Japan, it is women who run the karyūkai and all establishments found within it. It is a matriarchy that retains unbroken lines of succession by either producing blood heirs or adopting women, most often geisha, as daughters to take over the business.

Found within the karyukai are the following enterprises:
Okiya (置屋) Ochaya (お茶屋) Gohanya (御飯屋) Kenban (検番) Kaburenjō (歌舞練場)

Okiya (置屋)

okiya

The lodging houses at which maiko and geisha live. They are run by a woman known as an Okaasan (お母さん), which means “Mother.” She will look after her charges as if they were her real daughters, which includes clothing them, feeding them, and keeping track of their engagements. She will also stand in for them should any dispute arise.

Ochaya (お茶屋)

ochaya

Tea houses at which geisha and maiko entertain. They are high class establishments that operate on the rule of Ichigen-san Okotowari (一見さんお断り), which means “No First Time Customers.” The ochaya began their lives as the snack houses located beside popular shrines and eventually grew into places that essentially function as high class party rooms. In order to be entertained at one you must be introduced by an established customer who can vouch for you. Parties with geisha and maiko, called Ozashiki (お座敷), are held in special rooms that are furnished with tables and chairs which guests can relax in while they watch dance performances and play drinking games to have a good time. Often times an ochaya will also have an okiya attached to it that is run by the same proprietress, which is a sign of how prosperous her business is and how well she is managing it. Most ochaya are over a century old and have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Gohanya (御飯屋)

The umbrella term for restaurants that operate within each hanamachi. It’s quite common for customers to take their favourite maiko or geisha out to dinner with them at the finest establishments, known as Ryōtei (料亭), as a show of wealth.

Kenban (検番)

kenban

The office of the third party organization who looks after all engagements that geisha and maiko attend. They will go around to each ochaya every morning to collect the tallies for the previous night and then deliver them to the okiya of the geisha and maiko after sorting. If a discrepancy arises then the kenban will have a meeting with the ochaya and the okiya, although this is quite rare. At the beginning of January the numbers for the previous year are tallied up and those who worked the most hours are honoured during the New Year’s celebrations. In some districts it is also the job of a kenban officer to escort a geisha on her erikae or a maiko on her misedashi visits.

Kaburenjo (歌舞練場)

kaburenjo

The large dance hall which each hanamachi uses to stage their yearly public performances in. Most have at least one balcony and seating for 200 people. These buildings also have rooms attached to them where geisha and maiko go each day to take their lessons in various art forms.

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How to Become a Geisha, Training of a MaikoHow to Become a Geisha

Most women enter the profession at the young age of 15 as compulsory education in Japan only goes up to middle school. Once they’ve made up their minds they can either be referred to the proprietress of an okiya by someone that they know, applying to the geisha union of a specific district, or contacting an okiya directly. Due to the popularity of the internet more and more okiya have started their own websites to showcase the glamorous lives of geisha and maiko and to allow young women to apply directly to them. The woman in question will then be interviewed by the proprietress of an okiya to see whether or not she’s serious about this line of work. If she is accepted then she will move into the okiya and begin her training.

When these women join the profession they are known as Shikomi (仕込み), which means “In Training.” This stage of training will last for approximately one year. During this time the young women will take lessons in dance and music, learn how to wear kimono, and speak in the special dialect of Kyoto known as Kyo Ben (京弁). Once she is deemed ready to enter the profession by her teachers she will take an exam. If she passes then she will set a date for her official debut.

Approximately one month before her debut she will begin to entertain at parties wearing the heavy kimono and makeup that have become iconic symbols of the profession, but instead of directly entertaining guests directly she will sit and watch her seniors and learn from their example. This stage is known as Minarai (見習い), which means “Learning By Observation.”

Once that period is up she will debut in a special ceremony known as Misedashi (見世出し), which means “Open For Business.” From this day forward she will be a Maiko (舞妓), meaning “Woman of Dance,” and undergo an apprenticeship that lasts an average of five years. Unlike geisha, maiko are yet untrained in the art of conversation and other formal arts, so their name reflects their limited specialization in dance.

