On the pages of my website you will find examples of Geisha and Maiko makeup and costume. Typically, these images are taken from some of the workshops I have organized and directed in recent years. While I have used Japanese themes creatively, I also use them traditionally. And I know the difference.
Unlike many other workshop examples, my images are authentic. That is, they represent actual traditional renderings of both Geisha and Maiko. One does not need to travel back to the Edo era for comparison. Today, you can find examples in Japan where models showcase the traditional Geisha form.
You can also find authentic Geisha and Maiko makeup and wardrobe stylings in one of my workshops. Be sure to sign up for my workshop newsletter to remain up to date on when my next Japanese-themed workshop is taking place. They tend to sell out quickly and you won’t want to miss out.
Below is a quick overview on cultural background and context of the Geisha and Maiko. You will also find some info on makeup stylings.
Geisha & Maiko
Origins & Definition
The occupation of Geisha seems to have originated in Japan’s Edo Era, in the 18th century. By the beginning of the following century, in the 1800s, the Geisha was considered to be a female occupation. The Geisha originated in Kyoto, in western Japan.
The term “geisha” is composed of two kanji – “gei” (“art”) and “sha” (“person”). A rough translation to English may be “performing artist” or “artisan”. The purpose of the Geisha was to adapt specifically female and feminine characteristics to specific environments to provide a unique form of entertainment. The locales traditionally were formal events, tea houses and restaurants.
The form of entertainment was also specific. As a performance artist the Geisha was trained in forms one generally finds in performance art venues – musical instruments including the three-stringed Japanese shamisen and the koto, traditional Japanese dance form of nichibu, singing and the specialized performance of public manners.
Maiko to Geisha
Maiko to Geisha
The Maiko is simply the term given to the person in training to become a Geisha. The Maiko is the Geisha apprentice. Typically, the age of the Meiko ranges from 15 to 20 years.
Maiko apprenticeship begins in the support and guidance of an agency – the okiya. In each okiya is a manager who manages the various outlets in the Maiko’s apprenticeship, including job assignments, formal education, skills training, wardrobes (kimono) and help in other aspects of daily living. The manager will live in the same house as the Maiko apprentices.
During this time the Maiko is also under the instruction and guidance of a Geisha. As an apprentice to the Geisha, the Maiko provides assistance to the Geisha in return for direction and guidance. The bond of relationship the Geisha provides to the Maiko is that of a big sister.
After graduation, the Geisha is independent of the okiya. The Geisha usually will live on her own and is responsible for managing her own preparations. For example, while apprenticing, the okiya provides the essential piece of Geisha dress – the kimono. Once on her own, the Geisha is responsible for managing her own kimono preparation.
Geisha & Maiko Makeup
Geisha & Maiko Makeup
The popular perception of Geisha makeup, where the supposed Geisha wears strong Japanese whiteface, is often confused with the Maiko. It is actually the apprenticing Maiko that wears the heavy Japanese whiteface makeup that is so often used in popular (and non-Japanese) cultures to portray the Geisha.
The Maiko wears heavy Japanese whiteface for most of her first three years as an apprentice. After which, she begins to use a more subdued makeup styling.
The makeup of the Maiko features a thick white base with red lipstick. Red and black is used to provide accents around the eyes and eyebrows. For many years, the original white base make was composed of lead. Finally, the connection between significant skin and back problems unique to older the Geisha and lead poisoning was made in the Meiji Era. Ever since, the white base has been composed of rice powder.
The Maiko Once the Maiko graduates to Geisha, her makeup stylings will become more subdued. The Geisha will typically not use heavy whiteface, except for formal occasions and events. The purpose behind this transition in makeup stylings underscores the maturing of the apprentice into womanhood. As a mature woman, the traditional makeup styling is altered allowing the woman’s natural beauty to show.