Geisha: Hair and Kanzashi Styles

osaka-maiko-1905It costs around $500,000 to train a geisha.  Most of this cost is found in hair styles and kimono. Until an apprentice (called maiko) becomes a geisha, she has to visit a hair dresser each week. Hair styles vary based on the geisha’s rank. Full geisha wear wigs for banquets and special appearances. The rest of the time she can wear hair hair in a chignon. Chignon has a long history throughout the world. It appears in Greece, China, the Victorian period, and the US military.

Apprentices have 5 hair styles. Three of the styles denote her level of apprenticeship. The other two styles are for special occasions. A full geisha has at least 4 hair styles.

The ornaments worn for each style (called kanzashi) vary based on the month, hairstyle, and season.


This is the first level of geisha apprenticeship. It lasts about one year and starts at age 16. During this time, the girl learns the rules of the community and starts learning dance. She is allowed to wear her hair in any style, but it cannot be cut. It takes long hair to achieve the elaborate hair styles. One of most important aspects of this period is observation. A shikomi observes her onesans – older sisters.

After Misedashi

After one year a shikomi, experiences her misedashi. This is a ceremony that marks the debut of a new apprentice. During the ceremony, the maiko and her older sister offer sake to each other from three small cups. Both take three mouthfuls from each cup. The apprentice is then given a new name that includes one character from her older sister’s name. After this ceremony and naming, the apprentice follows her older sister to banquets and parties to be introduced to some of the sister’s clients. The clients give the maiko gifts of at last 10,000 yen to celebrate her debut.

During apprenticeship, the girl visits the hair dresser weekly to be washed and restyled. It is not unusual for wads of paper to be used to achieve the various styles. She also has to sleep on an omaku, a wooden box with a small pillow. This keeps her hair style intact. She only washes her hair once each week.


warenshinobuThis is the most elaborate style. It is worn during the misedashi and the first part of training. The style is meant to draw attention to the youth and beauty of the apprentice. Kanzashi is determined by the month and the season. Kanzashi are hair ornaments.

Ofuku ofuku

This style is worn after an apprentice experiences her mizuage or snags her first danna. Danna are patrons of a geisha. They support apprentices or geisha financially. In the past danna were men that kept a geisha as a mistress.Because this style was worn after the girl lost her virginity or was accepted as a mistress, it was a style that caused likely caused some embarrassment.

Today this style is worn on her 18th birthday or after 3 years of training.


sakko-hairstyleThis style is worn for the erikae ceremony. This style was worn during the Edo period by wives.  This style marks the end of apprenticeship. It is worn for one month.


yakko-shimadaWorn on special occasions and New Years, the style includes kanzashi made of rice and other special ornaments.


KatsuyamaWorn for the Gion festival in July, the hair style was named after a dancer from the Edo period.

After her apprenticeship, a geisha is able to wash her hair regularly and sleep on a normal pillow. However, a geisha has to have no less than 3 wigs for different occasions. These wigs can cost at least 100,000 yen each. The wigs are made of human hair and made specifically for the geisha. The wigs need care from the wig maker around twice a month.


Kanzashi are hair ornaments worn depending on the month, season, hairstyle, and tastes of a geisha. The ornaments attempt to match the natural events of each season. February incorporates plum blossoms because it is the month of plum blossoms. April features cherry blossoms.

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Wikipedia. Sakko.

Wikipedia. Chignon (hairstyle).’

Lockard, L. (2009). Geisha: Behind the Painted Smile.

Szczepanski, K. History of the Geisha: Japanese Female Artists and Entertainers. Retrieved from


  • Hi, konnichiwa..
    I’m doing research on geisha hairstyles and hair accessories, can you provide recommendations for books / journals that explain geisha hairstyles and hair accessories?

    • I don’t know of any books that focus on them. However, these books touch on them:

      Iwasaki, M. (2002). Geisha, A Life. New York: Atria Books.
      Downer, Lesley (2000). Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World. Headline Book Publishing.
      Masuda, Sayo (1957). Autobiography of a Geisha. Columbian University Press.

      Best of luck!

      • Thank you very much ^^

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