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A maiko (舞妓) (//, Japanese: [ma̠.i.ko̞]) is an apprentice geiko (not exactly same as geisha) in Kyoto, western Japan. Their jobs consist of performing songs, dances, and playing the shamisen or the koto (traditional Japanese instruments) for visitors during feasts. Maiko are usually aged 15 to 20 years old and become geiko after learning how to dance the traditional kyomai dances, play the shamisen, and learning Kyō-kotoba (dialect of Kyoto), regardless of their origins.
In the morning, maiko take lessons to polish their performances. At night, they go out to work. They are usually given the opportunity to eat at high-quality Japanese-style restaurants or stay in Japanese-style hotels. They perform dances, songs, play the shamisen, and serve visitors with sake. Recently, their jobs have expanded to include visiting nursing institutions or hospitals. Some maiko are also dispatched overseas.
Maiko originated from women who served green tea and dango (Japanese dumpling made from rice flour) to people who visited the Kitano Tenman-gū or Yasaka Shrine (these are the two of the famous shrines in Kyoto) at teahouses in the temple town about 300 years ago.
At first, women served only green tea and dango, but they gradually started to perform songs and dances for visitors.
During their career a maiko will wear different kinds of nihongami (Japanese traditional hairstyles) depending on rank, formality and occasion. They decorate their hairstyles with seasonal kanzashi (traditional hair ornaments). Maiko, unlike geiko, use their own hair and not wigs. They go to the nihongami hairdresser once a week, meaning that they have to sleep on a takamakura (wooden block with a pillow) in order to maintain it.
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