Difference Between Geisha, Maiko, and Geiko and How to Meet Them


Japanese traditional culture is very popular with foreign tourists, and we assume many foreigners living in Japan are interested in it.

This time we will introduce the differences between the popular Japanese cultural icons: “芸者(geisha),” “舞妓(maiko),” and “芸妓(geiko).”

Geisha is known by “芸者遊び(Geisha-Asobi),” which is one of the games that excites a banquet, but few Japanese can explain the difference between Geisha, Maiko, and Geiko.

By reading this article, you can deepen your knowledge of the traditional culture that even Japanese people do not know, and also know where to go to meet Geisha, Maiko, and Geiko.

What is the Difference Between Geisha, Maiko, and Geiko?


There are three names of Geisha, Maiko, and Geiko, but what is the difference? We will explain the difference between these, which few Japanese people know.

The Difference Between Geisha and Geiko

The difference between a Geisha and a Geiko is the area in which people use the name. Generally speaking, Kyoto is famous for Geisha-Asobi, but the word “Geisha” is not used in Kyoto.

People call them “Geiko” in Kyoto and “Geisha” in other areas. “Geiko” is sometimes called “Geiki,” as well. Therefore, there is no problem in thinking that the word Geisha and Geiko have the same meaning, and only the name called is different.

*For the sake of convenience, the expression “Geisha” will be used throughout this article.

What is Geisha?

A Geisha is a woman who entertains guests by performing shamisen, singing, and dancing. This word means “a versatile woman” who has also practiced tea ceremony and flower arrangement.

We can say that they are “hospitality professionals” who show off the arts and excites the banquet with the Maiko introduced next.

Maiko has the characteristic of being a “young woman,” which will be described in detail later. Geisha has no such age restrictions, so many experienced women are working as Geisha.

What is Maiko?

Maiko is a woman who literally shows off “舞い(mai).” Mai means “dance.”

Performing a song or dance to entertain guests is the same as a Geisha, but a Maiko has the aspect of being a “young woman in training.”

Therefore we can say that they are “women before becoming Geisha,” and most of them are under the age of 20.

The Difference Between Geisha and Maiko

As mentioned above, Maiko is a woman in training before becoming a Geisha.

A woman who has been trained in singing and dancing, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement as a Maiko will grow into a Geisha. So there is a difference that Maiko is a “young woman,” and Geisha is an “experienced woman.”

And besides age, Geisha and Maiko have the following differences.

Kimono Difference: Maiko wears a gorgeous kimono called Furisode (long sleeve kimono worn by unmarried women.) Geisha, on the other hand, wear calm, mature kimonos such as black.

Footwear Differences: Maiko wears thick-soled Geta(=clogs,) and Geisha wears thin-soled Geta or Zori(=Japanese straw sandals.)

Hairstyle Differences: Maiko ties up her hair and attaches colorful ornamental hairpins to make it gorgeous. Geisha wear wigs with little decoration, not ground hair.

Makeup Differences: Both Maiko and Geisha apply a white base. Maiko wears makeup that brings out her youth and innocence. On the other hand, Geisha wears makeup that gives a mature and glossy impression, such as drawing eye lines and eyebrows clearly and making lipstick darker.

Where and How to Meet Geisha, Maiko, and Geiko


If you are interested in Geisha or Maiko, where can you meet? Here, we will explain the places where you can meet Geisha and Maiko, and how to meet them.

Places That We Can Meet Geisha and Maiko in Japan

Kyoto is famous as the place where you can meet Geisha and Maiko in Japan, but there are also other places where you can see them. The main spots are listed below.

