To the casual observer, these hashioki appear to depict geisha. But the women’s long sleeves and obi dangling down their back actually identify them as maiko.
Maiko are essentially apprentice geisha. When they begin their training during their teenage years their primary responsibility is to look beautiful when they accompany more experienced geisha to banquets and other events. Therefore, their kimono are usually more elaborate and more brightly colored than those worn by geisha, and the okobo sandals they wear with their kimono were even higher and more precarious than the standard geta.
In addition to looking lovely, maiko were expected to perform traditional Japanese dances; their name literally means dance (mai) child (ko).
The number of geisha and maiko have declined significantly since the end of WW2. But one of the delights of visiting Japan, especially Kyoto’s Pontochō district, is the opportunity to glimpse a maiko or geisha as they travel to a teahouse or other assignation in the early evening hours. However, the maiko you see today may in fact be tourists who have paid to be dressed that way.
I especially like that these maiko hashioki portray the back, rather than the front, of the figure. Of course that’s primarily to show the maiko’s long obi hanging down in the back. But I like to think that it’s also that it’s also a nod to a Japanese way of looking at things that suggests the best way to view something isn’t always the most obvious.