Geisha Hairstyles

Written by ruth williams
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Geisha Hairstyles
The geisha wears her hair in elaborate styles. (geisha image by koi88 from

Imagine the mysteries of the Orient for long, and your mind will no doubt happen upon the image of a Japanese geisha. The white face, vermilion lips and elaborate hairstyle are iconic of the geisha. The young Japanese girl who plans on becoming a geisha must grow her hair long so that it can be styled by professional stylists, and as she ascends the ranks of geisha, there are elaborate hairstyles for every level.


The apprentice geisha, or maiko, traditionally wears the wareshinobu at her debut. Hair is twisted into a bun that rests on the top of the head. The rest of the hair is twisted into a knot at the base of the maiko's neck. This bun is tucked into and under the top bun. One of the most complicated styles, the wareshinobu is easy to recognise as it has spotted red ribbons woven through the bun at the top of the head and then down through the base knot. This ribbon is called "kanoko"--ka-no-ko literally means child of deer, and is so called due to the spots on the fawn's back. A full-fledged maiko wears this style for three years. For everyday wear, it is decorated with elements particular to the season or month.


Historically, after a geisha obtained her main benefactor, she would adopt the ofuku style. Now, as Immortal Geisha explains, the maiko changes to the ofuku in her third year of training or after she turns 18. While it looks similar to the wareshinobu, The hair is arranged more fully at the sides, and at the base of the neck, the hair is pinned up to meet the top bun. The back ribbons are exchanged for a triangular-shaped cloth that is attached to rather than woven into the hair. The maiko wears this style throughout the rest of her apprenticeship. However, she is permitted to wear the katsuyama and yakko-shimada hairstyles for special events and festivals.


Immortal Geisha states that as the maiko ascends the ranks to senior status, she adopts the katsyuama style. The mass of hair is arranged low starting on the forehead and continuing all the way around the maiko's head. The top bun arises out of the mass of hair and angles down toward the back of the maiko's head. Lauren Lockard, author of "Geisha: Behind the Painted Smile," explains that this style was modelled and named after a top geisha of the 17th century. It is worn with special seasonal adornments during a festival in July. A new hairstyle, the sokuhatsu, resembling the hairstyle of the Gibson Girls made famous by Charles Dana Gibson, replaced the katsuyama. The sokuhatsu is adorned with a special pink and silver decoration placed in the centre of the bun. A thick red silk ribbon with various patterns in silver or gold is woven around the base and through the centre.


The highest-ranking maiko wears the yakko-shimada for New Year celebrations and for celebrating the arrival of spring. The mass of hair is arranged low starting on the forehead and continuing all the way around the maiko's head, but then the back bun is a series of three intricate rolls of hair. Immortal Geisha states that the bun is decorated with "an eyeless pigeon and ears of rice." The bun is then twined with blue or pink/ribbons, and the maiko wears this through the New Year ceremonies. The style is similar for the spring celebration, but occasionally a blue and pink windmill is added for adornment.


Karyukai provides details about the Erikae O Suru ceremony which turns the apprentice geisha into a full-fledged geisha. This ceremony takes place approximately two weeks before the end of the apprenticeship. The maiko adopts an elaborate hairstyle known as the sakkou. This style twists and loops the hair as it is pinned to the top of the head. A ponytail dangles out of the bun. The hair is adorned with decorations relevant to the month and season. According to Immortal Geisha, the sakkou is adorned with a silver or gold crane, tortoiseshell decorations and red ribbons woven through the bun with silver ribbons at the back.

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