Towards the end of their apprenticeship a maiko will enter a stage known as Sakkō (先笄), named for the special sakkō hairstyle that they wear, which lasts approximately 2-4 weeks. During this time they will wear the sakkō hairstyle as a sign that their apprenticeship is ending and that they will soon become geisha. They will even perform a special dance named Kurokami (黒髪), meaning “Black Hair,” to show their newfound womanhood. On the final day of their apprenticeship the maiko will take part in a special ceremony known as Danpatsu Shiki (断髪式), in which fellow maiko and geisha, along with loyal customers, will take turns clipping the wires that held her elaborate hairstyle in place. Once her hair is free she is no longer a maiko.

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Are Geisha Courtesans? (Geisha vs. Oiran, Tayu) Geisha and Oiran

No, as prostitution is illegal in Japan and the geishas are cultural performers who are deeply respected. Geisha never sleep with their clients as it goes against the rules of the organizations they belong to. The connotation emerged in the post-war Japan when some sex workers introduced themselves to foreign soldiers as geisha girls. Also, historically, the entertainment districts in Japan including kabuki theaters, geisha houses and other forms of entertainment venues were located close to each other and governed by similar set of rules which caused some early foreign visitors to think geishas are prostitutes.

Why do people think the geisha are courtesans or prostitutes?

“Remember, Chiyo, geisha are not courtesans. And we are not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place only of beauty. The very word “geisha” means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art.” ― Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha)

Geisha are not courtesans. The image of geisha as prostitutes was popularized by American soldiers after World War II. Geisha have always been a symbol of beauty and elegance, so girls from lower social classes tended to introduce themselves to American soldiers as geisha. That’ s how the myth spread all over the world.

There were, however, courtesans working arm-in-arm with geisha at the same entertainment districts. They were called Tayu ( 太夫 ) and Oiran ( 花魁 ). Tayu were the high-ranked courtesans, dressed in amazingly flashy kimono and wearing heavy hairstyles.

They also used to practice art, so customers paid a lot of money to meet them. Oiran is a term for courtesans in general. The oiran profession vanished around the Edo period, as the geisha profession (not providing any sexual service) became more successful and profitable. During the Edo period, it was more fashionable to please the mind with art, rather than the body with mundane activities. Prostitution was later banned by the Japanese law and it marked the definite end of oiran profession.

Geisha and Oiran look completely different.

Different from oiran, It is a significantly time consuming act for a geisha to put on and put off her clothes.

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Differences Between Geisha and Maiko Outfits and HairDifferences Between Geisha and Maiko Outfits and Hair

The entire purpose of a maiko’s outfit is to attract attention to herself. It’s said that this is done because she is not well versed in the arts, so her outfit will speak for her. From her head to her toes her outfit is curated specifically to catch the eye with opulent ornaments. On her head she wears bright and colourful hair ornaments known as Kanzashi (かんざし) that change on a monthly basis to match the various flowers and plants that are in season at the time. The most junior maiko will wear a spray of small flowers with special petal falls called Shidare (しだれ) that sway and catch the eye on onlookers. As she becomes more senior she will trade the small flowers in for large ones, often in groups of 1 or 3 to show her growing maturity. Young geisha will often wear just a single, small kanzashi made from precious jewels in her hair for a few years before forgoing any ornamentation altogether.

The maiko’s kimono collar, known as Eri (衿), is red and delicately embroidered with rich colours that will eventually turn white as she becomes more mature. In contrast, a geisha’s collar is solid white with no embroidery or decoration whatsoever.

Geisha fashion

The most striking feature of a maiko’s outfit is her long waist sash known as a Darari Obi (だらりの帯). It is 6 meters/22 feet long and worn with two tails in the back that contain the crest of her lodging house. Geisha, on the other hand, will wear a much shorter obi that’s tied in the back in a flat knot. This knot is said to resemble a hand drum, and thus has the name of Taiko Musubi (太鼓結び), which literally means “Drum Knot.”

The obi is held on with a special colourful and wide cord known as an Obijime (帯締め), and to make a maiko’s outfit even more splendid a special type of ornament known as a Pocchiri (ぽっちり) is worn over the obijime. These pocchiri are made from expensive metals and precious stones and are the most expensive part of her entire outfit. During the Edo Period pocchiri functioned like belt buckles and held the obijime together. Today they are simply slipped on and are purely for show. A geisha’s obijime by comparison is only half as wide and will be a single, solid colour.

