When I had read the book, “Memoirs of a Geisha”, I felt like I stepped into a new and mysterious world of beauty and art. Karyukai as they call it, is the flower and willow world where geiko and maiko work and live. Though Iwasaki Mineko claimed that the book has some wrong ideas about the karyukai, I was still intimidated about their lives as artists who serve and entertain guests with chanoyu or tea ceremonies, kyomai or Kyoto-style dances, shamisen, fue, kokyu and drum playing, etc. So I searched for more information about them.
Maiko are generally apprentice geiko, and you can easily distinguish them apart from geiko with their physical appearances. Maiko wear hairstyles called wareshinobu during their junior years and ofuku during their senior years, while geiko wear a more elaborate tsubushi-shimada hairstyle (actually a katsura or wig since the hairstyle requires a really long hair). In addition to that, maiko wear a lot of hair ornaments or kanzashi, but as they mature, hair ornaments become less and simpler. First year maiko have only their lower lip painted with red and shidare or fluttering silk petals hanging in their hanakanzashi, but they will soon start to paint their bottom lip and remove the shidare in their hair ornament once they enter their second year. They also wear okobo or high wooden clogs with bells that give an additional dainty look to their appearance, compared to the simple lacquered zori of geiko. One important thing also is that maiko wear red embroidered eri or collar that gradually turns to white until their maturation to geiko, who wear simple white collar. Maiko also wear this unique darari obi, while geiko only wear the simple taiko musubi in the back. And lastly, maiko wear a long-sleeved furisode kimono (a trailing one called hikizuri) compared to the short-sleeved tomosode kimono of geiko.
So in general, maiko are supposed to have a doll-like appearance which represents their lack of maturity in the arts. They rely their beauty with the help of the flamboyant designs and colors of their kimono and ornaments. On the other hand, geiko are supposed to look more mature since they have mastered their arts, and so, they are more lady-like and demure in appearance because they rely more on their own true beauty.
There are five hanamachi or flower/geiko districts in Kyoto: Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi, Miyagawa-cho, Pontocho and Kamishichiken. Gion Kobu is the most popular I think, with the ochaya (teahouse) Ichiriki and being the main setting in the Memoirs of a Geisha.
I also have some favorite geiko and maiko in Kyoto, some of which are popular because of their beauty and skills in arts and dancing. One is Ichimame of Kamishichiken. I heard she was quite popular as she was the only maiko to had a blog in her generation. However, some months after her erikae (ceremonial transition from maiko to geiko), she left. The blog was eventually passed on to Ichiteru, now a geiko of the Ichi ochaya, who was actually inspired to be maiko because of Ichimame’s blog. Currently, the blog is updated by the new maiko and geiko of the ochaya: Ichimomo, Ichimari, Ichitomo and Ichitaka. You can visit the Ichi blog here.
There are also several documentaries and books about karyukai. I learned much by browsing through all of them. I also learned a lot from the esteemed photographers of Japan who share their beautiful shots of maiko and geiko in their daily lives and in special events. Most of all, I learned from other people whom I share the same interests by exchange of information in the forum.