1. Junior Maiko? Senior Maiko?

Junior Maiko? Senior Maiko?

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Nanaka Shirasawa

It’ve been 20 years to live in Kyoto. No place to I possibly can live except Kyoto.


Junior Maiko?Senior Maiko?

Cherry blossoms have fallen off and summer is around the corner in Kyoto.People started wearing short sleeves and seem excited about the beginning of summer.



Well, on this article, you’ll be learning how to distinguish between junior and senior maiko. After the reading, you’ll become an expert in maiko/geiko culture for sure!


Last week, we discussed about differences between maiko and Geiko in the other article.
There are also differences between junior and senior maiko when you look intently at their appearance. For an expert, their differences are so obvious and they can tell what year maiko are in.


Every maiko looked same for me before I started working with them. However, now it gets much easier to say who is in wheat year by their appearance. After entering this level, it becomes more enjoyable to see maiko every time. Learn today how maiko change their appearance in their maiko careers for 5 years.





◼︎Appearance Change of Maiko

The theme of maiko’s kimono and makeup is “childishness”.

Geiko, on the other hand, have to have grown up from the childishness and simplicity of their kimono and make up indicates that they are sophisticated and polished ladies.

For five years of maiko career, designs and colors of kimono get simpler and darker as they gain experiences each year.




| After a debut and until the first year ends

Girls cannot become maiko without one year of hard training. During the training term, their duties are supporting and helping senior maiko and geiko like they do behind-the-scenes work. They’re called “Shikomi,” an apprentice maiko.
They have strict rules on their outfits and hair style. They aren’t allowed to wear colorful clothing and have to tie back their hair.



After one year of training is done, they finally become maiko at a debut ceremony, “Misedashi”. New maiko look very young and unsuspecting since they wear childish hair accessories, make up and kimono for the first year.




◇ Hair Style and Accessories



First-year maiko’s kanzashi, traditional hair accessories, are designed to have lots of small flowers and “bura” or dangling ribbon-like decoration. A collection of small flowers are colorful and big, so it adds more girliness to their hair.



“Ware-shinobu” is a unique and special hair style which only first-year maiko have.

A red cloth with pattern of dapples, called “Kanoko,” is partly shown up at two sides of a bun on her head and a large-coin-size round hairpin is placed in the centre of a bun.




◇ Makeup

Junior maiko are allowed to wear lipstick only on her bottom lip. It implies that she is kind of far from sophisticated beauty of adults.

It takes time to improve their makeup skill, so they cannot wear make up perfectly in the beginning, so senior maiko teach them sometimes. Another point is that they have simple make up on eye brows and lines to make their faces look childish.





◇ Kimono

Right after a debut, junior maiko wear kimono which are colorful (mainly red color), eye-catching, childish and have lots of small patterns.

In maiko/geiko world, red implies childishness and darker color implies adultness. It is why junior maiko wear red-related colors, especially a red collar of kimono. Not only kimono, but they also have eye-catching sash belt.





| Around The Second Year



◇ Hair Style and Accessories

Each Kanzashi gets smaller and “bura” is taken away. However, it’s still a collection of colorful small flowers.

Her hair style is still “Ware-shinobu” as same as the first-year Maiko. She has to keep the hair style until she enters her third year of maiko.




◇ Makeup

In the first year from a debut, maiko only wear lipstick on a bottom lip, but they’re able to start what it on both lips from the second year like a certification to finish the period of apprenticeship.

They usually get used to put on makeup by themselves from the second year just like normal girls.





Red, orange and yellow, first-year maiko wear brightly colored kimono. More darker or pale color options they have from the second year. However, it can’t be stated it because a color of kimono is depending on each maiko’s face and character sometimes, but general speaking, bright and red-ish colors are for the first-year maiko and pale and lighter colors are for maiko from the second year.


Eri and obi also gets simpler, but they still have patterns and look childish.





|After The Third Year


◇  Hair Style and Accessories



After the second year is done, maiko’s kanzashi gets simpler and simpler. In the first and second years, kanzashi is usually a collection of small flowers, but from the third year, it becomes one large flower.


The hair style is also changed. “Ofuku” is for maiko from the third year, so it implies that they finally start senior years. It’s slightly different from “ware-shinobu”. The shape of a bun shifts from a round to a ellipse. A bun is supported by kanoko in the first year, but it’s changed to ofuku-gake, a hair cloth.
In the third year, Ofuku-gake is red and it’s switched to pink and light blue when they became the forth and five year maiko.



◇ Makeup

In addition to hair style and accessories, makeup also changes to show their matureness. Eye brows and lines thicken. Then it becomes easier to finish putting on makeup everyday.
However, makeup basically depends on each maiko’s face, so some of them keep their makeup light although she enters the third year.




◇ Kimono

Darker and cooler color kimono are worn by senior maiko. There are less patterns and designs get much simpler compared to the first-year maiko’s kimono.

