A Short Guide To The Insights Of The Life Of A Maiko

07 March 2023
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Japanese House

Not too long ago, Netflix released a very heartwarming series called The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House (舞妓さんちのまかないさん). And I kid you not, if you need something light and nice, check out this delightful 9-episode show about a friendship fairytale between a maiko and a makanai. I would say more but I might end up spoiling the magic of the show for you, so I’d rather zip my lips for now. However, I will leave you with a trailer to give you a glimpse of what the series is about and a short introduction to what a maiko is.

What is a Maiko

A “maiko” (舞妓), which translates to dancing child, is a person who works as an apprentice of a geisha in the Kyoto area and she is often between the ages of 15 and 20. Outside of Kyoto, a maiko is known as a “hangyoku” (半玉) which means half jewel. She spends around five years, sometimes up to eight years, in training to refine her talents in playing the shamisen, other types of art forms, and additional entertainment skills before graduating to become a geisha or a geiko.

Throughout her apprenticeship, she will live in an “okiya” (a lodging house of a maiko and a geisha) where she will receive proper training, food, and clothing. There, she will spend her first year studying under a senior maiko. When she becomes a junior maiko, she will learn the Kyo language (a Kyoto dialect) and traditional Japanese social graces. Once she passes this preparation period, she will officially become a maiko and will then give a debut performance at an “ozashiki” (a gathering room at an ochaya where a party happens).

When does a Maiko work
In the morning, a maiko takes classes at the “kaburenjo” (a place to learn and practice traditional customs) to learn the many lessons of traditional Japanese arts. Lessons can last up to 50 minutes each and they include calligraphy, tea ceremony, dance, and learning how to play the “shamisen” (三味線 or a traditional Japanese instrument with three strings). In the afternoon, a maiko eats a light meal and gets ready for her evening appointments. Normally, her first ozashiki begins at six o'clock, and the last one ends at midnight. An ozashiki is normally an hour and a half long, although it can run however the client is willing to pay for it.