“Maiko”, from “A Seasoning of Lust”, posted for OneShotPoetryWednesdays

A Maiko, apprentice Geisha, maica.TV

Okiya is the house where geisha and maiko live.  Oka-san is the proprietress who owns and runs the okiya.  A maiko is a very young girl, who sometimes enters the okiya at the age of six or as young as three.  She is considered a maid and is only trained as maiko if she shows some talent to be a geisha when older.  These very young girls do all the work of  chores and cleaning the okiya.  They have very long hours as they are expected to stay awake to assist the geisha who return from the teahouses in the early hours of the morning.

Many children were sold to the okiya by poor parents.  This was very common for  the survival of girl children in Japan.

Today, with general education for girls, the role of maiko is disappearing, as girls have better choices for their future.  In part, the lack of maiko means the demise of geisha in Japan.  Kyoto has a different standard for the training of maiko.  Other Japanese cities have a shortened period for this important training.

The payment for the virginity of a maiko to the highest bidder is called  mizuage.  This practice was outlawed in 1959.  The money went a long way to help the maiko, now geisha, debut into her world of entertaining.

If the geisha has a baby and it is a boy, she must leave the okiya (boys, men are not allowed) or give up the baby.  If she has a girl, the baby is absorbed into the okiya and trained as a maid.

Lady Nyo



Dirty faced little girls

imitate geisha

late at night

when chores are done.

They practice

seductive glances,

graceful movements,

pouring tea for phantom clients.

Stealing a moment,

they gaze into mirrors

making geisha- faces

preening, casting

down their eyes,

trying to catch

mirrored reflections.

Now tender maiko,

painted lead-white face,

sit silently,

knees padded by

layers of stiff underdress

stifling yawns

as Big Sister Geisha

pour sake


ever so slightly

a marble- smooth wrist

barely blushing with life-

Mysterious seduction!

Shy maiko,

silent chorus

behind performers,

observing the trade,

studying the manners,

peering with furtive


watching men

roll around tatami-

foolish, drunk-

such silly children!

Slender ‘dancing-girls’

tender split- peach hairdos

drive men to lust-

a ripe and blushing fruit

sits above the red neckline of


a sample of fruit

to be plucked

for the right price

to oka-san.

Solemn maiko,

follow the way of

full-blown geisha,


sold for a pittance,

desired and sought

for beauty, grace, talents,

trapped within silken layers-

beautiful butterflies,

night’s elusive moths,

dragging through life

clipped wings

of splendid colors.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2010

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33 Responses to ““Maiko”, from “A Seasoning of Lust”, posted for OneShotPoetryWednesdays”

  1. Jingle Says:

    your words inspire..
    beautiful cultural showcase.
    lovely wriitng…
    Happy Tuesday!
    Merry Christmas!


  2. moondustwriter Says:

    thanks for sharing from your book
    interesting how girls are trained so young
    I think our society is doing it too

    appreciate you – lets have tea
    thanks for sharing with One Shot

    Moon Smiles and have a Wonderful Christmas


  3. hedgewitch Says:

    Fascinating and sobering look at some of the paths women must tread in this world. Thanks for including the introductory paragraph and educating me about maiko and geisha. There is an oppression to it without doubt, but also a certain grace in survival and adaptation to the idealization of beauty and service. Above all, wonderful poem, layered and full of wisdom.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    The objectification of women is a horrible ‘fact’ in life…and Japan leads in this…Ah hell, all societies are touched by the same issue.

    I wouldn’t be able to make sense of this poem without the introduction, and so I do so because there is nothing more flattening to a poem…and for a reader, when you don’t have a bit of history or social customs behind it.

    Thank you for reading..always…and always your insightful comments.

    Lady Nyo


  5. ladynyo Says:

    Would love a cuppa right now! It’s getting colder outside.

    Yes. our own society does the same thing…and not so in microcosm. These pageants of little girls basically are the same things….to my mind.

    Thank you, for reading, your comments and have a Wonderful Christmas and Winter Solstice!

    Lady Nyo


  6. Laura Hegfield Says:

    Thank you for educating us before your poem… so sad, so beautiful, so culturally foreign and intriguing.


  7. booguloo Says:

    Thank you for sharing this.


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Laura…

    The educating is for me, too. I think it important for those not of a particular culture, who writes of these things, to try to understand and sympathize.

    Thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

    Lady Nyo


  9. ladynyo Says:

    You are very welcome.

    Lady Nyo


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Jingle….Happy Holidays to you!

    Lady Nyo


  11. marousia Says:

    Beautiful writing… again you have blown me away *bows deeply*


  12. KB Says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I learned a lot from your post and your poem was excellent.


  13. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you! that is the great thing about being a writer….the research. It’s definitely a learning experience.

    Lady Nyo


  14. ladynyo Says:

    LOL~! I wish the tax man would feel the same way…LOL!

    Thank you, dear Marousia. I feel the same way reading your wonderful poems!

    Lady Nyo


  15. dustus Says:

    “trapped within silken layers- beautiful butterflies,” On both large, approved scale, as well as through the not-so-obvious, countless women world-wide are encouraged to be objects. Both your poem and introduction fascinate me, and at the same time your post invokes sympathy…. Beautiful poem, Lady Nyo. Have a wonderful holiday.


  16. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Adam….
    Thank you so much for reading this poem and leaving such an insightful comment. Objectification of women is an ageless issue/concern.

    The sympathy we should feel is where children are exploited…regardless the silken wraps they get to wear at some time in their truncated lives. That some of these children are given into the okiya at the age of THREE absolutely sickened me. This is the plight of poverty.

    Adam, have a wonderful and awe filled holiday. That the Winter Solstice is upon us should make for some memorable poetry to come!

    Lady Nyo


  17. Claudia Says:

    trapped within silken layers..beautiful choice of words – and thanks for all the background info you gave us


  18. Eric Says:

    I saw a special episode on the Travel Channel where show host Samantha Brown went to Japan and got made-up like a Geisha. They gave her some basic lessons and she got to try her hand at the art of being a Geisha for the day. It was quite enlightening learning about all the training they go through and seeing how the cultural significance of Geisha still matters, even in modern Japanese society.


  19. pete marshall Says:

    thankyou for the introduction to your wonderful poem…i too feel pity for the children…a though provoking insight to other customs but regardless it doesnt make it right…enjoy the festive season and thanks for sharing with one shot..all the best…pete


  20. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you so much, Pete for reading and your comments…and also for OneShot!!

    It has become such a boost in my life…I, like others, really look forward to posting but also to reading the marvelous poets who have flocked to your site. What a wonderful community that has grown up around OneShot.

    The issues of of cultures are hard to understand, but we must keep trying. We need to not stop up with moral indignation our own positions. So many of these Japanese parents had no other alternatives for their girl children. At least they weren’t abandoned in the pre-dawn hours, exposed to the elements on a mountainside…though that I am told, continues to happen in many countries where girl babies are considered ‘extra and unwanted mouths’.

    Bless you, Pete, and have a wonderful holiday season.

    Lady Nyo


  21. Steve Isaak Says:

    I’ve read this before, and I enjoyed this just as much the second time around. Love how you – by extension, your work – delve deep into different cultures, cultures I, as a reader, probably wouldn’t normally read about, but intrigue me with.

    Excellent, as your work often is. (This provides a sharp, necessary counterpoint to your nature work, also, perhaps, doubly excellent.)


  22. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Eric!

    A few years ago, I had the same opportunity, but in the States. A friend was full Japanese, and she brought me to her mother and aunts. We all drank beer and sake, and I was the joke of the night. They all spoke Japanese and I didn’t then. They undressed me, laughed a lot (I still don’t know what they were laughing at…LOL! I only can guess, and my friend was too polite to translate) they did my blond, long hair in an elaborate (unwaxed) hairdo….wrapped my breasts in 30 feet of gauze, dressed me in layers of garments and tied my knees together because I took too big steps to be ‘graceful’ in kimono. They were rolling around the floor laughing, and I was having the time of my life. Sake helped.

    Later I learned more about wearing kimono, the posture, the tea pouring, etc. There is a delicacy to it all, but the clothes are brutal. I could never get used to the stiff obi nor the geta.

    I do wear kimono more now, and I have also made by hand about 5 of them, with seasonal patterns and colors. But to be properly dressed takes help….and I haven’t much of that around.

    I will never be Japanese, but I love the culture for many reasons.

    Geisha still matters but mostly to the elderly. It’s like….well, in our society in the States….apple pie.

