We met a lovely maiko at a Gion teahouse, and she openly discussed her chosen profession. While a high school student, she applied to join the training program for geisha, or geikos, as they are called in Kyoto. She submitted a resume and profile in a competitive process reminiscent of a college application essay. Once accepted, she left her parents home and moved into a house with a “mother” and other trainees. Instead of normal schoolwork, she studies calligraphy, dance, games to play with clients and a musical instrument. As a beginner, our maiko couldn’t wear mascara or eyeliner and could only paint her bottom lip red.
During her early maiko training, she is only allowed to see her family twice a year, and can’t leave the small district without a more advanced companion. She also must give up her smart phone, which could be a challenge for many teens.
She served us a lovely sweet and cup of matcha green tea.
She also performed a lovely dance about the history of geikos in Kyoto. And she challenged several of our group members to play a Japanese version of rock, scissors, paper. She would normally play this with clients. She clearly doesn’t let clients win to stroke their egos, as our team members all lost.
Walking around Kyoto, one might also see “tourist geisha”young women dressed up like geikos, but who haven’t been trained in the arts.
A real geiko who eventually decides to leave the profession, would probably have to go back to school to learn the subjects not covered by her maiko education, before she could qualify for a different type of job.