The First Steps of a Geisha-The Maiko Debut

Recently, I happened to be biking through Miyagawa-cho, one of the 5 remaining Geisha districts in Kyoto, when I chanced upon a crowd of paparazzi. They were waiting for the debut of a Maiko (apprenticing Geisha).

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What is a Maiko anyways?

Most people have heard of Geisha, literally meaning “person of the arts.” Before you become a Geisha, a young lady needs time to develop her skills and understanding of Japanese traditional arts, along with learning the uniquely Geisha-like manners, etiquette and speech. This training period usually takes place between 16-19 years old, when young ladies are referred to as Maiko.

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The Okiya (dormitory)

You first enter an okiya (dormitory for aspiring Geisha) where you spend your first year basically doing chores and learning the basics. If you’ve seen or read Memoires of a Geisha, you might remember Sayuri’s early days. In her case, it wasn’t too nice! However, a Maiko’s experience really depends on her older sisters and Mamasan (Head of the house) who determines if you make the cut.

Trial Period

After one year, you are now ready for your debut, and start some serious training to become a Geisha!

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Maiko Debut-what is involved?

Kimitoyo-chan finished her first year of apprenticeship and made her Maiko debut on this particular day. I was extremely fortunate to see this given the fact most young Japanese women have no interest anymore in becoming a Geisha. Her debut consists of being introduced to ochaya (tea houses where Maiko/Geisha entertain) and other supporters, asking for good favour and future support along her path to becoming a Geisha.

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Aisatsu (greeting)

Kimitoyo-chan is formally introduced to the community of supporters. Following Kimitoyo-chan around the neighbourhood, I get a better understanding of the necessity of aisatsu (greeting). I always heard about the importance of aisatsu in Japanese culture, but honestly the level of obligations from a western point of view, always turned me off. For some reason though, in this context it seemed to make sense.

You see, for Kimitoyo-chan her debut officially makes her a representative of the house and is the first opportunity for her to meet every supporter face-to-face. Even though there are obligations, you feel a sense of belonging to a close-knit community. In our modern lifestyles this would probably be the exception rather than norm, and somehow watching this made me realize how important it is to keep up some level of deep connections within our own daily lives.

Kimitoyo-chan, thank you for the wonderful opportunity to get a rare look at your Maiko debut.