My experience as a Maiko-san in Kyoto

∼May 15, 2013∼

continuation of my japan posts.
Helloo! Is this post a year overdue? Yeah I think so. I intended to post this right after my Kyoto trip, but the only reason why I didn't post it might sound silly to you. Basically I don't feel so photogenic as a Maiko! Silly reason right? It's just a bit embarrassing for me because I like to post good pictures of myself. Yes, I am shallow like that. But I promised I would do it, so here I am: posting about my maiko-henshin experience (maiko transformation). It's was a by far one of the best experiences in Kyoto. Everything was arranged by my host-mom and I seriously doubt I could do anything without my host family's help. They were simply the best. I am going to quote some things I remember hearing from my host-mom so if there is any mistakes I probably remembered it wrongly.

You can read about my Kyoto post here and the whole Japan tag here.
The word maiko literally translates to "dancing child" (mai = dance, ko = child). A maiko is an apprentice geiko (same as geisha, just in Kyoto dialect) who must undergo a period of training where she learns the various arts such as dancing, singing, music and learning the dialect of Kyoto. The term geiko is more popular used and means "child of art" (gei = art, ko = child) rather than geisha  "person of art" (gei = art, sha = person). 

I was unable to take pictures, but luckily my host-dad could! I am so happy they turned out so great~ He even took pictures inside the house and that's really awesome because it's so easy to forget places and little interactions here and there so seeing pictures really sparks my memory.

The maiko-henshin studio was small, but the people were very nice. You enter the place, they greet you and  we discuss what kind of plan you want - different plans, different prices. I chose the one where I get my make-up done, choose my kimono, select four pictures for my photo-album and I get to walk around Gion for 60 minutes. You can also get a professional photographer to accompany you, but that's pricier!


By the time I had decided, everything was happening really fast after that. I'm stripped down to my bra and they began removing my make-up and applying the white base (an oil called Binzuka Abura, used for Kabuki as well.) I can still remember the cold brush against my skin and whoosh whoosh all done. So quick! I took a peak and I almost fainted! I looked like a ghost! I was actually terrified of myself. I couldn't see my lashes or anything. It was just all white! At that point I was in regret because I looked horrible, but after she finished my make-up I loved it. The first picture shows the final make-up look. I really love it! LOL you can see my brows are a lot thicker but she just covered it with the oil.


I am wearing a semi-wig where they use the front and the back of my hair and they tuck my hair into the wig and brush some oil on it. It looks more natural than wearing a full wig. fyi it is frickin' heavy! This is no joke. It was like walking with a huge stone on top of my head lol it was really tight as well.
Did you know that a maiko can develop a bald spot because of the hair tugging? Also: a maiko sleep with their neck supported on a special wood block. Maiko do not wear a wig (like I did) so it's necessary to sleep on those special supports to preserve the shape of their hair. 

After the make-up, I get dressed! Getting dressed was fun and seemed complicated with all the layers. I am klutz when it comes to clothes so of course I am even more of a klutz when it comes to kimonos. Luckily my host-mom really knows her stuff and she picked out the kimono and hair flower accessory for me: I remember it was Wisteria because of the season. It's cool to know I am trying to be authentic :-) The kimono had so many layers and it was tight too. It was definitely something to get used to because it was so STRAIGHT. I couldn't bend so it was all about posture, posture, posture. If I thought my hair was heavy, I obviously had no idea that my kimono was going to be even heavier.
The kimonos geisha/geiko/maiko wear are much more expensive than what I am wearing! By much more, I really mean crazy expensive. I don't remember exact prices though. Besides the kimonos, maiko wear platform sandals which are several inches high - probably higher than what I am wearing. To think that you can dance gracefully in these heavy kimonos is quite amazing.




Then we head down to a shrine. It's a professional photographer who takes your pictures and he will help you get into the right pose. I am really not the best model so I bet he was a bit frustrated with me :-( I rarely get my pictures taken ya know. So I was really awkward! Sorry! 

After the photo-shoot I am free to walk around in Gion! 60 minutes don't sound like a lot, but it is. Especially in a scorching hot day wearing a super-duper heavy-hot kimono. I am easily hot too so multiply the heat with a factor twelve. We basically walked around and I pretended to be a maiko and I remember seeing people turn around and hearing "maiko, maiko, maiko" and "kawaii!". Before I was dressed up we met a elderly couple who wearing saying "it's just a fake maiko people" and we were conversing with them and all - ironically I was going to dress up as a maiko a couple of hours later lol. By the way: I was not the only one doing maiko-henshin because I met many other fake Maiko-san in Gion o(〃^▽^〃)o


Overall an awesome experience. Naturally I am a bit shy so I was indeed overwhelmed with how much attention you get, but it was so worth it. It was a very memorable experience which I could not have experienced without the help from my host-family. It was expensive, but definitely worth it.

How often can you say that you got to walk around as a Maiko in Kyoto? Not very often! 

The plan I chose cost 13.500yen and an additional 2.500yen for the CD-R which is a total of approx. $160USD. 

I wanted the CD-R because I wanted all pictures the photographer took! (●♡∀♡) I don't really care for the prints, but I want the raw images! But to my biggest surprise when I got home to Tokyo, they had actually forgotten to include the CD-R (╥﹏╥) !!! I wrote them an email and they sent me the CD as well as a handwritten note in Japanese. It's very good manners right? I was just glad they hadn't deleted the files after I left the place, but the handwritten note left me with a good feeling. There is just something about handwritten letters opposed to an email.

That's it! 
If you are going to Kyoto and you're thinking "aaah, should I. Is it worth it?" then I hope you do! It's awesome to try something new. It was my first time wearing my hair like that, kimono like that and definitely make-up like that. I got a glimpse of how it feels to wear the make-up and clothes like a maiko, but I can imagine that there is so much more. 

It's quite mysterious world and to me... it just makes it even more exciting!

What do you think of Geishas? Would you try Maiko-henshin?
I bet some people disapprove of Maiko-henshin, but it comes with pros because it keeps the geisha/maiko somewhat interesting and relevant in today's modern Japan. I think many Japanese girls (and foreign girls) want to try it atleast onece because when will you ever get to try it? 
Being a geisha is not only an occupation, but a lifestyle too. 

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