Tea with a Maiko

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On my recent trip to Japan, I had the privilege of having tea with a trainee geisha, commonly known as a Maiko. Despite having lived in Japan for 3 years, my knowledge of this world was fairly limited. So it was with nervous excitement that I approached the charming tea house where I would spend the next hour or so.

On arrival, I was warmly welcomed by the Maiko’s teacher, a pleasant lady who spoke good English and instantly put me at ease. She explained a little bit about the house: It was small and the girls lived there, sticking to a strict schedule of lessons. These were typically focused on the traditional arts: Tea ceremony, dance and so on. The girls joined the house after junior high school, so at about the age of 15. Training then typically takes about 5 years so at the age of 20, they have to decide whether to pursue life as a geisha. I was interested to find the rate of attrition was actually quite high: However, it is a huge commitment that leads to a strict lifestyle.

After this initial chat, the Maiko made her first appearance. She carefully prepared tea for me. It was delicious and I slurped it down in one, as instructed. This shows your appreciation and I took some guilty pleasure in being permitted to slurp. We then went on to have a fairly informal chat where I was able to freely ask questions. I found out a bit more about the Maiko life style. One interesting fact that I discovered was about the names of the girls. Upon entering the house, the Maiko cease to use their real name. Everyone in the house takes on a common syllable. Let’s take ‘ko’ as an example. For instance, Mayuko, Yuriko or Sachiko. I was surprised at how open and down to earth the Maiko was; conversation was open and free flowing.

What came next surprised me! The teacher brought out a small table and placed a bowl on it. Her and the Maiko then demonstrated an easy game to me: Best described as a ‘boozy version of pat-a-cake!’ Outrageously fun and needless to say, I lost numerous times at which point I was obliged to drink some beer. Afternoon tea was becoming more interesting.

Before anyone (well, myself) became too inebriated, we finished the afternoon with a dance by the Maiko. They then walked me downstairs and waved me off. As is the aim, I left feeling relaxed and satisfied. A truly unique and special experience that was far more down to earth than I would have ever imagined.

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