We hold many geisha shows and events and these are the most commonly asked questions to geisha / maiko at our venue. You can also learn a lot more about the geisha by choosing one of the geisha experiences at our geisha museum in GION (by reservation).
FAQ on Geisha and Maiko
- 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 stipend each month, so they can go shopping during their days off. Geiko (geisha) receive a 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 kimono and gems that cost more than 5 figures etc.. Geisha’s salary is secret.
- Why do geisha have white powder on their face?
The short answer is: in the past there was no electricity and it was believed the white powder made the face look beautiful 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.
- Are geisha courtesans?
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 misinterpretations among the early foreign visitors.
- How much does it cost to meet a geisha?
The exact cost is never revealed, but an hour with a geisha starts from about 30 000 yen 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 yen. Please inquire to our museum staff. 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.
- 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 and run a geisha house.
- Why do geisha wear wig but maiko don’t?
It’s very difficult and expensive to keep such complicated hairstyle for the rest of the life, so wigs are more convenient. After hours, 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 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 in our Museum) 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 in our Museum) 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).
- What is a typical day of maiko / geisha like?
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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