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You dont have to be Japanese to be a maiko

2018.8.9

You dont have to be Japanese to be a maiko

Have you ever seen an authentic maiko in Kyoto?

A maiko refers to a girl who works as an entertainer; maiko dance and play ohayashi (musical accompaniment) for banquettes in 5 kagai (Kamishichiken, Miyagawa-cho, Ponto-cho, Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi) in Kyoto.

Maiko whom you encounter during daytime in Kyoto are usually tourists dressed as maiko to take photos in “maiko experience”, which means there are not too many people who have actually seen a real maiko.

Some of you might actually want to be a maiko. By being a maiko, we do not mean “to experience maiko makeover” but “to work and flourish in hanamachi of Kyoto”! You might want to be a maiko…but are wondering if you really could, since you are non-Japanese? This article is a must-read!

Qualifications for being a maiko

There are severe qualifications for being a maiko even if you are Japanese. A maiko is the belle of the ball, and not everyone can pull it off; there are strict requirements to meet, such as physical appearance, age and height restrictions.
There are traditions unique to Kyoto or among maiko, and you need to have guts to some extent to continue working as a maiko.
Here are qualifications for being a maiko in Kyoto!!

1.Aged from 15 to 18 years old
A maiko will become a geiko (this is called erigae) when she is about 20 years old, so 18 would be the maximum age for being a maiko.

2. No more than 160cm tall
When you put on okobo (shoes worn by maiko), you will be 10cm higher.

3.Physical strength necessary. More than 43kg in weight.
Maiko costumes are very heavy and you need to be physically strong.

4.Parental permission
A maiko is underage, and parental permission is 100% required.

5.Likes geigoto (traditional performing arts)
Experience is not necessary, however a good ear for music is crucial.

6.Likes Japanese lifestyle
Kimono, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, ozashiki (tatami room) and training; everything is Japanese. Even when you sleep, you have to sleep on takamakura (Japanese-style high pillow).

7.Has guts
The shikomi period before becoming a maiko will be overwhelming; gyougi minarai (learning good manners through apprenticeship), laundry, cleaning, shopping, chores and such, on top of learning kyo kotoba (Kyoto dialect).

A maiko is an apprentice of traditional performing arts. You will have to have guts to keep on learning for at least 4 to 5 years (including the shikomi and minarai period) before becoming a full-fledged maiko.

Non-Japanese can be a maiko??

Now you know the qualifications for being a maiko in Japan very well. So, what kind of requirements are there if non-Japanese want to be a maiko? Can non-Japanese be a maiko to start with?

It is often said that one has to have a Japanese citizenship to be a maiko, but the truth is uncertain. There is no existing tradition or saying that a maiko or geiko has to be a Japanese citizen, so it should not be impossible. However, hanamachi in Kyoto are very special places. There has never been a non-Japanese maiko in hanamachi in Kyoto, so we assume it wouldn’t be easy. For non-Japanese to be a maiko, it is crucial to negotiate and talk your way into the union and an okiya (lodging house for maiko and geiko). If there should be an okiya who accepts non-Japanese, one has to understand that they do so against all the objections from ochaya (tea house, or where maiko and geiko entertain their customers), other okiya and the union; one has to strive to master traditional performing arts and pursue her way in the world of hanamachi.

It all depends on the oka-san (the proprietress) of the okiya to accept non-Japanese or not. She would be the one to judge if you have what it takes to be a maiko including the age and the appearance, whether you are Japanese or non-Japanese.

Where you can easily be a maiko

It’s not so easy to live and work as a maiko even if you are Japanese. It takes a lot of guts and patience, apparently. For those who wish to really pursue the career of a maiko, why not experience the atmosphere first with “maiko experience” in Kyoto? That way, you can easily turn into a maiko. For those who have never wished to be a maiko…still do fully enjoy Kyoto with “maiko experience” when you are in Kyoto! 😉

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