Brief Description
Younger Sister



The training of Geisha can be broadly categorised into four stages. This process is often compared to the stages of growth of a butterfly, with the graduation of a full-fledged Geisha most aptly described as the emergence of a beautiful butterfly. At the tender age of 7, where most children of today will be leading a carefree and enjoyable childhood, the young girl chosen embarks on the journey of becoming a Geisha.

Similar to other skills, the young girl has to attend day-school for Geisha and later be promoted to college. Apprenticeship begins at the age of 17.

The budding years of the training is also popularly known as the "caterpillar years", during which she will be taught all the formal methods of walking and talking. She will also learn about what it means to be a Geisha and at the same time, feel be grateful for the honour that is bestowed upon her. The young girl's training is detailed and intricate, encompassing the art of story-telling, conversation, shamisen and the Formal Sado (Tea ceremony).


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When the girl reaches the age of about 13, she becomes an Apprentice Geisha. She moves to the Okiya that is a house where Geisha live, work and learn. The head of the house is a woman, respectfully addressed as "mother" by all the Geisha. A Maiko listens to her "mother" and observes her older sisters to learn the Way of Geisha. To begin the formal training of a Maiko, the girl must first receive a certificate and be at least 15 years old. The cost of the tuition lessons and medical fees are first paid for by the Okiya but is later added to the debt. The formal lessons include classical dancing, Sado, playing the shamisen and many others.




A Maiko becomes attached to an older sister (Onesan) and will begin entertaining with her. Her attire has some variations from the Geisha. The kimono of a Maiko vibrantly coloured and her slip is red in colour. Her upper lip is painted red and the other, white. The Maiko is introduced to her older sister's regular clients to create a client base. During these sessions, the older sister will provide help to her younger sister. The Maiko's duties will increase as she becomes more experienced. But for the start, she will only be serving saki, playing the shamisen while her older sister entertains with a dance or conversation. The Maiko is expected to follow the lead of her older sister and to remain quiet unless spoken to.

The tea ceremony that marks the beginning of the sisterhood is one that is uncomplicated and yet bears great significance. The Maiko serves the older sister tea and in turn the older sister takes a comb from her hair and places on the Maiko's hair. Hair ornaments are special items to a Geisha. This bond lasts for life and the Maiko's circle is complete when she is bound to her younger sister in the future.


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A Maiko is formally introduced as a Geisha when she is ready and she adopts a Geisha's name. In Kyoto-Gion, a Geisha's name often begins with either Mame- or Ichi-, in honour of the 2 famous Geisha schools. The ceremony, which is also simple, is held during the Comb Festival in Kyoto. The Maiko, turns up her collar and becomes a Geisha. After which, she can choose to move out of Kyoto by her own means, remain in Kyoto or be sponsored by a client of hers, called a danna. When a Geisha is self-supportive, she is known as a "erigaishi". Her attire changes and the slip she wears is now white in colour. It is only then that she becomes a True Geisha.