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Geisha Kimono Patterns & Symbolism Geisha Kimono

Some of the most common and popular motifs include

–Cranes (鶴): Tall and graceful, these birds used to be located across the entire country. Due to habitat destruction and human expansion they are now only found on the most northern island of Japan called Hokkaido. Cranes are a symbol of longevity as they live an average of 40 to 50 years. However, they are best known as symbols of fidelity as they mate for life and perform a new courtship dance with their partner each year to renew and strengthen their bonds.

–Turtles (亀): These animals are a staple in Japanese mythology due to the unique folktales that surround them. It is said that when a turtle reaches 1,000 years old it will grow a long, magical tail and fly to the heavens to become a god. Their shells are said to become stronger with age, so they become sought after for protection, making the animals a popular symbol of endurance and longevity.

–Plum Blossoms (梅): They are among the first flowers to bloom in the new year and are a symbol that spring has now begun to arrive and that the snows will finally retreat. They are symbols of rebirth and hope. Together with bamboo and pine they create the trio known as Shōchikubai (松竹梅), which is a lucky trio often depicted on kimono worn at weddings or special ceremonies like misedashi and erikae...

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Frequently Asked Questions about Geisha

How much does a geisha make? What is geisha’s salary?

Maiko (apprentice geisha) don’t receive any salary, as they are in training. The okiya (maiko lodging house) pays for everything, starting with food, taxis, and accommodation, to kimono and classes. Maiko get some small stipends each month, so they can go shopping during their days off. Geiko (geisha) receive full compensation for their job engagements, however, the monthly income depends on the amount of hours they work. Just like theater performers, there is a huge variation in the income of the geisha based on the skills and popularity. It can be anywhere between $3K a month to tens of thousands of dollars for a popular geisha as she can also get gifts from her clients including expensive silk kimonos and gems that cost more than 5 figures etc.. Geisha’s salary is secret.

Why do geisha paint their face white?

Why do geisha paint their face white

Geishas often have a white because in the past there was no electricity and it was believed that the white powder made the face look beautiful and recognizable in the dark. There are other reasons such as in ancient China entertainers also wore the white powder make-up and white skin symbolized youth and nobility. Geisha also often shared the stage and hung out with kabuki actors who wore white-powder and visible lip and eye liners to be easily seen by the spectators from the distance.

Do geisha sleep with clients? Are geisha concubines, prostitutes?

No, because geishas are cultural performers and well-respected artisans who sell their art; not their body. Geisha never sleep with their clients as it goes against the rules of the public organizations they belong to. Additionally, prostititution is illegal in Japan, so both geisha and the clients would face criminal charges if that is to happen. The connotation emerged in the post-war Japan when some sex workers introduced themselves to foreign soldiers as geisha girls. Also, historically, the entertainment districts in Japan including kabuki theaters, geisha houses and other forms of entertainment venues were located close to each other and governed by similar set of rules which caused some misinterpretations among the early foreign visitors. In the book “memoirs of geisha” the main character sells her virginity which is nothing but fiction and also legally challenged at the court.

How much does it cost to meet a geisha?

The exact cost is never revealed, but an hour with a geisha starts from about 50,000 JPY and it can be booked only after being introduced to a teahouse by a frequent customer. There are some cheaper group events for the tourists and first-timers, starting from 5,000 JPY. A “geisha experience” is usually not meant to be one-time-only and there are so many other costs such as the fee of the meals and drinks; so, how much it costs to meet a geisha is a question that does not have one simple answer in Kyoto. Additionally, some geisha are more popular than others, so there is no standard cost.

How do you apply to become a geisha?

A candidate for a maiko has to be a Japanese girl who graduated from junior high school (the age of 15-16) and who has black hair. Some okiya require an introduction (personal reference), but some of them encourage girls to apply via e-mail or telephone. They just need to send their photo, fill in a survey, and get their parents’ approval.

Who decides when a maiko becomes a geisha

When maiko reaches the age of 20-21, her art masters and the owner of okiya decide if she’s ready to progress into the geiko stage. There’s no official exam, they just have to give her a green light to go further. Upon becoming a geiko, a maiko has to master “Kurokami” (“Jet Black Hair”) dance which she will perform during her sakkou period.

Are geishas respected in Japan?

They are very much respected as they perform cultural arts and crafts that require so much training and can’t be performed by most people. They are also often invited to public and religious ceremonies and often sit at VIP. Geisha’s outfit is unique and costly, the silk kimono costs at least $5K and the sash ornament (pocchiri) is usually worth thousands of dollars.

