Geisha, maiko and geiko may seem like complex ideas from Japanese culture but we are going to break down what each of them mean and give you the knowledge to impress your friends and other travelers on your 12 Day Japan, Then & Now tour.
These entertainers have been performing for guests for centuries by dancing, playing instruments, games, pouring drinks and being professional conversationalists. This practice is still being done today and hopefully you will see one of these gorgeous women while visiting Gion in Kyoto or in Tokyo. White-face makeup, red lips and colorful kimonos are your first sign that you have encountered a geisha, maiko or geiko but we will get into the smaller variations so you can tell exactly who you have just met. There are also visitors that can pay to dress up like geisha so it is important to know the difference.
Geisha Vs. Geiko:
Both the geisha and the geiko are taught music, singing, dancing, speaking and pouring drinks. They are both trained to be charismatic and charming to their guests. Both are trained for 5 years before they become geisha (“gei” meaning arts and “sha” meaning person) or geiko and therefore, true “people of the arts.”
The only main difference between the two is where they come from. In Kyoto, the women are called geiko while in Tokyo, they are geisha. Although the names differ from place to place, do not be concerned if you forget because the term geisha is widely accepted and will be understood whether you are in Tokyo or Kyoto.
Maiko Vs. Geisha/Geiko:
A maiko is known as an apprentice geisha and is a younger woman who is currently in training in the arts of entertainment and charm. She is training to become well-versed in classical music, dancing and conversation and does not yet earn as much as a geisha. They spend their time training to dance, play the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument and learn to speak local Kyoto/Tokyo dialects. Their training typically takes around 5 years. The maiko’s training continues until finally graduating to be a geisha in a ceremony known as “turning of the collar.”
Her hair differs from that of a geisha in that a geisha’s hair is typically a wig that is pre-styled whereas the maiko uses her natural hair for her elaborate styles. It can take the maiko hours to get her hair just right. Both wear flower accessories in the hair with a geisha having much simpler decor. They both wear kimonos that feature a train called the obi. Maikos obi are wide and hang almost to the length of the ankles while geisha have a much shorter and thinner one. The maiko has brightly colored garments and the geisha has a plainer kimono typically with red, gold and white colors. As for footwear, the maiko normally wears high wooden sandals while the geisha wears shorter ones.
The makeup of the maiko includes a strip of bare skin left unpainted by the hairline, pink blush around the cheeks, red and black around the eyes and eyebrows defined with red or pink under the black. The lips of the maiko will only be partially covered red, with only the bottom one being painted during the first year of training. The geisha’s face is totally white with no bare strip because the wig that they wear will cover it. Geisha will only have black on their eyes and a little red under the black of their eyebrows. Their lips will be painted almost entirely in red.
Now that you know the differences between the three, it is time to visit Japan and test your knowledge!