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Geisha For A Day In Charming Kyoto

I’ve always been intrigued by the mysterious world of Geisha & when I finished the book “Memoirs of Geisha”, I was further encouraged to visit Kyoto, a town considered by many to be where the geisha tradition is strongest today, including Gion Kobu, where a Geisha is known as Geiko. Memoirs of a Geisha revolves around a young girl, named Chiyo, who is sold into the life of a Geisha & her struggle as a Geisha to find love. This novel is no doubt one of the most beautifully written novels that has captivated me right from the very beginning & definitely one of my personal favourites. With that, I armed myself with my fave novel, booked myself on a flight to pursue my dream - to be Maiko For A Day!

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.

Transformation time:
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!


  1. really tried it..too bad I'm a chance to try Maiko although I've been to Kyoto..unless there's a male version of geisha...

  2. jfook, thks for dropping by!

    Of Travels, u can be a Samurai instead. They also have pkg for men :)

  3. wow..never thought of that..might try it if i get to visit Kyoto again..hehe

  4. Memoirs of a Geisha is my favorite book ever. I am so glad you loved it too.

  5. Hey, thanks for the insight! Envvvvy!!

  6. I enjoyed the Memoirs of a Geisha movie and I have the book. I just haven't read it yet. I've heard of this deal before. I think my wife might be interested in trying that when we visit Japan sometime in the future. It sounds like a cool experience, especially being the center of attention. I read something recently on geisha in Japan and it said that there are very few left, only about 1000. It said that a lot of people who thought they saw geisha probably just saw tourists such as yourself.

    OfTravels: I also read that there were in fact male versions of the geisha, but I don't think they wore elaborate outfits. They were mostly just entertainers. You should look it up!

  7. Thank you all, for leaving your comments!

    Brad, I think both of you will have fun trying out the costumes & "parading" down the alleys of Kyoto. Perhaps you should read the book before you head to the lovely city. You'll experience greater insights that way :) Thks for dropping by!

  8. If I were you, I would consider reading "Geisha, a Life", the book from the REAL geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who was the "inspiration" for Golden to write.
    Have in mind that "Memoirs of a Geisha" is very far from the real geisha. A real geisha would never sell her body, and Golden was sued by Mineko for distorting her memories.

  9. Thks for the tip! I'll probably pick up your recommendation one of these days to read :)

  10. do you recommend a website or contact in Kyoto that does this? How do you book it?

    1. Chart, there're quite a few of these studios in Kyoto. I stumbled upon one while taking a walk. Don't recall the name, but it was on the spot, no booking.


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