Do geisha think about quitting and having a family?

As a matter of fact most maiko (apprentice geisha) do not become a full-fledged geisha. They quit at the end of the maiko period. For the rest who chose to be a geisha it is a lifetime profession though so many geisha eventually quit in their thirties and forties and become housewives. If they don’t quit, most geisha become an okiya owner or inherit the okiya they are affiliated with and run a geisha house.

Why do geisha wear wigs but maiko don't?

Why do geisha wear wigs

It’s very difficult and expensive to keep such complicated hairstyles for the rest of the life, so wigs are more convenient. After working hours, professional geiko can wear Western clothes and be normal women. Also many geisha start losing their hair at an early age because of too much pulling as part of the intricate hairstyles. It is healthier to have a wig.

Can geisha marry or have a boyfriend?

Geisha of Kyoto cannot get married. The rule of this profession is “being married to the art, not a man”. If they want to get married, they have to quit the job. Once they quit, it’s usually impossible to come back, however they can debut from the beginning in a different city, under a different name and rules. Maiko cannot have a boyfriend, and if they do, they can easily get caught as they live in very strict conditions. Geisha live alone, they can secretly have a boyfriend.

Do geisha have any days off?

Maiko only have two days off per month, but they can take longer holidays three times per year too – New Year period in January, Golden Week in May, and Obon in August. Geiko decide their own schedule, so they can have days off whenever they feel like.

What is the age limit of being a geisha?

There is no age limit, there are geisha in Gion who are older than 80 years old.

Why did you decide to become a geisha? (often asked to the geisha at Maikoya)

Most maiko answer as their imagination of the fancy world of the geisha. A lot of girls are influenced by the beautiful maiko photos on the internet or TV documentaries about maiko lives. Some of them just want to work as a maiko, as it’s a fun adventure, and they never become geiko.

How did your family react? (often asked to the geisha at Maikoya)

Some families have concerns about their daughters’ living in the lodging house at an early age. However in Japan, part of being a democratic and advanced country, families tend to support the decisions of their daughters. However, maiko get to see their families only once or twice a year (Obon and the new year-eve).

Why do geishas have black teeth?

Geishas usually don’t have black teeth but right before a maiko becomes a geisha, there is about a 4-week long sakkou stage when she blackens her teeth. In the past, up until the 20th century, most women in Japan blackened their teeth as it was believed that blackening the teeth protected one’s health. Teeth blackening, also known as ohaguro, was also associated with maturity in old Japan. When maiko have black teeth, they refrain from drinking hot beverages and alcohol.

Geisha Tea Ceremony MAIKOYA Reviews

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Enjoyed the Geisha tea ceremony!

Enjoyed the Geisha tea ceremony! After being dressed in a Kimono, I was escorted to the venue. Our host and interpreters were amazing. Explained all the reasons behind the spiritual aspects of the ceremony, and after the Maiko did her dance we were able to ask lots of questions. If you want a beautiful authentic experience, please give this a try!

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Most Enchanting and Memorable

We were so lucky to have the Geisha rather than the trainee perform this for us. She was just so so feminine and majestic in her dance then showing the very calming tea making process. We then were asked to make our tea using the process shown and traditionally drink the tea after eating the sweets.....very different than I had imagined. This experience was one of those memorable occasions you will recount forever.

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The Kyoto Geisha Show

One of the most amazing and wonderful experiences we had during our stay in Kyoto. The whole staff was really wonderful and helpful, we were able to ask all the questions you want to ask a Maiko. The tea ceremony was beautiful. We got to wear Kimonos and after all that we had a great walking tour through the Gion district where we also learned so many things by two members of the Kyoto Geisha Show staff. Thank you again for all your help and the wonderful afternoon we had at your lovely place!

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Tea ceremony with •maiko•

We met at maikoya house and were fitters into a beautiful kimono before starting the tea ceremony. After we were seated the maiko showed us how to purify everything and make the tea. After that we were shown how to do iT ourself After receiving a gorgeous little cake to eat. After the ceremony we had the opportunity to talk with the maiko who was willing to Answer all our questions. IT was a truly amazing experience! Don't waste your time in Kyoto Chasing After maikos (you wont find them there), just come to here and have a once in a lifetime experience!!!!

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