    Lady Nyo


  23. ladynyo Says:

    You are so welcome, Claudia! I am learning along with everyone else….and it’s quite an obsession now. This culture, from the 8th century on….is fascinating. I am so new to all of it, only a few years of serious study, though I have been exposed to Japanese culture for 30 years or so.

    It’s very different than our Western mind-think…and it is so bound up in traditional issues. ‘Giri’ probably is the underpinning of much of it.

    Thank you for reading and your lovely comment!

    Lady Nyo


  24. ladynyo Says:

    Ah Steve, that is such a lovely comment.

    I worry though…lol! Here I am, in the Deep South, and I can’t write a southern word. LOL!

    People have asked me if I read Faulkner, or Joyce Carol Oates, James Dickey, or any of the southern Gothic writers, and I have my mouth open, and mind empty. I can’t….I just don’t hear that southern culture, yet I have been amongst it for 40 years. Jesu.

    Nick Nicholson from Canberra called me the other night, an Xmas present, and we talked about this issue…he has it himself! It’s a curse! He can write about characters in Naples, London, South America, anywhere but Aussieland.

    My problem, too. I can write about demons in Berber land, Zars in Turkey, yamabushi priests in 16th century Japan….but I can’t write about Southern culture and anything current to our time.

    I think it’s a form of self-hatred! LOL!

    Perhaps the nature poems are an attempt to bring myself down to earth, to living time now, to look and appreciate what is around me.

    I just don’t know…but I fear it’s some psychological escapism. I admire people like you so much, who write in the ‘here and now’. I can only do that with a few poems….poor substance for a pitiful poet to live on.

    Thank you, dear friend, for reading and leaving such a kind comment. Now THAT feeds me very well.



  25. Desert Rose Says:

    that was a very interesting poem Lady,i enjoyed reading your replies to comments too..i find the japanese culture one of the most fascinating ones ever, along with my own Ancient Egyptian one..they both have that mystic nature that still retain secrets to be revealed..:)

    i wrote one poem recently called..”your Geisha” on my blog..
    here.. http://mysunshineforeverblogger.blogspot.com/2010/10/your-geisha.html ..read it and tell me what you think..:)

    magnificent post here..:)


  26. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you Desert Rose, for reading and your interesting comment.

    I will carefully read your poem very soon. As it is Xmas, I have family here to take care of.

    Merry Xmas!

    Lady Nyo


  27. dasuntoucha Says:

    Informative and insightful post…felt.


  28. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you! “felt” is the best state.

    Lady Nyo


  29. ladynyo Says:

    Well, welcome!

    I don’t know what it means to become a member of “ladynyo.wordpress.com”, but I’m Lady Nyo and you are certainly welcome to read and comment.

    Lady Nyo


  30. shanellis Says:

    Absolutely beautiful Nyo, I also have a thing for Geisha which you have quite happily sated for a little while! Nice to see and read you again!


  31. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Thank you~!

    I can only touch upon this lightly…it is a very deep subject that I am mostly ignorant of.

    Thank you for reading, Shanellis, and leaving such a kind comment.


    Lady Nyo


  32. Ben Langhinrichs Says:

    I love a poem that teaches as well as illuminates. I can imagine the small children, learning ways they shouldn’t have to, and investing in the whole thing a solemnity it doesn’t deserve.

    I especially like the verse starting with the shy maiko and ending with the drunken men, juxtaposing who are the real children:

    watching men

    roll around tatami-

    foolish, drunk-

    such silly children!


  33. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Ben!

    LOL!..well, considering the theme….positioning the children and the adults seemed right…role reversal.

    I agree with you about the situation in Japan….it is a terrible abuse of childhood, and then making a pretty artificial thing out of the potential of a woman. But the crux is this: it was so much an economic survival issue for the poor families that sell their girl children to the okiya. We can shake our fingers now, but the situation was desperate and the only solution. Not the best, but this is also seen through our Western morals and eyes….and expectations.

    Thankfully, it is an era passing away…or passed away. The maikos now are very much older, in their late teens and early twenties….women who are educated enough to make their own surprising choices. I have read a few pieces of the ‘new’ maikos…and they do not suffer what is basically child slavery. Of course, Kyoto is different than other cities, but I believe even Kyoto does not have the same standards it did even 20 years ago.

    Thank you, Ben.

    Lady Nyo


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