Stages of a Kyoto geisha’s career:
The approximately year-long training period before appearing as a maiko. After graduating from middle school at about age 16, a girl moves into the geisha house. She begins dance lessons, and starts to learn the rules of the community. She practices speaking Kyoto dialect. At this stage she wears informal kimono every day but no make-up.
When her debut day is set, she begins going to the minaraijaya every day in order to observe geisha parties and participate as a trainee. This stage lasts about a month. Now she wears her hair done up, a similar kimono to that of the maiko, but her obi is only half as long.
full length and half darari obi
The debut ceremony for a new maiko. For the first three days she wears full formal kimono to engagements. From then on, for her first year she can be called to any teahouse in the community. The hairstyle for a first-year maiko has slightly wider side wings, (wareshinobu) and she wears long hair ornaments. Also, in all the hanamachi except Pontochō, only her lower lip is painted red. She is easily recognized as a first year maiko.
maiko’s red underkimono and okobo
After one year: Having experienced a full round of the seasons, she paints both lips, her hair ornaments are not so elaborate, and she is supposed to look more sophisticated. She is more familiar with how to behave at banquets, and she participates more.
After 2-3 years: Her hairstyle changes to the ofuku style. Hair ornaments are more subtle. In her kimono, she shows less of the red collar, less obiage. The straps on her okobo change from red to pale blue or other more subdued colors. She behaves more like a mentor to the younger maiko.
The Transition from Maiko to Geiko
"Turning the collar." The ceremony when a maiko becomes a geiko. Usually after 4 –5 years of being a maiko, around age 20. For her last week as a maiko she wears the sakko hairstyle.
older maiko and new maiko
Pontochō Shinahide’s erikae day
“Adult geisha”. Now her traditional hairstyle changes to that of an adult, but it is no longer her own hair. Instead, she wears a wig. She changes to a different style of kimono. Maiko kimono are based on a style worn by unmarried women. Now she wears a geisha’s kimono, based on the adult style. She takes responsibility at banquets and is treated as an adult.
"Independence.” Her period of indentureship ends, and the woman moves from the geisha house to her own place. She takes charge of her own economic life. She chooses whether to be primarily a jikata (musician) or tachikata (dancer.) She can also have her own business, such as bar, or teahouse or geisha house. Making this a full career, she is now a mentor to the community, and can continue working up into her seventies.