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Hairstyles of Modern Day Flower and Willow World - Maiko Hairstyles

Shikomi and Minari-san

Along with wearing a simple kimono, young Shikomi-san start their training to become a maiko by wearing a hairstyle of their own choice. At this particular point of time in her training, it is very important that she grow her hair long to enable it to be pulled up into the many different coiffures of a Maiko.

As young Shikomi-san become Minarai-san for the month prior to her debut as a Maiko, she now is able to have her hair dressed professionally by a traditional hair dresser and adopt the wareshinobu hairstyle. Along with this change, she will also start wearing the elaborate kimono of the maiko. However, to indicate her lower and learning status, her obi is in the handarari style, and is only half length rather than floor length of a Maiko. This is generally what sets her apart as a Minarai-san. With much trepidation no doubt, after the comforts of an ordinary pillow, this is also the time the young Minarai-san must learn to start sleeping on the traditional pillow "omaku" (or makura).


The hairstyles of Maiko, along with their kanzashi, are reminiscent of young girls from an age long gone and quite unlike those of the older, more mature Geiko. A Maiko must have grown her hair long during her Shikomi-san and Minarai-san stages so that her own natural hair can be dressed up. Through the duration of her training, a Maiko will wear up to five different hairstyles: wareshinobu, ofuku, sakkou, katsuyama and yakko-shimada. The latter two are hairstyles worn on special occasions by senior Maiko and the sakkou style is worn on her graduation from being a Maiko to becoming a Geiko. Maiko are also known to don a variation of the shimada mage hairstyle during the Miyako Odori.


For her Mishidashi (debut), the young Minarai-san has her hair dressed in what is easily one of the most elaborate hairstyles she will wear through the entire time as a maiko. This particular hairstyle is decorated with a large and interesting assortment of kanzashi.

Firstly, her hair is dressed up in the traditional wareshinobu style, which is said to accentuate the "loveliness" of the Maiko. This particular hairstyle is easily recognizable due to the two strips of red silk ribbon, with white spotted pattern, called kanoko (ka no ko literally means child of deer, and is so called due to the spots on the fawn's back), that has been woven through the mage (the mass of hair, or "bun" on the crown), and visible through the hair on the top and bottom section.

For normal occasions, the wareshinobu generally is decorated with kanzashi relevant to the month and the season. For the event of Misidashi, the new Maiko will wear two fan shaped bira-bira-kan (fluttering kanzashi), tortoiseshell kanzashi worn on both sides at the front and one at the back (with symbols representing the current season), tortoiseshell kushi (comb), tama kanzashi (coral), kanoko-dome and miokuri (two sets of three rectangular decorations of red silver and gold, located at the bottom of the mage).

After her Mishidashi, when she is a full-fledged Maiko, she continues to wear the wareshinobu hairstyle for the next three years. Through this period of time, she will wear her kanzashi in accordance to the strict monthly seasonal calendar.


Traditionally, a young Maiko would change to the ofuku hairstyle of the senior Maiko after her mizuage, or when she got her first danna. One point of time in history, this change would have taken place between the ages of 13 and 15, although due to changes in laws, the age was slowly raised. Whilst this event would mark a change in the maturity and advancement of the Maiko, it no doubt would be of some embarrassment to her as everyone would know what events took place for the change of hairstyle! In the modern day hanamachi, mizuage is a practice that no longer takes place and the transformation to the ofuku hairstyle now takes place on or around her 18th birthday or three years after the start of her training.

Visually, from the front, the hairstyle looks very similar to the wareshinobu except for the kanoko showing at the top of the mage in the wareshinobu style. At the back though, it is distinctly different with the kanoko being replaced by a chirimen tegarami. The tegarami, which is triangular in shape, is pinned to the bottom of the mage, rather than being woven through the mage as in the previous style.

The alternative name for the ofuku hairstyle is derived from its distinct look, the momoware or, better known, the "split peach" hairstyle. There is a debate though on which style is actually the correct one for momoware though. Some traditional hairstyle experts claim that it is the same as the ofuku with no split at the top, where others claim that the momoware actually has a small split in the top of the mage similar to the wareshinobu, but not as wide or prominent. Regardless, it has been stated that the name emerged due to the shape being sexual and tantalizing in nature, although this information has likely evolved over the years due to the fact that this hairstyle was worn by girls who had lost their virginity. It is highly possible the real meaning is lost in time, and quite a bit less exciting.

