One of the most beautiful and artful jobs in Japan is being a geisha. It has nothing to do with call girls or sex. These women study old Japanese traditions, perform dances and songs, play traditional musical instruments, and entertain visitors. In Kyoto, girls engaged in such activities are called “maiko”. After they perfect their skills, the females get the title “geiko”. It is a very honorable job and not so easy to do.
Let’s hear the story of a young Kyoto girl who is studying to become a geiko. She will tell us about the clothing of maiko, their makeup, hairdos, behavior, and timetable.
When I was in junior high school, being 15 years old, before coming here, all I could think about was myself. Working here, you have to think about the customer, the sisters you work with in the “ozashiki” (parlor). You also think about the people who work under you. The way I think has widened, and my world has expanded.
I’m Fukunae from Miyagawa-cho. I am 18 years old. I’m working for Shigemori-san. I always wanted to go to Kyoto. I admired Japanese culture and tradition.
It was that time I saw a documentary about maiko, and I thought, “Wow! There are beautiful maiko in Kyoto!”. I thought if I could go through this training, I could become a geiko.
Usually, a maiko starts her lessons around 10 or 11 o’clock. So a maiko usually gets up around 9 o’clock. She dresses herself in her kimono and makes her way to a place called the “Kaburenjo theatre”, to be taught the shamisen and other arts.
We go to the hairdressers who do our hair for us. Once a week. It takes about 40 minutes. When a maiko first starts she can’t set her hair properly. So she gets her geiko or maiko sister to teach and help her. And that’s how she learns.
Even drawing makeup on your face is an art form. It’s like drawing a picture on your face. So I want to draw it beautifully. I practiced a lot.
I love art, it’s fun! Even just looking at artwork is a pleasure. When I look at a painting I wonder what the person was thinking when they drew it. Or I wonder how they blended the paint together.
Each person has their own style, but generally, there are rules for maiko when applying makeup. A maiko’s makeup needs to be cute. Drawing a straight line for your eyebrows isn’t cute. It needs to be round, like a crescent moon. You need to draw your lips small, or get creative by blending in pink makeup.
A man we call “Otokoshi-san” dresses us in the kimono. The obi (waist tie) is usually 6 to 7 meters long. Usually, a men’s strength is better at tying the obi. You have to lift it up and tie it very tight.
For the New Year period, our kimono weighs more than 10 kg.
We want to be ready by 6 o’clock, so we can make the enkai (dinner party). We have the honor to work there until 10 o’clock or even 2 in the morning.
Seeing a lot of people really happy is great, but there was this one time when a woman from overseas came. As I said “oki ni” and walked into the room, she started crying. She said, “I’ve been looking forward to this moment”, “Thank goodness I was born!”, “I’m so happy, thank you!”. At that moment, I was so glad to be a maiko. I get to make a lot of people smile. So that makes me happy to be a maiko.
It might sound a little harsh, but your imagination and reality are completely different. If you decide you want to become something, you have to take the plunge and go straight for it. A person should have one thing they can do with confidence.
Right now, my goal is to become a geiko. I have another 3,5 years. I’ll do my best!