Makeup and Attire of Maiko and Geisha(Geiko)

Maiko and Geiko(Geisha) Wear Differently

There are a variety of characteristics of Maiko and Geiko(Geisha) makeup and clothing, including the well known thick white makeup. In fact, from apprentices to veterans, they look different according to certain rules. For example, Maiko was a training period to become a geisha, and used to  start training at around 9 years old. Therefore, maiko’s dresses are tailored to make them look young and cute. Gorgeous hair ornaments of each month and “Darari Obi Sash” can be examples of this. As they get older, their outfit will gradually become plain. After they graduate from Maiko around 20 years old and become a geisha, they look more like an adult with a softness. After graduating from Geisha and specializing in performances such as shamisen playing, they began to appear at the banquet with general makeup and kimono. First of all, Maiko is not white all day. This is a makeup for banquets, and while practicing performance during the day, they have a general makeup. In the evening, they remove their regular makeup, apply white makeup, and come over to a banquet.

How to do Maiko / Geisha Makeup

The white-painted makeup that is a hallmark of Maiko has inherited the ideas of the times without electric lighting. It makes them beautiful in the dim light of candles and lanterns. They have to do it by themselves, and as you might expect it is so elaborate and difficult to master that it takes an hour before get used to it. Actually, only three colors, white, black and red, are used for the makeup. In order to finish beautifully, it is necessary to finely adjust the color intensity and darkness, and of course it has to be something that brings “youth” at the same time. Even though it is a thick makeup, the basic thought is that they should make the most of the original beauty of your face features. They will learn to improve the details of the makeup gradually. In order to be a “professional maiko,” they have to master the makeup techniques. Below are the basic makeup procedures.

1: Apply “Bintsuke” wax on face, neck and back as a base

2: Dissolve kneaded white paste in water and apply it using a wide flat brush

3: Draw eye lines and eyebrows with black and red. A red stick called “Bo-Beni” or just “Beni” is used for red.

4: Apply the red on lips. Maiko in their first year typically apply it only to the lower lip.

When applying white on the neckline, they will make a linear pattern. This is called a “leg” (“ashi” in Japanese) and a tip for making the neck look long and beautiful. They will usually have “two legs” when visiting a regular banquet, while “three legs” is adopted for more formal settings such as the New Year greetings along with a house-crested (formal) kimono.

Japanese Kimono Maiko and Geiko(Geisha) Wear

Maiko mainly wears kimonos woven in Kyoto such as Kyo-yuzen and Nishijin-ori. The feature is that it is tailored to have a longer hem, and the total weight is as high as 20kg. When they walk outdoors, they usually walk with your left hand holding the heel (between the belt and the hem). Depending on the weather, the hem may be lifted with a string called “Karage-himo.” On the other hand, during the performing arts practice, it is common to wear a more casual kimono and a natural makeup, which is called “Sonnari”. 

In the world of maiko, there is a change of clothes depending on the season. In spring and autumn, they wear lined kimonos, and thinner kimono called “Ro” and “Sha” are used in summer. In winter it is a warm double-lined kimono(nimai-awase). In addition, they carefully choose kimono to create a sense of the seasons, such as choosing ones with seasonal flowers as patterns.

Also notice the difference between Maiko and Geiko(Geisha) kimonos. Maiko wears a gorgeous kimono with many patterns in red and pink. When you are a geisha, you will wear a kimono that will show you are a grown-up: calm colored and with fewer patterns. The collars of the inner wear under the kimono are often red for maiko and white for geiko, and this is why when a maiko becomes a geiko, she is said to have “collar change” or “Eri-Kae” in Japanese.

The color of the collar changes while you are a maiko. Fukuna-san in her first year in the photo wore a red collar.

Special Obi Sash Maiko Wears

Another eye-catching feature of Maiko outfit is the obi sash that hangs down to the ankle. This way of wearing obi is called “Darari Obi” and “Darari” is a mimetic word for something long and hung to wave. The overall length of the belt can be as long as 7m. Since it is too heavy for maiko to fasten it by themselves, men called “Otokoshi” help complete it. The banding string over the obi is wider(3cm) than normal(1cm) to support it. In addition, an obi has on the end of it a crest of the Okiya, which will let you know which Okiya it belongs. Also, a variety of graceful designs on it such as flower-and-bird styles are worth paying much attention to.

Maiko’s “Darari Obi”

Above all, the most expensive item that Maiko wears is actually the clip tying Obi called “Pocchiri”. Pocchiri belongs to an Okiya and is treasured, as it is a high-class product luxuriously crafted with coral, jade, agate, and gold.

How to do the Japanese hairstyle of Maiko and Geiko(Geisha)

One of the characteristics of Maiko and Geiko(Geisha) is their Kyoto hairstyle. Geiko uses wigs, while maiko ties their own hair. If you decide to be a maiko and your hair is short, you would first have to let it grow. Maiko’s hairstyle changes over years as they build up their career. In the first couple of years their hairstyle is a cute “Ware-shinobu”, and after that it will be a slightly calm and called “Ofuku”.

There are professional hairdressers of Japanese coiffure to do the job, but a maiko does not have their hair set every day. She takes a bath every day, but cannot wash your hair until the next hair tie. They learn to skillfully keep their hairstyle in their daily life. For example, they use a high “box pillow” to sleep.

Also, we should mention the gorgeous hair ornaments. As a general feature of maiko’s outfits, they look most flamboyant at their debut. It is also the case with their hair ornaments: the older they will be, each flower will be bigger and the fewer in number. In the first year, they wear additional ornaments called “Bura” which go down over their face. They have fixed floral motifs for each month, play a role in expressing the nuanced transition of the seasons. The main motifs of each month are introduced below.

January: Pine, Bamboo and Plum Blossom(symbol of good luck), Rice Ear(good harvest), Turtle and Crane(longevity), Hagoita(Japanese Battledore), String Ball, Chrysanthemum

February: Plum Blossom, Kusudama(a Piñata-like ball for celebration)

March: Canola Flowers, Narcissus, Peaches, Peony

April: Sakura(Cherry Blossoms), Goro Butterfly

May: Wisteria, Iris

June: Hydrangea, Willow

July: Gion Paper Fan, Fireworks, Goldfish

August: Japanese Pampas Grass, Morning Glory

September: Bellflower, Japanese Clover, Yellow Patrinia

October: Chrysanthemum

November: Maple, Ginkgo

December: Mochibana(new year’s decoration), Takeyarai(Bamboo craft), Maneki (Invitation signboard with names of Kabuki actors)