Thursday, 3 April 2014

Geisha, Geiko or Maiko? What's the difference?


Yesterday I finally saw a Geisha after living in Kyoto for nine months. I was wandering around Gion taking photos of the cherry blossom when I was lucky enough to come across an event where they were posing for photos to celebrate spring. When Geisha walk around Gion they hurry along to avoid getting bombarded by tourists taking their photos. But at this event photography was encouraged. This meant that I got to take lots of close up photos of the details in their outfits. I thought these photos would be useful to help explain what the difference is between Geisha, Geiko and Maiko.

So, to start of with, a Geisha is a woman of the arts, who is trained in traditional dancing, music and singing. In Tokyo, these women are called Geisha, and in Kyoto they are called Geiko. So technically I saw a Geiko. However, Geisha is a more widely recognised term and can be used to describe Geisha and Geiko. A Maiko is an apprentice Geiko. The word Maiko literally translates as dancing child. In Tokyo an apprentice Geisha is known as Hangyoku.

Ok, so we now know that in Tokyo you have Geisha and Hangyoku. Then in Kyoto you have Geiko and Maiko. But how can you tell the difference? Below I am going to try and explain how to recognise Geiko and Maiko. In the photos the Geiko is wearing a green kimono and the Maiko is wearing a pink kimono.



Age: Because Maiko have to go through several years of apprenticeship they are much younger than Geiko. Although with all that white make up on it is hard to guess their age.


Hair: The main difference in hairstyle is that Geiko wear wigs whereas Maiko have their hair styled naturally. Also Maiko usually have more ornaments in their hair.


Make up: Both Maiko and Geiko paint their faces white, but Maiko usually wear more pink blush on their cheeks. Also Junior Maiko only paint the bottom lip red, Senior Maiko paint a thin line on both lips and Geiko paint all of their lips.


Collar: Maiko usually have red and white collars with a decorative pattern whereas Geiko have a plain white collar.


Obi: Obi are the wide belts of stiff fabric which wrap around the waist. As you can see in the photo above, the Maiko's obi drapes down the back but a Geiko's obi is shorter and more like a square.


Shoes: Maiko wear high wooden shoes which look extremely difficult to walk in. Geiko wear much lower shoes.


I hope this has been useful for anyone who has always wondered what the difference is between Geisha, Geiko and Maiko. I am by no means an expert on this subject so I am sorry if I got some details wrong.

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12 comments:

  1. this is so interesting and your photos are so lovely. their outfits are gorgeous!

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    1. Thanks! I know, their kimonos are so pretty!

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  2. This was incredibly interesting to read! I loved reading a bit about the differences between Maiko and Geiko x

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    1. Thank you! I am glad you found it interesting. I think it's fascinating how details in their outfits are different.

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  3. thank you for this informative post! even being Japanese, I don't know a lot about these things - only that the book Memoirs of a Geisha (which I did love) isn't exactly historically accurate x

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    1. I didn't know much about them either until recently. I think probably a lot of poeple base their opinions of Geisha on that book and film!

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  4. How cool that you got to take pictures of them when they actually wanted pictures taken. Thanks for the information- now I'm going to look back on my pictures and see try to see the differences!

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    1. I am so glad I was in the right place at the right time. It is so rare that they pose for photos! Glad I could help!

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  5. Hajimemashite. Watashiwa nihongono gakusei desu. Nihongo to nihon no koto ga daisuki desu. Ishimoto san ni kiita geisha, geiko, maiko no koto ga tottemo omoshirosou desu ne. Dozo yorushiku onegaishimasu.

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  6. Lovely photoos! Thank you for explaining the difference and how to tell the Maikos and Geikos apart. I was thinking that a Maiko was a student and a Geiko was an apprentic. BTW, the fourth photo down would make a lovely online jigsaw puzzle. Would you be so kind as to allow me to make a puzzle from it on Jigsaw Planet?

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  7. Hello I still haven't heard from you yay or nay about making a puzzle out of the one photo, so I wasn't sure if you saw my comment or not. It would make a smashing jigsaw puzzle on jigsaw Planet.

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    1. Hi sorry for not replying earlier, I don't use this blog any more! I'm glad you like the photo but I'm sorry I would rather it not be turned into a puzzle.

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