Maiko are apprentice geisha (geiko). To my knowledge they are only found in Kyoto and are often used as the penultimate symbol of Japan. Maiko are a rare breed now, only several at any one time and confined primarily to the Gion and Pontocho districts.

Maiko are easily recognised by their attire. In the Japanese way, as young girls before they become women, the dress of the Maiko is more outlandish than that of the mature Geisha. The Obi and Kimono of a Maiko is brightly coloured and ornately decorated, the Kimono is of the Furisode style (more specifically of the oburisode type kimono) with long flapping sleeves that fall to the floor. The collar of the under-kimono worn by the Maiko is usually of a red and white patterned material, and shows vividly against the white neck of the Maiko. This makes the "changing of the collar" ceremony (from patterned to plain white) the coming of age ceremony when a Maiko becomes a Geiko rather obvious.

The Obi of a Maiko is also much longer, and tied in an ornate style rather than the box knots common in the Obi of both Geisha and other Japanese women. The Obi is tied much higher on a Maiko, coming high into the arm pit, with the knot reaching almost to the collar, with the ends falling to the floor. Maiko also wear distinctive Okobo, large platformed wooden shoes, which taper to a smaller point on the sole, these are often lacquered and ornate. Okobo usually force a young Maiko to take very small steps, which is considered attractive by Japanese tradition.

Maiko have several different hair styles, which indicate the period of their apprenticeship that they have currently reached. Maiko use their own hair for such displays, rather than the wigs that contemporary Geisha wear. Traditionally it is a sign of a productive and hard apprenticeships to have a small bald patch from the ornate hair styles but as apprenticeships grow shorter and wigs more common this is a fading sign of a retired Geisha. The hair ornaments for a Maiko are plentiful and extravagant and are matched to the current season, usually displaying a fall of seasonal flowers constructed from beads.

While beautiful to look at Maiko are still young girls, so the social mastery they are expected to attain as accomplished Geisha is still not fully formed and Maiko are usually expected to dance, and be seen, and though performing tasks such as filling drinks they are not intended to entertain guests to the same degree as a Geisha.

Young girls may become Maiko at 16, under current Japanese law, as all adolescents must attend high school to this age. A Maiko's apprenticeship is usually 5 years, and so at 21 she may become a fully fledged Geisha.

Though not attending conventional school after becoming Maiko, they must nonetheless attend classes every morning in dance, Shamisen, singing and other "gei". Maiko as well as learning artistic pursuits must learn the social graces and old style Kyoto dialect before becoming a Geisha.

As such an identifiable icon of Japanese traditional culture the Maiko are often in demand, especially for photography. A popular tourist activity in Kyoto is to catch a photograph of a Maiko hurrying to an appointment.