Walking along the cobblestone streets of Kyoto, dressed as a Geisha, is not only exciting but an experience that is never forgotten.
It was amazing the amount of attention I had from tourists and locals. The tourists were eagerly taking photos, unaware I was a tourist myself, while the locals were amazed at the perfection of the makeover and transformation. I looked like an authentic Geisha. The only give away were my blue eyes!
This experience should be added to your bucket list.
Here is a step-by-step guide on what to expect.
What is a Geisha and Maiko?
Geisha and Maiko,
- Are entertainers, specializing in traditional Japanese dancing, playing musical instruments, and hosting Japanese tea ceremonies
- Are recognized by their thick white makeup and red lipstick. Traditionally the white makeup was made of led. Charcoal was used on the eyebrows and edges of the eyes. Now modern cosmetics are used
- Wear colorful, heavily embroidered, loose fitting robes, tied in the middle with a thick band called an Obi.
- They live in traditional, wooden tea-houses, located cross five areas within Kyoto. Some of the tea-houses are being used today to transform locals and tourists into Geisha
Hints and Tips for the day;
- It’s best to experience this on a sunny day. If it is raining, you will not be able to leave the tea-house and walk around the streets of Kyoto, as the precious kimonos need protecting
- Only take necessities with you, the lockers provided are rather small and don’t fit large travel bags
Step 1 – At the tea-house
When you arrive at the tea-house, the options available for the makeover are explained.
- The Maiko is an apprentice Geisha, and the most popular choice for tourists because the kimonos and wigs are elaborate and colorful.
- Professional photos are available
- Take your pictures.
- Walk through the streets of Kyoto
Once you have selected your makeover option, you are taken to a small dressing room. These rooms are full of little lockers for your clothes, wooden benches, and a wash area with lots of cleansing creams, oils, and wipes.
It is essential to remove your current makeup, tie all hair into a low bun, change into a very thin cotton robe (with just your underwear), and slip into cotton split-toe socks.
Step 2 – Kimono Room
Climbing the incredibly narrow, wooden steps to the second floor of the tea-house, you enter a room filled with hundreds of stunning kimonos, all arranged in neat rows, by color. The kimonos are long, beautifully embroidered, silk robes. The most popular kimonos are red or pink with elaborate gold dragon designs.
There is no time limit allocated for selecting a kimono. When you have found a kimono you like, one of the friendly ladies finds a matching obi and decorations for the wig.
Step 3 – The make-up room
At the end of a dark, narrow hallway were the makeup rooms. Wooden benches and stools were positioned in front of the floor to ceiling mirrors. The benches were cluttered with pots of white, pink and red liquids surrounded by bamboo brushes.
A make-up artist skillfully applied a layer of oil, which covered my face, followed by thick white liquid and powder. A soft pink blush was dusted onto the cheeks and eyelids. Two eyeliners were used to give a dramatic look.
Lastly, for the trademark, red lipstick. Maiko usually only have their bottom lip painted, however, my make-artist suggested both of my lips should be painted as it gives a younger look. I’m not sure this was a compliment.
Step 4 – Dressing Room
Once all the makeup was on, I went into the ‘dressing room.’
Standing in the middle of a small room, a dresser skillfully wrapped and tied a sequence of different materials, layer after layer, tightly. There seemed to be hundreds of pink ties and rectangle cloths, the size of tea towels. It felt heavy and tight.
Step 5 – Wig Room
The wigs are already styled positioned on a shelf. The dresser selected a full, black wig to conceal my blonde hair. The wig was incredibly heavy and tight. So tight, it felt like heavy bricks clamped onto my head.
Having dark hair is an advantage as it is incorporated with a half wig.
Step 6 – Walking around Kyoto streets.
At the entrance to the tea-house, wooden clogs, known as Okobo were waiting. Walking gingerly down the steep steps in clogs was undoubtedly a challenge, as they were narrow and high. I found it easier shuffling as this provided some stability.
It felt like we were swamped by tourists and locals alike. I lost count on the number of photos people took. I was focused on trying to keep balanced in the clogs and not to smile. The white makeup and red lipstick made my teeth look yellow.
Step 7 – Photo Shoot
Back in the tea-house, the photographer was ready with a room dedicated for taking authentic photos. There were traditional props and backdrops. They also provided a number of suggested poses, which made the photos look genuine.
Step 8 – Back to the dressing room
Being escorted back to the dressing room, the layers of material, ties, kimono, and the wig were quickly and easily removed. I had transformed back into a tourist.
The opportunity of experiencing one of Japan’s most secretive, century-old traditions, is an experience of a lifetime. One, I will never forget.