KyotoKyoto is the area to meet Geisha and Maiko. The place to which Geisha and Maiko belong is called “Okiya,” and the place where the Okiyas are gathered is called “Kagai.” In Kyoto, there is a famous area called “五花街(Five Kagai).” (Five Kagai: Kamishichiken, Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi, Pontocho, Miyagawacho)
TokyoThere is an area called “東京六花街(Tokyo Six Kagai)” in Tokyo. (Tokyo Six Kagai: Shimbashi, Akasaka, Kagurazaka, Yoshicho, Mukojima, Asakusa)
IshikawaIn Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture, there are three famous “茶屋街(teahouse districts)” as a tourist destination. (Three Chaya Districts: Higashi Chaya District, Nishi Chaya District, Kazuemachi)
NiigataThere is a Kagai called “Furumachi” in Niigata. People call Maiko as “振袖(furisode)” and Geisha as “留袖(tomesode)” there.
HyogoArima Onsen, which is very popular with Japanese people, is located in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. Geisha are active in the inns at Arima Onsen.
EhimeThe central facility in the Kagai that arranges Geisha is called “Kenban.” In Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture, there is a Kenban called “Matsuyama Kenban,” and they are in charge of Geisha arrangement for Dogo Onsen, which is known as the oldest hot spring in Japan.
FukuokaThere is also a Kenban called “Hakata Kenban” in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture. Every December, there is a performance event called “Hakata Odorori” where Geisha perform altogether.

How to Meet Geisha and Maiko

There are three main ways to meet a Geisha and a Maiko.

  1. Have an Ozashiki-Asobi(games with Geisha) at Okiya
  2. Go to the Geisha/Maiko Show
  3. Apply for an Ozashiki-Asobi Experience Plan

Ozashiki-Asobi at Okiya

“Geisha-Asobi” refers to an Ozashiki-Asobi in an Okiya. It is the most orthodox way to experience Japanese traditional culture.

Alley of Okiya in Kyoto
Source: Photo AC

However, most Japanese people have never experienced Geisha-Asobi in an Okiya. The reason is that they have the traditional rule of refusing the people who are new to the store. To play games with Geisha at Okiya, you need to be introduced by regular customers.

The reason for this rule is that they value the customer’s credit. By limiting the customers to people who can be trusted, they prevent violations of manners at the Okiya and protect the Geisha and Maiko.

Another reason is to get collateral from referrals from regular customers. If someone causes trouble, the regular customer who introduced him/her may be held responsible. By doing this, regular customers will only introduce people who they can trust, and as a result, Okiya will protect Geisha and Maiko.

Recently, there are more and more Okiya who are removing this rule, but having a Geisha-Asobi in there is still difficult.

Geisha/Maiko Show

One of the ways foreigners living in Japan can meet Geisha/Maiko is to go to a show.

Hotels in Kyoto sometimes hold Geisha and Maiko shows, and you can also enjoy them at the following facility.

Ozashiki-Asobi Experience Plan

Ozashiki-Asobi Plan is a plan offered by each hotel or ryokan as a set with accommodation as an opportunity to feel the traditional culture of Geisha and Maiko.

It may be provided by the hotel or inn independently, or it may be sold by the travel agency by incorporating it in the travel plan.

If you want to meet a Geisha/Maiko, we recommend that you start by using these services.

Can We Meet a Geisha/Maiko in the City?

Even people who live in Kyoto rarely meet Geisha or Maiko.

In Kyoto, we often see people dressed like Maiko. However, this is often a tourist who is experiencing Maiko costumes. Geisha and Maiko work mainly at night, so if there is a possibility of encountering them, it will be at night.

However, if you do come across, we don’t recommend calling out to them. They are often in a hurry to get to the called place.

Also, please refrain from taking pictures from a distance. Geisha and Maiko are ordinary people, so it may not be comfortable for them to be taken a picture without permission.

When you hear that shooting is prohibited, you may feel a little disappointed. If you want to take a picture, go to the “Geisha/Maiko Show” as introduced.


Geisha and Maiko is a traditional Japanese culture. Experiencing this culture is one of the valuable experiences of staying in Japan.

If you are interested, please go to the Geisha/Maiko show or apply for the Ozashiki-Asobi experience plan.