I have seen many videos/pictures of maiko that looks like real ones, except she doesn't wear the typical high wooden shoes but lower ones (another kind). Can it still be real ones?
Yes, she is! Those lower shoes are called Zori (草履) and they’re worn by maiko when it rains (okobo do not have good traction on wet ground) or as a choice when they gain seniority (they’re more comfortable to walk in than okobo). You can check out more about it on the Anatomy of Maiko and Geiko tab ^^
July 2017: Maiko Fukuhana (Shigemori Okiya), Kanako (Kawahisa Okiya), Fukutama (Shigemori Okiya), Toshiemi (Komaya Okiya) and Fukune (Kawayoshi Okiya) of Miyagawacho performing the “Konchiki Odori” during the Hanagasa Junko, the final parade of the Gion Matsuri.
Not in this picture are Maiko Kimitoyo, Kanayuki (Toshikimi Okiya) and Fumiyoshi (Yoshifumi Okiya), who also particpated in the parade.
Why is Pontocho so unique compared to the other hanamachi?
Pontocho has some unique traditions, especially when it comes to makeup and hairstyles, that the other four hanamachi of Kyoto don’t have.
The most well-known is that Maiko from Pontocho already paint both of their lips red in their first year, while in all of the other four hanamachi, first-year Maiko only paint their lower lips.
Maiko from Pontocho can also wear a lot of different hairstyles before switching to the sakkou hairstyle (I think up to five), while in most of the other hanamachi, Maiko go straight to wearing sakkou; in Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi and Miyagawacho, they can wear the yakko shimada hairstyle before.
Some hairstyle are also exclusive to Pontocho and are usually only worn by Pontocho Maiko before the sakkou hairstyle, like the edo sakkou hairstyle and the oshun hairstyle was also developed in Pontocho (although it’s worn by Maiko in other districts for Setsubun as well).
Then, they also have a few unique traditions concerning kanzashi. Maiko from Pontocho wear a special, self-designed kanzashi featuring lucky motifs for their misedashi, like the ones Maiko wear during the sakkou stage. In all of the other four hanamachi, Maiko wear two biro ougi kanzashi and no special misedashi-kanzashi.
This kanzashi is worn by junior Maiko from Pontocho with bira-bira-kanzashi and a large crane-kanzashi for the new year and other special occassions like tea ceremonies at the Kamogawa Odori.
Back before WWII, Maiko and especially Geiko from Pontocho were also seen as especially chic and fashionable. Gion Kobu was the most traditional back then already, and Pontocho was kind of it’s slightly more modern and chic counterpart. There are some vintage postcards with pictures of Maiko and Geiko wearing outright legendary kimono and obi featured on them and a lot of these Maiko and Geiko are from Pontocho.
Gion Kobu and Pontocho are also the only two hanamachi of Kyoto allowed to host foreign dignities. This right was granted to them after the Miyako Odori and Kamogawa Odori were performed for the first time and they were performed for one complete year, every day.
Another characteristic is also that Pontocho’s ochaya have a lot of outdoor-terracces, which is mainly because Pontocho is so close to the Kamogawa River that from these terraces, you can overlook the river, which makes for a quite spectacular view and great atmosphere, especially during hot summer evenings.
Generally speaking, Pontocho is also more secretive and more elusive than other hanamachi, even more than traditional Gion Kobu. Pontocho does comparatively little publicity-work and advertising (they definitely do both of that, the other hanamachi just do more) and there are relatively few pictures of their Maiko and Geiko just out and about.
Also, a lot of Pontocho’s ochaya and okiya are somewhat hidden (Pontocho basically consists of one long and wide street) and are very hard for ordinary tourists and even insiders to make out. Most of Pontocho’s customers are coinoisseurs and regulars.
In Pontocho, there is also no clear distinction between tachikata (dancers) and jikata (musician) Geiko. There are some Geiko who work as jikata only, but that’s pretty rare, most Geiko are expected to be able to function as both (unlike in Gion Kobu, Kamishichiken and Gion Higashi, where the distinction is very clear) and most of their Maiko and Geiko take lessons in both. You’ll also often see Geiko perform as both, jikata and tachikata, during the Kamogawa Odori. In Miyagawacho, there also is no clear distinction between jikata and tachikata Geiko, the lines are even more blurry there.
Unlike in the other four hanamachi, the Maiko and Geiko and Pontocho dress each other and are not dressed by otokoshi (dressers). Maiko are usually dressed by okaasan or Geiko and Geiko dress other Geiko or even themselves alone. The ensembles of Maiko from Pontocho often look slightly different, espeicially around the obiage.
Also, Pontocho has the highest staying-rate out of all hanamachi. It’s the hanamachi where the most Maiko go on to become Geiko and it also has the highest number of senior Geiko out of all hanamachi. They have relatively few Maiko for their size (usually around 10, currently they have 9) but a lot of Geiko and a lot of them are senior and natori.
Pontocho also likes to keep their Maiko until they are 21 and sometimes even 22 and then have them have their Erikae. Of course, that way the okaasan can profit off of them being Maiko for a bit more, but that definitely also prepares them for becoming a Geiko quite well. The Shikomi-stages in Pontocho also tend to be a little longer, usually a full year.
Every hanamachi has some special traditions, it just so happens that Pontocho has a few more of them and some peculiarities as well.
As you said, it’s basically a small bun, much smaller than in the wareshinobu and ofuku hairstyle, with no extra padding to make it larger or fabric worked into it. String (and often an additional silk band) is worked around it and on top of it sits a smaller, bridge-like kanzashi similar to the katsuyama-bridge junior and young senior Maiko wear anyways, and which also is made to look like the ordinary seasonal kanzashi.
Here is another picture of Geiko Mamesome wearing it last April:
A vintage picture of Maiko Fumi of Gion Kobu wearing an odori-costume and holding an ichimatsu doll; 1930s.
Ichimatsu dolls are accurate depictions of boys and more commonly girls for children to dress up and pose.
It is popular with photographers to portray Maiko playing with toys as they are supposed to look and act cute and innocent, and since Maiko before WWII were much younger than today, this was even more popular back then.
The maiko Satsuki with her sakkou hairstyle! And oh my gosh her kanzashi is so original with the cranes and pines (it’s symbolise the longevity for the crane and the strength for the pine)! She is so lovely with this hairstyle! *w*