Kyoto #1: Maiko (舞妓さん)

As I wait impatiently for my epic trip through Northern Japan next month, I’m having trouble thinking of postcards to talk about right now. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of new material for the blog during and after my trip, but right now is kinda… slow. So I checked The Collection page for prefectures I haven’t talked about and… wait… Kyoto, really?! I haven’t done a Kyoto post yet?! WELL! Here we go!

Kyoto’s first postcard is the completely predictable Maiko-san, apprentice Geisha (or Geiko as they’re called in Kyoto). Geiko are entertainers, masters of traditional Japanese dance, at least one traditional Japanese instrument such as shamisen, and conversation. Some Westerners think they are prostitutes, but that is COMPLETELY false! These fascinating ladies start to learn the arts from a very young age, going through 5 or more years through the ranks until they are considered good enough to “graduate” to geiko status. Maiko and Geiko aren’t unique to Kyoto, but they are the most famous.

If you visit Kyoto, you may have the chance to come upon some women dressed up in bright kimono with flowing sleeves…


I was having some tea when I spotted this group


Close-up!

…but actually these aren’t maiko at all! They are tourists dressed up for the fun and to take lots of pictures! (But would you have known if I hadn’t told you?) It seems like a neat opportunity, but I think I’d be a bit embarrassed to do it.

But fear not! Dedicated people might spot true maiko or geiko around dusk walking to and from teahouses in the Gion area! They will probably be surrounded by lots of people with expensive cameras. If you see one, please don’t mob them… they’re working!

You can also see them at performances throughout the year, or by booking an extremely expensive session with them.


Poster for the Miyako Odori, one of these chances to see a performance

If you have the chance to see a maiko or geiko perform, you are lucky indeed! I saw some maiko once, but not in full formal kimono… they were in regular kimono waiting for a train in Osaka!