An apprentice Geisha is called Maiko. Since years ago, there’ve been services in Gion that allow tourists to act as Maiko-san for a day. There’re many studios in Kyoto that offer Maiko makeover plans & the chance to walk around Kyoto & have your picture taken.
The application of makeup is hard to perfect & is a time-consuming process. First, a wax or oil substance, called bintsuke-abura, was applied to my skin. Next, white powder was mixed with water into a paste & applied with a bamboo brush starting from the neck & working upwards.
The white makeup covers the face, neck & chest, with two or three unwhitened areas (forming a W or V shape, usually a traditional W shape) left on the nape, to accentuate this traditionally erotic area & a line of bare skin around the hairline, which creates the illusion of a mask.
After the foundation layer was applied, a sponge was patted all over my face, throat, chest, the nape & neck to remove excess moisture & to blend the foundation. Next the eyes & eyebrows were drawn. Traditionally, charcoal was used, but today, modern cosmetics are used. The eyebrows & edges of the eyes were colored black with a thin charcoal; a maiko has to apply red around her eyes. Next came “lipstick” time - bright-red lipstick that is the Geisha's hallmark. The lips were filled in using a small brush. The colour came in a small stick, which was melted in water. Crystallized sugar was then added to give the lips lustre. Rarely will a Geisha colour both lips fully in the Western style, as white creates optical illusions & colouring the lips fully would make them appear overly large. The lower lip is coloured partially & the upper lip left white for Maiko in her first year, after which the upper lip is also coloured.
Newly full-fledged Geisha will colour only the top lip fully. Most Geisha wear the top lip coloured fully & the bottom lip in a curved stripe that does not follow the shape of the lip. The Geisha round the bottom lips to create the illusion of a flower bud.
Many modern Geisha use wigs in their professional lives, while Maiko use their natural hair & they’re regularly tended by highly skilled artisans. I must say the wig was really very heavy.
Maiko always wear highly colorful kimono with extravagant obi compared to Geisha. I chose a beautiful striking red piece. By then, I already had a few layers of "underwear" on. I was surprised to be greeted by a man. It seemed a man is needed to put the kimono on as it takes a lot of strength to tie it. My kimono, a floor length silk robe embroidered with intricate designs, was held together by a sash at the waist. I looked absolutely stunning!
Maiko also wear a special wooden clog known as okobo. These “high-heels” weren’t exactly those platforms clogs I’d imagine. They were much higher. I couldn’t balance myself when I put on my clogs & trust me, it wasn’t easy to walk at all.
The entire makeover session took about an hour including makeup, hair & dressing up. Maikos' white make-up, elaborate kimono & hairstyle is the popular image held of Geisha. When I was finally dressed in my kimono & okobo, I felt like a Geisha! Next came the exciting part - it was time to go out to the streets to be Maiko for the Day! I was brought around the streets of Kyoto on a Jinrikisha (a vehicle with two wheels drawn by men) instead of doing the walking tour. During my rikisha journey, I was mobbed by “tourists”. Passers-by waved & snapped pictures of me, thinking I was a real Maiko. I was totally at the center of attraction & the feeling was great! I was busy waving & smiling at passers-by, realizing my dream of a Geisha. That moment was magical, one I’ll always remember……. If you do visit Kyoto, do try this experience of a lifetime!