During the 17th century, the Japanese shogun established special districts, called hanamachi, in which geisha (“geiko” in Kyoto dialect) were ordered to live and work. (A note: although many Westernizations use the term “geishas” as the plural form, I prefer to stick with “geisha” in the plural, because it more closely parallels Japanese.) Kyoto has five such districts, of which Gion is the oldest and most famous. (Pontocho, which features in several of my Hiro Hattori novels, is a close second.) As an official “historic preservation district,” Gion remains, in many ways, an eighteenth century town. Traditional two-story houses, called machiya, line the narrow streets. In Japan,Read more
What is a Maiko?
In Kyoto, the word maiko refers to an apprentice geiko (elsewhere in Japan, these entertainers are referred to as “geisha”)–a woman who has not yet completed the necessary training and ceremonies to become a full-fledged geiko, or entertainer. Since maiko normally go to the hairdresser only once a week, they rest their necks on traditional wooden stands (known as takamakura) while sleeping. This way, the elaborate hairstyle remains in place. Traditionally, geisha (or geiko) wear a white collar (han’eri) inside the neckline of their dress kimono, while the collar of a maiko is normally red. Also by tradition, a new or debuting maiko’s collar is not only red, but unadorned. LaterRead more
Geisha in Japan’s Medieval Age
Geisha (often known as “geiko” in Kyoto) are Japanese female entertainers–primarily hostesses and performers–whose origins run hundreds of years into Japan’s medieval past. Geishas normally lived in a house with other entertainers–often owned by a retired (or particularly famous) geisha, who could afford to pay for the lavish kimono and other adornments geisha wore during their evening activities. Many of these kimono were heirlooms, passed down from mother to daughter or from master to apprentice. (The price for a single geisha kimono and adornments was often more than a samurai warrior earned in a year.) Geishas passed on their knowledge by taking apprentices–either their daughters, or girlsRead more