The senior Maiko will wear the ofuku hairstyle for the duration of her training up until two weeks to a month (there appears to be conflicting time frames) before her eri-kae (turning of collar) where she will don the elaborate sakkou hairstyle. Being a senior Maiko, she is also now able to wear both the katsuyama and yakko-shimada hairstyles for special events and festivals.


Each July for the Gion Matsuri, senior Maiko wear the Katsyuama hairstyle (also sometimes referred to as marumage despite a noticeable difference between the two styles) with special kanzashi to represent the summer. The origin of the katsuyama is directly linked back to 17th century Edo to a very popular and famous tayuu of the same name. It is also often seen in historical plays, although the actual style is slightly more exaggerated. The Katsuyama was also widely worn through out the Edo era by married women, and only went out of fashion at the beginning of the Showa era with the introduction of a new style called sokuhatsu, a style reminiscent of Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girls". Women were encouraged to wear the shokuhatsu due to it being more conventional and hygienic, and of course, more modern.

Aside from the ordinary hana-kanzashi and jade tama-kanzashi, Maiko wear a special pink and silver circular kanzashi called bonten that sits in the middle of the mage showing through on both sides. A thick red ribbon made from ro silk with various patterns in silver/gold is also woven around the base and through the centre of the mage.


Yakko-Shimada is the style that senior Maiko wear for the New Year period, Setsubun and on the 1st of August.

For the New Year's period, senior Maiko will wear the yakko-shimada style with kanzashi that has an eyeless pigeon and dried ears of rice. In addition, she will also wear hana-kanzashi, bira-bira kanzashi, tortoiseshell kanzashi, kushi, a ring of coral and jade beads and a tama kanzashi. The base of the mage is also wrapped with a thick shibori ribbon of either blue or pink/red. She will wear this particular style for approximately one week, carrying over into the start of the New Year ceremonies for the hanamachi.

The second event that the yakko-shimada is worn is for Setsubun, the eve of spring which occurs on the 3rd of February. Whilst it is dressed similarly at the back with thick shibori ribbon, the kanzashi worn for this event is hana-kanzashi, and sometimes a blue and pink shibori windmill.

The third event for the year is Hassaku (the Giving of Thanks), which happens annually on the first of August. On this particular day, Geiko and Maiko alike pay their respects to their sensei, tea house proprietors and others. The full formal black crested kimono ensemble is required and is worn along with tortoiseshell kanzashi and the appropriate hana-kanzashi for August.

Sakko / Sakkou

Around the age of 21 (or earlier, if the Okasan feels the Maiko is mature enough), preparations are put into place for the Maiko's eri-kae ceremony, her debut as a Geiko. Two weeks before this ceremony, the Maiko will have her hair done up in the sakkou hairstyle.

Just as the hairstyle for the beginning of her apprenticeship, her hairstyle signifying the end of her apprentice is equally elaborate and striking. The sakkou is easily recognizable by the hair being piled up and twisted into loops, with one pony tail of hair hanging over the back, cut at the end ("hashi no ke" hashi=bridge ke= hair). Originally, it appears that this hairstyle was worn by married women of the merchant class in the late Edo era (through to the beginning of the Meiji era) and that the cutting of the hair would normally have been performed by the husband, as a sign of the woman's devotion to her husband and his family. The cutting of the hair is now performed by the Okasan and whilst the hair cut is not the Maiko's real hair, the significance of this gesture remains the same: to indicate that the Maiko is expressing her willingness and resolution to devote her life to the arts of Geiko.

The kanzashi worn for the sakkou style are a combination of the relevant hana-kanzashi for the month, tortoiseshell kanzashi, one bira-bira kanzashi and tama-kanzashi. In addition to the hana-kanzashi, she will wear a kanzashi of a crane on the left hand side made from either silver or gold mizuhiki cord. She also wears a kushi and several kougai made from tortoiseshell, and last but not least, three red ribbons at the front, wrapped within the mage (along with thin strips of silver) and at the back.

Additional Maiko Hairstyles

According to Mizobuchi Hiroshi in his book, "Kyoto Hanamachi" and the book "Beauty of hairstyle-tradition of Japan", Maiko in the Pontocho district go through several other hairstyle changes in the month leading up to the sakkou style. Mizobuchi gives names of the hairstyles as umemodoki (also known as osomemage), oshidori no hina, osafune, mizuguruma and ikiguruma. Along with these styles, he also mentions other "modern" Maiko hairstyles worn in the Pontocho district such as kikugasane, oshun and yuiwata. Unfortunately, there is very little information about these additional hairstyles styles or their significance and occasion to elaborate any further.

Author: Naomi Graham Hormozi Date: July 2003