I had some emails from readers asking about my experience & other questions about the ‘Geisha’ make-over while I was in Kyoto. (Well in this case, I was actually dressed as a Maiko- an apprentice Geisha. It takes a Maiko 5 years to finally become a Geisha)
The main one I was asked was, “Why do Geishas paint their face white?”, “What is the difference b/w Geishas & Maikos” & “Where did you get this done?”) Well, here are some Youtube vids that may answer some of your questions 🙂
For those of you visiting Kyoto & would like a similar experience, I went to this studio & to the ‘Honten’ location which is located in the busy, tourist street on Ninenzaka/Sanenzaka. They did not allow me to take pictures or video of the ‘transformation’, which made me a little disappointed but oh well~ There are however other studios that allow this or allow a friend to stay with you while you are getting made-over, for example, this one at Yumekobou.
This is me walking around after the transformation… I felt like my wig was going to pop off (it was also kinda itchy… errr)
The reason why I chose the Maiko Henshin studio in Honten was because of the location as I thought it will be more picturesque. (You can see part of the street below) Maiko-henshin is a little bit more pricier than the Yumekobou but in a better area & they also provide the hair service where you can use part of your hair to be combined with the wig to make it look more realistic.
The below picture is where I got mine done, as you can see my boyfriend is standing right outside the shop.
Yumekobou allows pictures or videos while you are getting made-up & provides a more personalised service. At Maiko Henshin, you get your make-up & hair done with like 6 others in the one room, it felt quite rushed & also they charge you for every little thing. For example I paid about $200+AUD (the photo & walking plan) which includes the studio picture book, but they also charged me for the Japanese style socks, a hairpin rental fee & for using part of my own hair into the wig. They were going to charge extra if you use fake lashes & if you want a CD as well.
The entire make-over was quite quick..maybe about 30-40 mins & then you get an hour to walk around. But after walking for about 40 mins, I gave up. It was quite a hot weather when I went, so I was really hot & bothered in those really thick layers of Kimonos & the heavy Obi . The wig was also heavy & my head was itchy & sweaty lol. Plus, the kimono was put on you very tightly, so it was difficult to breathe… I felt like the Obi was going to rip apart if I took a deep breath. Taking off the make-up & washing my hair over a sink with 5 others also took quite a while haha. I had to put my head under the sink & just wash the crown part of my head as they sprayed black hair dye on my hair to make it blend with the wig colour. The studio provides you with the face soap & shampoo etc. Tip: BRING BABY WIPES OR MAKE-UP REMOVER & YOUR OWN MAKE-UP. That’s because right after this experience, I went straight out to other places. All the other girls did not bring these so they have to go back to the hotel etc.. & had a harder time to remove their make-up. ….
Overall, the experience was AWESOME. Lots of tourists & locals ask to take a picture with you, which really made you feel special 🙂 & the photos & memories you bring home are forever. I highly recommend for you to do this if you ever visit Kyoto. Make sure you do this in the morning- the earliest session is at 9AM, I finished the entire experience by about 12PM. So it really does take up most of your time, so it’s best if you stay in Kyoto for at least 2-3 days & set aside some time to do this. Also if you do it in the afternoon, the street gets super busy & there are loads of other ‘Maikos’ like yourself wandering around…. so I guess you may feel less special haha. Good thing I did it in the early morning because I had the rest of the afternoon doing other things.
While I was in Kyoto & walking through Pontocho after my make-over experience, I saw a couple of Maikos scurrying to their appointments. It was so amazing to see these beautiful and almost mythical ladies because they are so mysterious. Now in Kyoto, there are only about 2 to 300 maikos/geishas left. It is not the sort of occupation you choose when you are the age of 14-15 & many could not go through the harsh & tough training to be a Geisha. Lots of people said there were no ‘hot’ or ‘pretty’ Geishas or Maikos, but it’s not about the looks, but about the art. They spend almost their entire youth perfecting & preserving these arts that are now slowly lost in our digital revolution & we need to appreciate this. The guests who are lucky enough to have a contacts to spend some time with a Maiko or Geisha, do so to experience their dance, song & teahouse protocols & aesthetics- not because they are ‘hot’. Geishas & Maikos are definitely the epitome of the olden Japanese culture.
Thank you to my boyfriend G who was very patient & quite the photographer! I didn’t have to pay extra for the professional outdoor photographer. 🙂
Here one of the video documentaries about becoming a Maiko.
& This one is also good documentary
There are lots of videos like this on Youtube if you are interested 🙂
Hope this helps! 🙂