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Goin’ Japanesque!

Overview on the Differences Between a Kyoto Maiko and Geiko

One culture that is representative of Japan is the Kyoto Maiko and Geiko. (Note: The word for Geiko can also be read and pronounced as Geigi). We have prepared an overview of their difference. Kyoto Maiko and Geiko could very well be one of the highlights of your trip to Japan. If you are planning a visit, do understand the differences as you tour through the area. It is sure to make your trip more interesting.



First of all, a person or people who entertain by shamisen (traditional Japanese three-stringed lute), dance, flute, drums or hand drums are called “Geisha” all over Japan. The Geisha in Kyoto are called Geiko, and Maiko do not exist outside of Kyoto. Thus, Maiko and Geiko are specific to Kyoto.

Generally, daytime is when these ladies practice on their skills so there are usually no Geiko or Maiko walking about in the city of Kyoto during this time (unless they happen to have other obligations like photo shoots). If you do to see them during the daytime, it is likely that they are tourists enjoying the dress up experience. If you want to see the real deal, you want to try to visit after dusk when they are heading to work to, say, a banquet.


Characteristics of Maiko


Hanakanzashi (Ornamental hairpin), The upper lip is white,

Furisode (Long sleeved kimono), Large obidome (ornament on the obi/sash).

Loose Obi/Sash and family crest, Okobo (lacquered clogs),

  • They are training/apprentice for Geiko. Generally, they do not get paid wages – some pocket money at the most. Their main tasks include entertaining by dance, serving drinks and being company for a conversation.
  • They live in the Okiya (something like a training school or talent agency).
  • Age: From about 15 to 20 years.
  • Their own hair is styled in an up-do.
  • Hanakanzashi: It is a hanging style hair ornament. They use a different type each month.
  • They do not use lipstick on their upper lip (For Maiko that have less than 1 year of experience).
  • Furisode (Kimono with long hanging sleeves)
  • Darari obi: It is a long obi/sash that is about 7 meters in length. On the edge is the family crest of the Okiya. This family crests serves like a business card.
  • Obidome (also called Pocchiri): This is a large ornament used on the obi utilizing real jewels.
  • Okobo: It is a lacquered wooden clog of about 10 cm in height and with a rounded shape.

Having the appearance as described above, they diligently practice traditional Japanese dance, song and shamisen. After about 5 years, they are promoted to the status of Geiko. When they do gain that status, there is a ritual called the Erikae in which the color of the collar is changed from red to white.


Characteristics of Geiko


Wig, Black Kimono,

Taiko Obi – A special method of tying the sash,

  • They are Maiko who have gained professional status as Geisha. They earn a salary. They specialize in one of the arts: traditional Japanese dance, song or shamisen. Their main responsibility is to perform their art. (*Among Geiko, one who specializes in dance is called Tachikata-san, one who specializes in song or shamisen is called Jikata-san. The Jikata-san does not wear a wig and dresses in traditional Japanese dress.)
  • They are independent from the Okiya.
  • Age: There is no age limit.
  • They do not put their real hair in an up-do, but wears a wig.
  • They do not use lavish ornaments in their hair like Hanakanzashi; only simple ornaments.
  • A stark contrast to the kimono of a Maiko, they dress in a mature style of kimono in black color tones. The sleeves are also shorter.
  • They do not wear a long type of sash called darari-obi, but a regular length obi knotted in a particular method called taiko-obi.
  • There is no obi-dome (pocchiri).
  • They do not wear the okobo but wear regular zori-sandals.


Hope this was helpful in understanding the stages of growth from the childlike but opulent Maiko to the mature and professional Geiko!

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