Some of the most iconic symbols of Kyoto are geisha, women who dedicate themselves to the preservation and performance of traditional arts and culture.
Called Geiko in Kyoto, these women live and work in five hanamachi, or "flower districts" around the city, where they stay as long as they wish until choosing to marry or retire.
Girls who want to begin studying to become geiko usually enter this world after graduating middle school, and are known as Maiko apprentices. It usually takes a maiko about 4-5 years to become a geiko.
A favorite subject for photographers both professional and touring, people can often be seen milling about teahouses and certain festivals hoping for a glance of these artistic ladies.
What, though, is the difference between a geiko and a maiko?
Just by looking, how can you tell? In order to illustrate this point, the Kyoto Fan team had the utmost pleasure to shoot with Kofuku-san and Fukunae-san, two women working for the Shigemori Teahouse in the Miyagawa-cho geisha district. Kofuku-san is Fukunae-san's "elder sister" mentor in the okiya, or "geisha house". Both women perform song and dance and serve customers at banquets, and occasionally appear in public performances or festivals. While maiko are beloved for their youthful charm and colorful clothing, geiko are lauded for their experience and elegance. With these two lovely women providing example, let's take a look at a few of the key differences betweekn a geiko and a maiko's appearance.
IN TERMS OF WEARING MAKE-UP
Though make-up can vary depending on personal preference, a geiko's make-up tends to be more subtle. As a geiko matures, she may move away from white facepaint and appear in natural tones.
Upon becoming a geiko, women paint their entire lips when wearing make-up.
Maiko always wear vivid, strong make-up, accenting their eyes, brows, lips, and the shape of the face with pink and red.
For maiko, however, it's considered cuter to paint the lip only partially, achieving a "small mouth" look.
NOTICE THEIR KIMONO'S COLLAR
The collar of a geiko's under-kimono is plain white.
Maiko wear patterned collars utilizing the color red.
NOTICE THEIR KIMONO'S HEM LENGTH
The kimono geiko wear have padded hems to ensure the garment falls beautifully, with sleeves that are considered to be "normal length".
Maiko also wear special hikizuri kimono with padded hems, but their sleeves are much longer.
NOTICE THEIR KIMONO'S OBI KNOT STYLE
Geiko usually tie their obi in the drum knot (taiko musubi) style.
Maiko, however, have very distinctive trailing style called darari obi, which take a great deal of strength to tie.
The more mature geiko use simple hair accessories and commonly wear carefully styled wigs when working.
In contrast, maiko uses their natural hair to form their elaborate hair styles, and their kanzashi hair ornaments are large and colorful. You can actually tell what season it is by looking at the decorations in a maiko's hair.
SANDALS / FOOTWEAR
Geiko footwear consists of low zori or geta sandals.
High, unpainted okobo shoes are a distinct sign of a maiko.
There are only few women who are dedicate Geisha in Japan, so if you happen to saw one, we suggest to pay respect and request for a photo with them :D
(Photos from Discover Kyoto)