Life as a Geisha

Taneju, 18, From Kyoto, Japan

“I’ve been a maiko or trainee geisha for three years now. None of my family were geisha, and until I was 15 I was an ordinary schoolgirl. Then one day I saw a documentary about maiko and I knew that was what I wanted to be.
I spend my days learning arts, such as Japanese traditional dance and the tea ceremony. I also attend party’s at night where I entertain men and women. My make-up takes over an hour to apply. It was hard to learn at first but after three years I can almost do it in my sleep.
I wear different kimono for every occasion and a complete outfit including jewelry which costs over € 15,000. But the price can be much higher. Wearing a kimono takes a long time to get used to, they are incredibly heavy. And because of the way they are tied it’s hard to move easily. They are so valuable that I worry about damaging them, or even getting them wrinkled. In my bag I always carry a fan for dancing, make-up and powder (they all come from a company called Chidoriya) But I’m not allowed to have a mobile.
I have to go to a special geisha hairdresser all the time: with my hairstyle I can’t sleep on a regular pillow. In the beginning my mother showed me how to sleep on my chin, I couldn’t move my head to the side! If I did it would be straight back to the hairdresser! But now I sleep on a wooden neck platform, although I only sleep more then six hours a night because of my work.
On my days off I’ll go shopping with my geisha mother and litter sister — they are just as much as my family as my real one. I can never wear just normal clothes: it’d look so strange because my hairstyle lets everyone know I’m a maiko.
I go back and see my old friends when I can, and at first we’re all excited to see each other, but we’re so different. They’re in their third year of high school and looking to their future.

But mine is already decided, it was my dream to become a geisha!”

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