I love Kyoto and I love the world of geishas and maikos. Maiko 舞妓 and geiko/geisha 芸子/芸者 are female performing artists working in Gion area whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance and games. A maiko is an apprentice geisha from the age of 15 to 20 before her adulthood.

I am a fan of the movie and the book ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. No guesses that Gion is my favorite place to be in Kyoto! It was on my bucket list to turn myself into a maiko…even if it is for an hour or two. It’s the classic, cliched Japanese image – the kimono-clad woman with a parasol, in front of a branch of cherry blossom or a shrine. And it is more fun if that woman is painted in white – just like the movies !

So along with a friend I got a fun experience to get dressed in a traditional kimono and maiko makeup and truly enjoy the Kyoto culture. There are a number of places in Kyoto where you can rent a beautiful glamorous kimono or even have a complete maiko make-over with the white makeup and distinctive hairstyle. At these studios in Kyoto you can turn yourself into a maiko complete with real traditional wigs, kimonos, obis, shoes and accessories. After that you can get your photographs taken at the studio or/and take your own photos and walk on the beautiful traditional streets of Kyoto. We went to a studio in Gion, which my friend found online. You can check out their website here.

You don’t need to bring anything for the Maiko transformation process, apart from your makeup for reapplying after you are done with the maiko experience. You can choose your kimono for your maiko transformation when you visit. Everything for your makeover (undergarments, socks, towels, makeup cleansing cream) will be provided at the studios. Hair dryers are also available, so you can continue your sightseeing after everything is over. Since the traditional white makeup will not wash off with normal water, studio staff will help you until all the makeup is completely off.

We went there on a weekday in the afternoon and it was not busy then, although several girls walked in when we were leaving, late in the afternoon. We had to take our shoes off to enter and register at the counter. I  was given a locker key to keep my bag and clothes. We had to remove our makeup and wear white slips and white socks with toes given by the studio. Then we were shown the range of kimonos we could choose from according to our heights. They had a variety of kimonos, and choosing one was the most difficult and the longest part. I couldn’t choose between so many gorgeous colors but the dresser allotted to us was on hand to give us advice. I love bright colors and no guesses that I went for red. She also helped in picking up a contrasting obi for it. Then she wrapped and folded me into layers and layers. She meticulously added separate items around and onto my body, including a curved board that made me so stiff and practically impossible to bend. It took about ten minutes from start to finish, and another lady came to tie the obi. Then another lady applied makeup on me, which took her about 10 more minutes. I guess the white makeup is just a paste of talcum powder and water. They applied red lipstick, red eye shadow and red eye liner. Finally I was given a very heavy wig with lots of hair ornaments to finish off the maiko look. After the transformation, I was told to choose a matching drawstring bag and wooden slippers. We selected our traditional handbags from the range on offer, filled them with our phones and cameras, locked our lockers and headed off to take our studio portraits first. I had no idea what to do there, therefore my photographer helped me pose and showed me how to use various props, They had many props there such as traditional fans, parasols, bags etc. After getting our professional pictures clicked we headed off to the streets of Gion.

We were somewhat of an attraction on the streets of downtown Kyoto. The studio I went to allowed one camera and my friend who got her own camera was not allowed to use it. She had to make do with her cell phone camera. A girl from the studio accompanied us and she took all our pictures. Lots of passers-by smiled, laughed, or commented to us. Many people asked to have their photo taken with us, maybe they thought we were real maikos. It is strange that a group of Indian tourists asked me for taking a picture with them. They couldn’t figure out that I was Indian too!!!

After taking a round, we returned back to the studio. The staff undressed us and helped us to remove our white makeup. Removing that white paste took the maximum time. We could dress back in our own clothes and reapply our personal makeup. After that we went out to the counter to pay. They had our pictures ready on their laptop. We were asked to select the pictures we would like to be developed among the many. I guess if you take more pictures you need to pay more money. My package was for about $100 and I could choose 3 pictures. I selected the ones I liked. They took my address and said that they will post my pictures in 15 days.

My transformation took about 1.5 hours which I think was really less; this including choosing my kimono, getting the white makeup on, getting the photographs taken at the studio, strolling on the streets in kimono, getting clicked alone as well with complete strangers, removing my white makeup off, replying my personal makeup and paying. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life. I highly recommend transforming yourself into a maiko or a geisha if you are in Kyoto! Sometimes it is fun to do cliché things! Right?

Things to do in Kyoto: 舞妓 Maiko Transformation

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fun things to do in Kyoto

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geisha in Gion, Kyoto

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