Telling the real from the fake

Lately it seems that every time I go to Gion the streets are filled with Maiko in full makeup walking up and down the streets even though it's early in the day. So I took tons of pictures, each time I saw one, only to realize later that out of 48 pictures I took only 1 had real Maiko in it. Needless to say I felt duped.

In hopes of sparing you from this sad sad disillusionment, I'm going to list some ways you can tell if the Maiko you see on the streets of Gion are the real thing or just made up average girls.

But before I do the list I have to answer the question:

Well..... around fifty fake geisha studios, if not more, have sprung up all around Kyoto. They attract more than half a million customers each year. Before when people visited Kyoto, they would just visit the temples but now a days becoming a fake Maiko is the second most popular thing for tourists to do.
As a tourist the idea of getting your picture taken in full Maiko gear and walking down any street in Gion is almost a dream come true, and that is exactly what you can purchase in photo studios in Gion, I took a picture of this studio advertising makeovers :

Japanese girls also pay to get made up in to Maikos for a couple of hours, Ive seen groups of 3 and 4 girls dressed in Maiko gear having fun, posing with tourists, I have to say if I were Japanese and had the dough I'd get my picture taken with my best friend like that too. These are 3 Japanese girls doing just that:

So now that we know why this happens lets move on to how to tell the real from the fake:
Using a wig.
Real Maiko have their hair done every week, they are not allowed to wear wigs so this is pretty easy way to know right away. Wigs have an upside down triangle shape in the center front area, I drew a line around this girls hairline so you can see what I mean, also close to the ears you can see the wig was not well attached on the girl on the left.

Walking with a companion.
Maiko don't need people to help them walk around Kyoto, only people who are not accustomed to wearing Okobo and a big bulky kimono, or people that don't know their way around town do. The girl in the photo bellow had her mother helping her walk around you can see her holding her hand. This fake Maiko is not wearing a wig, for an extra price you can get your real hair done to have your pictures look more natural, but since mom is with her I'm guessing mom paid a lot of dough to have beautiful pictures of her daughter taken.

Maikos are very young girls, mostly teenagers so if she looks a bit older than 30 its a big giveaway sign. You can see on this next picture that the "Maiko" on the left is just a tad bit older than the one on the right.

Tech Toys
Maiko are not allowed to use cellphones, they have to write to people like they used to in the good old days, so any "Maiko" you see using one is a F.A.K.E

Maiko don't smoke.

Pierced Ears
Getting your ears pierced is not allowed when you area Maiko so if you see piercing, you know what that means.

Fake Nails or Nail Polish
A true Maiko would never have fake nails on or polished nails either, they are not allowed to do so. So look closely at their hands.

Time of day
Real Maiko only get into their full make up and wardrobe when they have to attend to tea houses which is usually after six , in the daytime to walk around they don't have their white makeup on and they don't use the fancy kimonos either they use lighter more common ones, so if you see a Maiko in full garb at 11 am. you know its a fake.

These are basic signs you can pay attention to tell the difference, but there are a lot more ways to tell the real from the fake, things like hair ornaments and the color of their collar and their hairstyle also the colors of the kimono they are wearing, they way they pose, the way walk , etc

I did get to see 2 real Maiko coming out of their Okiya in a little side street where almost zero tourist were around, I was quite surprised when I saw them walking out , you can see their kimonos are not as gaudy as the rental ones and also their hair ornaments are different, this is the pic:

NOTE: I had originally posted the images without the faces blured but this seemed to upset a japanese friend of mine who on behalve of the girls that got the makeover asked me to cover their faces and respect their happy day in gion as fake maikos, I think that is a noble thing to do so, sorry for the blurs but I really dont need to show their faces to prove my point and this way everybody is happy.

Jya ne!


hanif said...

hi there, im hanif from tokyo.
i`ll go to kyoto this 5,6,7 march to visit my friend. thank you for your interesting post.
could you tell me where to have chances to see maiko? gion center maybe?

Anonymous said...

Another tell tale sign of a fake maiko is the way they walk, they drag their feets! Real Maikos walk graciously crisscrossing their feets one in front of the other step by step.