There are probably lots of people who want to see a maiko (apprentice geisha) when they visit Kyoto. Clad in brightly colored kimono and skilled in traditional Kyoto dance, playing the shamisen (three-stringed lute), and other performing arts, these women are the very epitome of Kyoto. Below is a detailed explanation on these maiko.
What is a Maiko?
A maiko is a young woman who is invited to a parlor in an ochaya (a place, like a tea house, where maiko and geigi (geisha) are called to entertain guests) to liven up a banquet or a feast by performing traditional Kyoto dances, singing, playing the shamisen, and engaging in pleasant conversation with guests.
A maiko’s garb is characterized by a trailing kimono (the kind of kimono that has sleeves that seem like they have been drawn out) with a hanging obi (sash that binds the kimono so that it will sag to the floor) and okobo (big-soled sandals) on her feet. Maikos are known for their adorable appearance that is achieved by putting white make-up on their faces and intricate hair ornaments on their elaborately styled hair.
What is a Hanamachi?
There are five hanamachis in Kyoto: Gion-kobu, Miyagawa-cho, Ponto-cho, Kami-shichiken, and Gion-higashi. It is an area with rows of okiya (houses where maikos and geigis live) and ochaya. If you come at dusk, you just might see silhouettes of maikos and geigis as they wade through the elegant streets.
Each hanamachi has its own kabu-renjo where maikos and geigis practice singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments every day. During spring and fall, kabu-kai shows are held there. The performance is open to the public, and just by paying 4,000 - 8,000 JPY, you get to enjoy a spectacular stage where maikos and geigis dance.
What is Ochaya-asobi?
Ochaya-asobi literally means to play or have fun in an ochaya that is found in a hanamachi. Watching maiko or geigis perform, or talking and playing games with them, all while enjoying food and alcohol in the ozashiki (reception room) of an ochaya, is called Ozashiki-asobi.
However, note that you cannot enter or use an ochaya unless you have a referral from one of its patrons, so not everyone can experience ochaya-asobi. For tourists, it would be best to avail of ozashiki-asobi packages offered by restaurants, tour companies, and other establishments. Then you can spend some time with maikos while savoring Kyoto-style dishes inside the ozashiki of a restaurant or a ryori-ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn that is centered on cuisine)!
Six Facts On Maikos
Here are some basic facts that will give you a deeper understanding of maikos. Peek into their unknown world!
・To become a maiko, a girl will have to live and train in an okiya starting from 15 - 16 years old.
・Maikos are generally under 20 years old. When a maiko exceeds that age, she will graduate from being a maiko and then become a geigi.
・In the first year of being a maiko, a dangling hair ornament is put on the left side of the face of the maiko.
Furthermore, her upper lip will not be painted red.
・Maikos must have fancy hair ornaments on their hair, but when they become geigis, they will switch to wearing wigs, so they will not have to wear lots of ornaments anymore.
・The crest of the okiya where a maiko belongs is embroidered on the edge of her obi (sash).
・Maikos do not go out in their maiko costume during the day.
If you see a maiko in the daytime, she is most likely just a person trying to experience being a maiko.
Try Being a Maiko & Make Wonderful Memories of Your Trip
There are many shops in Kyoto that offer women the chance to transform into a maiko by wearing a gorgeous kimono and beautiful make-up, and then having their photo taken!
At Maiko-henshin Studio Shiki, there are various packages available, including the Studio Shoot Plan (13,000 JPY (excl. tax)) that will have a professional cameraman take your photo, and the Studio Shoot with Strolling Plan (17,000 JPY (excl. tax)) that will let you walk around the vicinity and then have your photo taken in a studio. You can also choose the luxurious first-class plan, the Honten (Main Shop) Special (40,000 JPY (excl. tax)) that comes with a photoshoot in the studio, Japanese garden, drawing room, tea house, and an outdoor location, as well as a ride on a rickshaw and a stroll while wearing a maiko costume.
※Photo is for illustration purposes
In your next trip to Kyoto, make sure to try to experience ochaya-asobi and have fun with maikos, and challenge the transformation experience that will let you become a maiko for a day!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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