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History of Japanese Geisha Hairstyles
Whilst "geisha-type" women date as far back as 11 AD, the women we commonly associate with the word
"geisha" are relatively modern in their emergence, dating back to the early 1700’s.
The Geisha hairstyles since the 17th century have varied little.
Since the 17th century, women put all their hair up, and it was during this time
that the traditional shimada hairstyle, a type of chignon worn by most established geisha,
The hairstyles of the twentieth century Geisha were most commonly Maiko and are reminiscent of young girls
from an age long gone. They are quite unlike those of the older, more mature Geiko.
A Maiko must have grown her hair long during her Shikomi-san and Minarai-san stages so that
her own natural hair could be dressed up. Through the duration of her training, a Maiko would
wear up to five different hairstyles: wareshinobu, ofuku, sakkou, katsuyama and yakko-shimada.
The latter two are styles worn on special occasions by senior Maiko and the sakkou style is worn
on her graduation from being a Maiko to becoming a Geiko.
These hairstyles are decorated with elaborate haircombs and hairpins (kanzashi).
In the seventeenth century the hair-combs were large and
more ornate for higher-class women but by the the twentieth century smaller and less conspicuous
hair-combs became more popular.
Since the earliest known Geisha traditions, the women were trained to sleep with their necks on
small supports known as takamakura, so their hairstyle would remain perfect.
To reinforce the importance of having perfect hair, their mentors would pour rice around the base of the
support. If the "geisha in training's" head rolled off the support while she slept, rice would stick
in her hair. The girl would thus have to repeat this process until her head no longer rolled from its support.
Typically, without this happening, a geisha would have her hair styled about every week.
Today, many modern geisha use wigs in their professional lives but the maiko still use their natural
hair. Either way, these hairstyles must be regularly fashioned by highly skilled artisans.
The tradition of this type of hairstyling is a slowly dying art. Wigs are much easier to maintain
and the hairstyle over time, can cause balding on the top of the head.
The images used in this article are a reduced copy taken from the
images and vintage postcards of Japanese Geisha Hairstyles in our shop.
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We invite you to read and save any images on our site.
Aihara, Kyoko, Geisha: A Living Tradition, Carlton Books, 2000
Geisha: A Photographic History, 1872–1912, Stanley Burns, 2006
The Geisha Stylist Who Let His Hair Down
The Immortal Geisha Hairstyles
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