Kyoto is still a very traditional city. As such, the geisha is still a common occuence, at least in the Gion district. And with this being such an integral part of Japaneae culture, I opted to partake in a guided walking tour(¥1000). For 100min I was led through Gion and saw the buildings that are important in a Geisha’s life in addition to learning quite a bit about them.
First and foremost, the Geisha in Kyoto do not like being called ‘geisha’ because this often has a connotation with prostitution. However, the geisha, or ‘geiko’as they prefer to be called, only portray talents of dancing, music, and dining entertainment. They are in no way selling themselves.
Secondly, the trainee geiko are known as ‘maiko’. These girls often start at the age of fifteen and train for five years. The reason behind a starting age of fifteen is because this is when compulsory education is complete. In other words, girls have just finished junior high and instead of going on to high school they choose to start training as a geiko.
Understanding that there are two types, the next question is: how do you tell a professional geiko from a maiko? There are quite a few ways in fact!
The easiest one in my opinion are the shoes. Maiko must wear multi-inch platform shoes. At first glance, the shoes are solid pieces. However, there is a hollow section in the bottom of the shoe with tiny bells. These bells jingle when the maiko walks and is thought to be a way to let the district know a maiko is nearby so the neighbors can offer protection and assistance.
Another way to tell a maiko from a professional geiko is the obi, the thick sash that wraps around the waist of the kimono. A geiko will have their obi wrapped up and tucket under. A maiko, on the other hand, allows their obi to hang to the bottom of their kimono. The length is a sure sign. Side note: the symbol of the maiko’s geisha house will be printed on the bottom of their sash to allow people to know which geisha house they are from. This is thought to be for neighbors to help the maiko get home if they got lost(as maiko used to start training at 9/10 years old when compulsory education only lasted until ages 9 or 10).