A “maiko” is a girl in Kyoto’s traditional leisure district whose job is to provide entertainment at banquets through traditional music, dance, and other performances. A maiko is an apprentice of a geisha, a fully-fledged female entertainer. Maiko live in a place called a “yakata” or “okiya,” which in English is often translated as “maiko house.”
A yakata is a house that has geishas and maiko, who are sent to banquets at ryotei (Japanese-style restaurants), etc. at the request of customers.
The maiko house is also where maiko live their daily lives.
The maiko house serves as a dormitory but its other role is to accept apprentice maiko “shikomi-san” who come to live in the house and later make their debut as respectable maiko. The maiko house is also like a production company for those in the entertainment industry.
Shikomi-san means “miss trainee.” Maiko are generally considered apprentices of geisha. Therefore shikomi-san is the stage before one becomes a maiko.
Because shikomi-san, young apprentices, are underage girls (15 to 16 years old), the proprietress, called “okasan,” meaning “Mom,” of the maiko house is responsible for taking care of them as their guardian. The role of the okasan is to teach the young apprentices and maiko about the etiquette and manners of the hanamachi (leisure) district of Kyoto.
Geisha and maiko go to ryotei (Japanese-style restaurants) or tea houses where their customers are from the maiko house where they belong. The okasan is, so to speak, both president of the entertainment company and mother of the maiko.
For about one year, young apprentices live in a maiko house, where the okasan, senior geiko, and maiko live. The apprentices help them, clean the house, and practice dance. During this time, they are taught the language of the Kyoto hanamachi (leisure) district, greetings, etiquette, and other hanamachi manners and customs by their okasan and senior maiko. They wake up early every morning. In the evening, they wait until the senior maiko finish their work, then help clean up their costumes. Often, they go to bed very late at night.
Maiko and young apprentices attend lessons in dancing, shamisen (musical instruments), and singing. Recently, many maiko have been taking English conversation lessons because of the increasing number of foreign tourists.
Maiko are positioned as apprentices to geiko and are not paid a salary. However, the maiko house covers each maiko’s clothing, food, shelter, and training expenses.