Once you start researching ancient Japan or traditional Japanese arts, you will notice elegant ladies who stand out due to their appearance or proficiency in their cultural activities. Most of these ladies were named as Geisha by the soldiers in Japan following World War Two, not knowing that there were a range of names used, including Geiko, Maiko and Hangyoku. Unfortunately, this confusion has continued to today with most ladies in traditional kimonos and makeup being confused as Geishas.
Here is a quick summary of the four labels used to describe a female entertainer of traditional Japanese art/s:
This is a label for ladies who are still in training to be a professional entertainer. These ladies are usually found in Kyoto, as this is the where the traditions of this profession began. The word Maiko translates to ‘dancing child’.
After a Maiko lady has studied and perfected her chosen talents, she will be given the title of Geiko. This new description signifies that she is no longer an apprentice, but a fully qualified and highly sophisticated professional. This title should only be used around the Kyoto region as this woman has spent years to make her appear approachable and friendly to people in this region. This includes dialect voice training, local tradition and ritual preparation practice, as well as other classes.
This is another label for those who are still in training to be a professional entertainer. This should be used to describe ladies outside of Kyoto, as these ladies have been trained with different values in mind that their Maiko counterparts. There is a large demand for these ladies in Tokyo, where these ladies are asked to practice their skills by hosting professional or important gatherings or meetings. Their presence will bring good luck and an air of frivolity to the people gathered. The word Hangyoku translates to ‘half jewel’ as they were paid half as much as their fully-fledged Geisha colleagues.
After a Hangyoku apprentice has completed her lessons, she will be given the title of Geisha. As mentioned before, this label should be used to describe professional hosts and entertainers outside of Kyoto, as these ladies have been trained with different values in mind that their Geiko counterparts. These ladies are famous for promoting sophisticated cultural activities like hosting groups of people by entertaining them with conversation, games and drinks. These ladies also partake in other cultural activities, such as preparing and serving the time honoured tea ceremony.
Each of these ladies dress and style themselves differently, which depicts which stage of their training they are at. Maiko and Hangyoku girls pull their hair back into a simple updo with delicate hair ornaments or kanzashi. They show off a band of unpainted skin at the hairline, demonstrating that they have not earnt the wigs that the Geiko and Geisha ladies wear. These wigs makes the hair appear bigger and fuller, as it is worn over their natural hair. All of these ladies wear beautiful hair accessories, but Geiko and Geisha ladies wear simpler ones on their wigs.
The way that these ladies apply makeup is also subtly different. Maikos and Hangyokus should colour their eyebrows with red and pink hues. Geikos have both upper and bottom lips painted in red, and their eyes are only outlined in black. Only having one lip painted, or eyes outlined in red means that they are still in training. The biggest difference is in the kimono robes they wear. Geiko robes appear in more solid colours and with shorter sleeves than those worn by their younger counterparts. They also have only white collars and have thinner obi ties at the waist.
Now you have all the information on how to differentiate a Maiko performer from a Geisha, as well as appreciate their contributions to Japanese culture. Be sure to check out the Maikoya Centre website for more information on how you can meet a real Geisha on your next visit to Japan!