What criteria makes Geiko or a Maiko famous?
Well, first of there is beauty. This is by far not the only criteria and I wouldn’t even say it’s the most important, but it definitely helps a lot.
Especially Maiko who have just started out often rely on their beauty and overall cuteness, because they still make a lot of mistakes and don’t have the experience and artistic repertoire their older Geiko-sisters have. Beauty also helps you get your picture taken a lot, which contributes to your face spreading, but how many pictures of a Maiko or Geiko are taken isn’t neccessarily an indicator of fame. Take Geiko Dan-yuu for example. There rarely are any pictures of her and most tourists don’t even recognize her as a Geiko, because she doesn’t wear the white oshiroi and she was in the third bracket of the highest earners of 2016 and has been on the list for years in a row!
A Maiko who has the typical kind of “Maiko-beauty” is Ichiyuu (Katsumi Okiya) of Pontocho. She is short, petite, cute and very much looks like a real life hina doll. Geiko Kikuno (Hanafusa Okiya) of Miyagawacho is a good example for the typical “Geiko-bauty”. She looks elegant and feminine, yet mature and strong.
Basically, the older the Maiko or Geiko gets, the less important beauty is. Senior Maiko wear less flamboyant kimono than junior Maiko, Geiko wear much more subdued kimono and hair ornaments than Maiko and at some point, they are expected to stop wearing the white makeup and wig altogether and switch to wearing mainly ordinary houmongi, iromuji and tomesode (for special occassions).
The older and experienced a Geiko gets, the more she is supposed to focus on and solely rely on her artistic talents. Simply being beautiful and not training hard is not going to work if you want a long and stable career or true fame.
And here we are at the second point: Hard work and dedication. The most famous or even outright legendary Maiko and Geiko are almost always the best or belong to the best of their district or even city. Usually, they are dancers, but jikata Geiko can also earn fame if they are very skilled. They train and study very hard and accept as many engagements as possible. You need to have dedication to the job, lifestyle and arts if you want to make it. If you’re not serious about training, you’re very likely to fail. Geiko Satsuki is a great example. She is not only a great dancer, but also one of the best fue-players of Kyoto, and goes to as many engagements as humanly possible.
Mineko Iwasaki even talks about this in her autobiography. She said that her okaasan told her that her older sister Yaechiyo (her real name was Yaeko) was very beautiful, talented and promising, but very lazy and undisciplined and never paid attention during her lessons (amongst other problems), so her career never really blossomed.
“But there was a problem. It soon became evident that Yaeko wasn’t serious about her career. Frankly, it is possible for a Maiko, especially one as stunning as Yaeko, to glide for a while on her magnificent costumes and childlike charisma, but her career can’t blossom unless she capitalizes on her talent. Yaeko was lazy and undisciplined. She got bored easily and didn’t see things through. She hated lessons and barely paid attention during rehearsals. Her dancing wasn’t getting any better. Auntie Oima told me it was making her very nervous.”
But training in the arts isn’t the only training you have to do, you also have to train your conversation-skills to become an enjoyable and interesting host and to be able to easily accommodate all different kinds of people. No one expects a fifteen-year old Maiko to be a very extroverted and lively host, so she has to gradually learn from her older sisters. The experience of senior Geiko is often very important for this!
Thirdly, talent can be a good asset. Just as with beauty, just being talented won’t be enough for fame, but it is a good help if your a naturally gifted musician or dancer (or both). It also often makes starting out easier, as a lot of Shikomi and Maiko quit because they feel like they aren’t progressing and are getting to much harsh criticism from their teachers and elders. If you’re naturally gifted, you’re probably going to progress faster, especially at the start, and have a slightly easier time setting foot in the karyukai.
Also, being a naturally extroverted person is a great help especially for ozashiki. Maiko and young Geiko are almost never fully alone and even senior Geiko who live in their own space are with other people most of the time. Also, having to deal with different people all the time and be entertaining to them is hard and is easier if you‘re naturally outgoing and jokey. If you’re a very interested and/or shy person, you’ll have a harder time accommodating to the job.
Also, having taken lessons in traditional Japanese arts can be a great help, too, as it gives you an advantage over your peers. Retired Maiko Mamefuji and Geiko Toshimana had both taken lessons in traditional Japanese dance for years prior to becoming Maiko, and it certainly helped them. Mamefuji got to wear a white collar after a little over a year already because she was progressing so fastly and Toshimana became a Geiko after just 3 years and two months! However, it’s not only talent and having already taken lessons in dancing that made them so good and famous, it really is mainly hard work. Also, there are plenty of Maiko and Geiko who have never ad any lessons in Japanese arts before entering the karyukai who became very famous regardless of that (as far as I know, Satsuki didn’t have any, too)!
Famous Maiko and Geiko also often have very unique and bright personalities that enchant people very easily and make people remember them.
So, there really are a lot of reasons intersecting.