When organizing our trip to Japan, there were three things I told my friend Emiko that I wanted to do:
- See the cherry blossoms. This was the main reason I was going at this time (end of March-April) so this was an automatic MUST.
- I really, really, really wanted to visit Disney Tokyo Sea and luckily I knew Emiko was a big fan of Disney and would totally be a-okay with this one, even if it meant dragging here out of bed at 6am to be there by 7:30am…
- And finally, I wanted to be made up as a Geisha.
I remember squinting my eyes, turning my head to the side, and looking at Emiko warily when I said this one. I knew this was an odd request, but we were going to Kyoto – this just had to be done, right?! Luckily, Emiko is always down to try something new, and so when she agreed I got so excited and instantly began planning (in my head…wasn’t as prepared when we actually got to Kyoto, oops). I envisioned myself looking so cool, ladylike, alluring, and just plain awesome dressed as a Geisha. Boy, was I wrong. And while I have still never seen or read the book, here are MY memoirs as a Geisha.
If you know a little bit about Kyoto, you will know that it used to be the capital of Japan, before Toyko, for over one thousand years. It’s often referred to as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. Kyoto is also known for its “Geisha District” called Gion. While the history of geisha has a long and tumultuous past, it is a profession that once reigned in Japan and is now diminishing. You may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one quickly entering a side door whilst in Gion, but chances are you will see more tourists being made into geishas or maikos (apprentices training to become a geisha), which is exactly what I did.
I came across a website for a place called Maica that will turn you into a geisha or give you a “true” maiko experience. Now, it isn’t exactly the easiest of places to get to:
- When arriving at Kyoto train station you will have to take bus number 205 from terminal A2 to Kawaramachi-Matsubara.
- It drops you off near a 7/11 – we had to go into that 7/11 because I told you I wasn’t prepared as we should be, and the nice gentleman gave us a map.
- With the 7/11 on your right, you will walk until you hit an intersection.
- Cross the street to the left and you will cross over a river via a bridge.
- That first street is not the street you are look for (again, with my ill-planning we walked down that for a bit, getting soaked.) Instead, there is a pathway that leads you to the street behind it. This is the correct street.
- As you look to the left, you will see a cute little geisha statue.
It says on the website that you can book an appointment in advance or walk-ins welcome. I took that as a sign that walk–ins are indeed welcome – again, I was wrong and for once, I got extremely lucky. Because it is becoming more and more of a popular attraction, and it was also cherry blossom season, business was booming at Maica! But, like I said, luck was on my side and they had had a cancellation, so Emiko and I got to go right in! Wahoo! I think the pouring rain also had to do with the fact no one was venturing around Gion for this as well.
The brought us upstairs, explained the rules, a brief bit of the history of geisha, etc. If you want to walk and take pictures outside, you have to pay more. They will take you to selected areas, but you must always be respectful and not tarnish the name of geisha, or mock them. I liked that about Maica, plus it gave you the full make-up experience whilst others just dressed you up in a kimono.
We had to change into robes and then the makeup portion came, followed by the massive wig. Obviously, because I have blonde hair, they couldn’t use my real hair joined in with a wig, like others who were there. I am not going to lie, it was super heavy and the makeup was very cold, but I was loving every minute of it! I didn’t think it was possible for me to look even whiter than I already do now, but I was wrong yet again (notice a pattern here?). Next, was putting on the robes and kimonos. I have no idea how real geishas do this every day – it was layer upon layer of robes, dresses, kimonos, belts, etc. I could barely move after it was all said and done, especially since we were three stories up and had to go down to the first floor for photos – yikes! I
clutched the wall gracefully went down with Emiko and we took our photo that comes along with our package. Since it was raining, and cost quite a bit more, we decided to stay inside, and luckily the staff were very nice and kept taking photos for us and showed us different poses that we could do.
You get one hour of photo time, but after many different poses we were itching to get out everything, so we cautiously climbed back up the stairs, where they took off all the layers at a much faster pace than they were put on, and sent us to take off the makeup. Make sure to bring makeup remover! It is a bit difficult to get off and of course, as I totally planned things in advance, forgot to bring some. Usually, the staff make you pay for a bottle of remover, but I think they took pity on us and let us borrow it for free (THANK YOU!) Absolute life saver, considering we had to take the train back to Osaka and then the three hour trip to Toyko. But keeping with the tradition, the staff will not allow you to leave in full makeup, for preserving the true profession of geisha, which is nice.
All in all, it took us at least three hours, so if you want to experience being made into a geisha, make sure you plan accordingly! It was such a fun experience and one I will, never ever forget! While I certainly will never, ever pass as a geisha, this is definitely one for the books!