February 12, 2011
by Yukari Maruoka; Miku Nogami
In Kyoto, you can still spot maiko and geisha when you walk around well-known hanamachi districts such as Gion or Miyagawa-cho, because Japan still has women who are carefully trained in the traditional arts and ways of this refined and renowned element of our culture. But if you’re a woman visiting Kyoto, even a non-Japanese, you can go a step beyond just seeing maiko; you can also try the transformative “maiko experience”. While you won’t learn to play music on a shamisen, speak an arcane local dialect or walk as if you’re floating on air, you can dress up to look real enough to fool many tourists into taking your photo!
Costume play or “cosplay” is a key part of contemporary Japanese culture, and the maiko makeover is the ultimate example. There are several businesses in Kyoto which make it possible to “be” a maiko for a day. One chain is called Yume Koubou (夢工房), which means “dream atelier.” Its three Kyoto locations are perfect, because whichever you choose, you can easily make a convenient plan for costumed sightseeing. One store is at Kyoto Station, and another is even close to Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto’s number one tourism spot, so after you’ve donned your kimono, makeup and wig you can stroll over to the lovely ancient temple and take a picture with the ideal exotic atmosphere.
If you are stuck in Tokyo and haven’t got the chance to come to Kyoto, don’t worry, because there is a Yume Koubou store in fashionable Ginza.The staff at these shops are all women, so they do everything for you from applying makeup to dressing you in your complex kimono. Once you “look the part”, a professional photographer takes a digital picture of you, after which you can adjust the image to make yourself look even more beautiful.
Koubou has six ways to make customers happy: location, facilities, makeup, kimono, transformation and photography. The facilities include a reception room, where you can wait in luxury with an excited heartbeat. And there’s a powder room where you can use all the amenities and the staff will help prepare for your return. Lockers allow you to store your valuables safely during your makeover or while you are out on the town.
MAKEUP / KIMONO / KATSURA
A professional makeup artist does your makeup for you — one who is studying every day under real maiko’s and geiko’s instructions. They are aiming for the ultimate beauty; it’s like their motto. And they use oil-free makeup, so everyone from children to adults, including people with delicate skin, can use it without worry.
There are many styles and colors of kimono, so you can choose whatever you want, and the same goes for the obi (sash).Concerned about your hair? No need! They use a full katsura wig that fits everyone well, and have contracted with a famous katsura maker of long standing. As a result they offer an attractive, original shape that is one-third lighter than conventional katsura. These six ways of pleasing customers are the secret of the popularity of the best shops in the business of “maiko/geiko transformation”.
There are many plans for maiko experiences, so you can choose whichever suits you. For example, if you want to “be” a maiko, then take pictures in the studio, it costs 9,975 yen. If you’d also like to ramble around town the price rises to 13,125 yen. Or you can go to a good location to be photographed like an actress for a bit more: 14,175 yen. You can have both the studio shoot and a location shoot for 16,800 yen. In addition, there are mother and daughter plans, children’s plans for kids ages 5-12, student field trip plans, and a jinrikisha plan and they also have 3 men’s makeovers, one of which is samurai warrior style, which harkens back to the Age of Warring States (sengokujidai).
My Maiko Experience at Yume Koubou
My mother and I chose the parent and child plan, which was simply to dress up as maiko and take pictures. The parent can choose either geisha or maiko, whichever she wants. My mother chose maiko at the recommendation of the staff, but usually older people choose geisha. Maiko are more gorgeous and colorful. Geisha are simple and their kimono must be black. Still, if you are not so young but you want to be a maiko, just choose a dark-colored kimono and it will not be strange. However, before you put on your chosen kimono, do not forget to use the restroom. While you are wearing a kimono it is difficult to use a toilet.
First of all, they put on your makeup. And your face and neck will be pure white, with delicate eye shadow in red and eyeliner which is brushed on in bold strokes. Bright red will be painted onto your lips. That is a maiko’s face. And then, don’t forget, you cannot touch your face and neck or your hands will get white and you may stain your expensive kimono.
Next, you will select a kimono and obi. There are between 20 and 30 kimonos to choose from, with many kinds of color schemes, motifs and designs. Only about 10 minutes is needed for putting on the kimono. Then comes your wig. And your breathing may become labored because your torso will be wrapped tightly with a cord and obi sash.
At last, my mother and I had our pictures taken by a professional photographer in a studio with a number of furnishings and props. About 20 exposures were taken of various poses. Afterwards they let us take some pictures by ourselves with our own cameras or cell phones. And then we were able to choose five pictures from the 20 pictures we had been shown. The finished prints were sent to our home one month later. The total “transformation experience” took us about two hours. We did not need to prepare anything in advance.
I asked some questions to the staff, who told me that many foreigners come to this shop. Some days only foreigners come! Spring is the busiest and most crowded season because it is the best season in which to see cherry blossoms.
Please try the “maiko transformation” experience when you come to Kyoto. Another good makeover studio which has an English section on its website is Studio Shiki.