A maiko is an apprentice geisha in western Japan, especially Kyoto. Their job consists of performing traditional dances, songs, and playing the shamisen for visitors at a feast. Maiko are on average 15 to 20 years old and become full-fledged geisha after learning how to dance, play the shamisen, and learning Kyō-kotoba (Kyoto dialect).
Origins of Maiko
Maiko originated from the women who served green tea and dango (Japanese dumplings made from rice flour) to people who visited the Kitano Tenman-gū or Yasaka Shrine. They also served these at teahouses in the temple town about 300 years ago.
At first the women only served the green tea and dango, but they eventually performed songs and dances for the visitors as well.
The junior maiko hairstyle is called 'wareshinobu' (a Japanese traditional hairstyle from the Edo period). The hairstyle is arranged with the maiko's own hair. They insert kanzashi (Japanese traditional hair accessories) into their hair with seasonal flowers. As the junior maiko graduates to a senior maiko she will start wearing the 'ofuku' hairstyle, which is characterised by a triangular piece of cloth pinned to the back of her 'mage' (topknot).
A maiko wears a 'hikizuri/susohiki' (kimono with the train trailing on the floor) and a darari-no-obi (very long maru obi) over the kimono, which is at least 600 cm (20 ft) long and it hangs from their waist to their ankles. The obi features the okiya crest, of which the maiko is affiliated, at the end of the sash.
In the morning, a maiko takes lessons to polish their performances. At night they go out to work at various events and parties. They are usually given the opportunity to feast at high-class Japanese-style restaurants, or stay in Japanese-style hotels. They will perform dances, songs, play the shamisen, and serve the visitors with sake. And in recent times, their jobs have also expanded to include visiting nursing institutions or hospitals, some maiko are also dispatched overseas.