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To be a Maiko

You may be interested to know more about maiko. Here we answer to typical questions such as “what are the requirements to be a maiko”? and “from what age can one be a maiko”?

If you actually wish to take action to be a maiko, please contact okiya to confirm specific details of hiring rules and conditions. They are different according to the geisha districts and okiya.

Can anyone start to work as a maiko right now?

Not everyone can be a maiko right away. She needs to be under 20 years of age, and has to work at the beginning as a shikomi-san (a girl in training) for about an year to learn tradition and manners of the geisha district and Kyoto dialect. After that, she can be a maiko if the proprietress (okami, oka-san) of the okiya decides to accept her. If regarded to be talentless, she cannot be a maiko.

What are the requirements to be a maiko?

It depends somewhat on the okiya, but roughly speaking, a candidate has to meet the following criteria to be a maiko. If you really wish to be a maiko, please double check the information about the okiya.

  • Mentally and physically healthy (It is not recommendable to be a maiko if you have if
    you have atopy, allergy, asthma and other disease, because stress may make your
    condition worse.)
  • Unmarried woman between about 15 and 18 years old
  • Shorter than about 160 centimeter or 165 centimeter
    in height
  • Parents who have consented and are able to attend the
  • Good looking to a certain degree
  • Perseverance to endure strict rules and trainings
  • Physical strength (maiko is a very tough job.)
  • Strong hair and skin
  • Not overweight and not too slim

How can I get accepted to an okiya?

You can find a way to get accepted to an okiya though your contacts and connections, on the internet, or through vocational schools.Show that you are committed, be well-mannered and follow the rules in making contact with people. This is the first step to becoming a maiko.

  • If you are attending the classes of Japanese traditional dance or tea ceremony, you should ask people such as your master, your school teachers or your relatives for help.
  • If you have not contacts or connections, you should search for the information related to maiko one after another on the internet. You may be able to find out the okiya that is looking for a maiko more easily than expected.
  • An okiya belongs to a guild in most cases. You can make contact directly with the guild.
  • Otherwise, you can look up the information of vocational schools to receive trainings to be a maiko.

What is the process to getting accepted to an okiya

Once you find out an okiya you can make contact with, you should avoid the period of Kyo-odori (dance performance held by maiko and geiko) in the geisha district. 1 to 4 pm is the best time to call to make contact.

1.Making contact by telephone
You should speak politely and briskly. Clearly explain to the receiver who you are and
why you are calling, and ask them to put you thought to the proprietress (okami,
oka-san) of the okiya.If oka-san is not present, you should call her back at a later date.
You should ask when it is convenient for her. After talking with oka-san on the phone,
you can send your application to her if oka-san allows you to do so.
2.Applicant screening
Generally, applicants are to submit the following documents. However, it depends on
the okiya so please make an enquiry beforehand.
-Resume (you should put information about you including height, weight, foot size,
eyesight, blood type, cultural lessons you attended.)
- Letter (self-introduction, the reason for application, and your determination)
- Photographs (photos of your face and the whole body) - Use photos that can give a
natural and favorable impression. Don’t use snapshots, photos taken by photo sticker
machine, and photos of you with too heavy make-up.Put the above documents
together in an envelope. If you send it by registered mail or express delivery, you will
give a better impression, maybe..You will get the results for application screening in one
or two weeks. You should inquire them if you haven’t get results in one month.
You can apply for more than two okiya at the same time.
If you have applied for an okiya in the Gion-kobe area, you had better not apply for
another okiya in the Gion-kobe area, but there will be no problems if you
apply for an okiya in other geisha districts such as Kami-shichiken or Gion-higashi.
If you pass the screening for application, you will be invited to an interview.
Make sure that you bring your parents along. You should have persuaded your
parents to let you start a career as a maiko before that. You are not allowed to
enter an okiya unless your parents consent to that. It is desirable to put your school
uniform. Avoid wearing earrings, accessories, or nail polish. Dress neatly and cleanly.
Some interviews are held in a Japanese-style room. Make sure not to step on the hem
of tatami (traditional straw mat) and the edge of fusuma (a thick papered sliding door), and you may want to know about the proper manners of opening and closing fusuma. In the interview, you should explain why you wish to be a maiko showing great passion.
Some okiya can accept you a trial basis. During this trial period, you can judge calmly whether you like the okiya’s atmosphere and whether you will be fit for the job. The life is this industry is quite tough, so now is the chance to turn back from it.
Rigorous trainings begin now to be a maiko. It depends on you whether you can become a full-fledged maiko.

I'm a high school graduate. Can I be a maiko?


Some okiya accept high school graduates. However, you will have a tougher time as you must remember much more things at one time before you are 20 years old, compared to junior high school graduates. If you learn Japanese traditional dancing or tea ceremony during your high school days, that might help you…… Don’t give up easily, make inquiry, and try to express your passion.

I am over 160 centimeters tall.


If your height is less than 165 cm, you may be accepted by some okiya. Some old okiya, however, may possess only smaller size clothes, so don’t give up and make an inquiry.

I'm a university graduate. Can I be a maiko?


To be honest, that would be very difficult. If there should be some special reason for that, like the shortage of candidates, or you have someone to support you, there might be a possibility that you would be a maiko.

Can a maiko possess a mobile phone?


Some okiya don’t allow a girl in training (shikomi-san) to possess a mobile phone for the whole year, and a maiko during her first year. However, many other okiya permit them to have one.

Is it permitted to go back home?


Some strict okiya don’t seem to permit a girl in training (shikomi-san) to go back to her parents’ home for the whole year, and a maiko for her first year. However, many of them are allowed to go back to their home town on summer holidays, new-year holidays, or when they can take a long vacation. If an okiya employs many maiko who are from outside Kyoto, they sometimes advance the dates of year-end annual events for their convenience.

I heard that bullying occurs at the okiya.


A maiko lives in a very demanding world. They have completely different rules from the outside world. The rules don’t necessarily fit your values. Some things may go badly. You may be shouted at or blamed for something with a stern voice. But it depends on you whether you regard it as bullying or part of the training.

Can a girl in training (shikomi-san) get fired during the training?


Sure, she can be fired. If an okiya judge that you are not suited for maiko, you will not be able to continue. You may have reasons for that, like you are not making progress, or you frequently get sick, but the proprietress (okami, oka-san) always see you properly. If you do your best with great passion, you will surely..

Does a maiko drink?


No, they don’t. Because they are under age.

What will happen after maiko?


After she finishes serving her apprenticeship normally for 5 years, a maiko can choose whether she wishes to stay in or leave the geisha district. Some stay to become a geiko, others get married to someone, go to school, or find work in the different industries. But what she fostered, learned, and experienced as a maiko will definitely be useful for her life in future.

I live in Kyoto city. Do I need to live in an okiya?


No matter how close you live to your okiya, you must reside there. It is not permitted to commute to your okiya.

Is “mizuage” still practiced?


It is surprising that many people still mistake mizuage (old coming-of-age ceremony of maiko) for a maiko having sexual relationship with her patron and becoming their mistress. That is not the case today. When a maiko finishes serving her term and change her hairstyle to be a geiko, some people call it mizuage. Also, there remains some patronage system that a patron gives financial support to a maiko without demanding sexual relationship. Even if one wishes to offer a large sum of money to be a maiko’s patron, that is not possible unless the maiko agrees with that. There are cases where a customer and a maiko fall in love with each other and get married.