As you see, her eri changes red to white to get ready to become geiko in years. Eri is one of the most influential parts of maiko’s appearance.





| Right Before Erikae – Become Geiko 


After five years of maiko career, they eventually become geiko who are their dream. A ceremony to become geiko is called “Erikae”.
Time flies. Five years are gone so fast; junior maiko has experienced a lot of things in five years and erikae started her in the face.



◇ Hair Style

Two weeks before Erikae, special hair style “Sakkou” is done up on senior maiko’s hair. This is the last hair style which is tied by using her own hair, geiko are allowed to wear wigs.

Some okiya (maiko’s house) or ochaya (tea house) hold topknot-cutting ceremony at the last night of maiko career to celebrate her becoming geiko finally.





◼︎Question: Is She a Junior Maiko? or a Senior Maiko?

Many maiko have come to our tour in last few months!

If you have understood everything written here, it must be easy to distinguish from junior to senior maiko.



  • Kiku-sana chan

She visited us on April 25. She smiles charmingly, right?

What year is she in now?





The answer is the first year.

It’s becasue she only wears lipstick on a bottom lip and her kanzashi has “bura”.

Her kimono is purple, so it looks a little bit mature, but there are lots of patterns and she wears the red collar, which are junior maiko’s characteristics.


Here is the article about the tour when we invited Kikusana chan!




  • Ko-ume chan

The next one is Ko-ume chan. She came to our dinner on May 2.

She is famous for appearing on TV documentary show when she was a trainee of maiko.

So, how about her? What year is she in?




The answer is the fourth year. It’s a little bit difficult, isn’t it?

Things we should pay attention are eri and kanzashi (collar and hair accessories). She wears the white collar, which indicates that she’ll soon become a geiko. Her kanzashi looks like one which junior maiko wear, but it isn’t the same one with it. It’s wisteria flowers.


She is a veteran maiko and become a geiko really soon. We cannot wait to see her when she finally become a geiko!


Here is the article about the tour when we invited Ko-ume chan!




  •  Fukuno-chan

She is Fukuno chan. She is one of the most popular maiko in Miyagawa-cho. (We’ve heard that there are some Fukuno Otaku. . .)

What year is she in?

The hint is that she’s just taken “bura” away.



The answer is the second year. Bura can be take off when she become the second-year maiko.

Her kimono and obi are partly red and there are a lot of flower patterns on her kimono.


Here is the article about the tour when we invited Fukuno chan!





◼︎ Interview with Maiko san!

We asked some questions to Fukune chan last week. She kindly told us her feelings about maiko’s growth into a geiko.

She wears black and simple kimono and kanzashi, so she looks a veteran kimono, but it is the third year of her career.



How did you feel about colors of kimono change over time?

- In the first and second years, a junior maiko has to be looked young and childish, so we wear bright color kimono. Kimono gets simpler and darker colored after I got into the third year.


Did you want to wear lipstick on both lips in the first year?

–    Yes, I’m longing for wearing it on both lips when I was a junior maiko because wearing lipstick is very influential and it can change one’s face looks differently.


Have your attitude towards maiko changed since you were a junior maiko?

–    The impetus for willing to become a maiko is just maiko’s beautiful appearance.However, it’s changed over time. I started to think that I want to improve my performance skills like my one-san, senior maiko and geiko.I’d like to develop my skills as well as aesthetic senses.


Do you want to become a geiko soon?

–     Well, I have both feeling which are yes and no; I want to become a geiko soon and I don’t have confident to handle a lot of geiko’s duties and responsibilities like my seniors.



Being beautiful is one of the most important things that maiko and geiko have to keep over years.
However, they cannot keep their improvement and growth by just having beautiful appearance. Developing one’s skills, learning every Japanese manner, etiquette and hospitality mind, and a number of duties and responsibilities is grown up. Girls make a sacrifice of an uncountable number of things to become true maiko and geiko. They are Japanese culture themselves. We cannot explain enough how tough they are.


They take a step up every year and change their appearance little by little.
Geiko’s hair and kimono show efforts that she have made over five years.

Fukuen san has been a maiko for three years and she is just charging head first towards her dream, to become a geiko, even though she faces many obstacles every day. She never stops.


We intend to support her to become a geiko!





Now You Are a Maiko Expert

How was it? Could you learn a lot of points about maiko’s appearance?

You now are an expert of Maiko’s appearance and it must be easy to distinguish between junior and senior maiko.
Please visit Kyoto and find those differences on their appearance.





■ Reference

Mizobuchi, H. (n.d.). Kyoto no kagai: Geiko maiko no dentobi. Mitsumurasuikoshoin.

Author Profile

Nanaka Shirasawa
Nanaka Shirasawa
It’ve been 20 years to live in Kyoto.
No place to I possibly can live except Kyoto.