Maiko, also known as geisha apprentices, are an iconic symbol of Japan’s traditional culture. These young women, typically between the ages of 17 and 20, undergo a rigorous training process to learn the art of entertaining guests at Ochaya (tea houses) by singing songs, dancing, and playing Japanese musical instruments such as shamisen and other instruments.
Kyoto, a city steeped in history and tradition, is the perfect place to observe the training and traditions of maiko. Visitors can spot these elegant young women in their distinctive kimonos and heavy makeup as they make their way to and from appointments, or during special performances and events.
Training for maiko
The training process for a maiko is extensive and begins at a young age. Many girls will start their training as early as 15, and it can take up to 2 years for a maiko to become a fully-fledged geisha. The training includes not only traditional arts such as dance, music, and learning musical instruments but also social etiquette and of conversation.
During their training, the young women learn how to use their traditional makeup, and also learn how to walk in their traditional wooden sandals, which are known as okobo. In addition, they will learn how to wear their traditional hairstyles which are adorned with kanzashi (Japanese hair ornaments).
Maiko will also learn traditional arts such as dance and music. They will learn various traditional dance styles and will also learn how to play traditional instruments such as the shamisen, which is a three-stringed instrument that is plucked with a plectrum. They will also learn how to sing traditional songs in the traditional style. These performances are a highlight of any event and are always greatly appreciated by guests.
Popular drama about Maiko and Makanai in Kyoto
The Netflix drama, “Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House” explores this unique aspect of the geisha tradition and offers a fascinating look into the daily lives of maiko as well as various dishes prepared by a makanai. The drama, which was featured on Netflix and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, follows the story of a young woman who wishes to become a maiko and must learn to navigate the complex world of geisha training, including experience of being a makanai meaning “a chef in a maiko house who takes care of preparing meals for residents there”. Since the story is about maiko and also about various dishes cooked by a makanai, you will also get to know various popular Japanese foods.
The drama explores the challenges that young women face as they try to balance their training with their personal lives and the expectations of society.
While the training process for a maiko can be demanding, the end result is a beautiful and highly skilled young woman who is able to entertain guests. It is common for maikos to take part in special events and gatherings, and their performances are always a highlight.
From traditional dance and music to the art of conversation and the makanai system, the training of a maiko is a multi-faceted process that takes years to master. But for those who are dedicated to preserving traditional Japanese culture, the journey is well worth it.
Maikos, despite being apprentices, are highly respected in the traditional Japanese culture, and it is a great honor to become a maiko. They are admired for their beauty, skill, and elegance.