Becoming Geishas: A Japanese Makeover
“No giggling allowed!” I said to Rebecca and Marie, head turned away to hide my own smirk. “We need the right attitude to pull this off.” Shuffling our feet an inch at a time, we painstakingly made our way towards the shrine looming at the end of the cobblestone street, less than a quarter of a mile away. The wooden platform of the Japanese geta on our feet was only three inches high, although it felt more like a foot.
The sloped front of these so-called shoes made it a challenge to keep our balance and keep from tumbling off them and onto the uneven pavement. Dressed as geishas and laden down with the heavy layers of a formal kimono, that would not have been a pretty sight. The short trek to the shrine was going to take longer than expected.
Gion, popular for its abundance of shops, teahouses, and exclusive restaurants is also Kyoto’s famous geisha district. It’s where tourists gather in wait, hoping to catch an elusive glimpse of a geisha or a maiko, a geisha in training. Contrary to disreputable stereotype, a geisha is a professional Japanese entertainer who is carefully trained in traditional arts, dance, music, and communication, and acts as a hostess at special events – a 300-year old Japanese tradition.
There are several layers involved in getting dressed by the attendants, the last being a cord and the obi (sash) which is wrapped as tight as a corset. Can you say H-E-A-V-Y?
Gion offers a unique experience. Although it is not highly publicized – a three-hour makeover in which you are transformed into a maiko. Unlike the actual hard work involved in a real apprenticeship, the makeover experience allows you a brief experience as a geisha wannabe for a few incredible hours.
We arrived at the Maiko Café in mid-afternoon and were served green tea while the process was explained. There were three Japanese women attending to the three of us. Including one very young apprentice maiko. Their English was limited, but we had a photographer/translator with us so communication was not a problem. It’s really quite remarkable how universal some actions and expressions are! We found these three ladies to be really hospitable and happy to join our giggling as the session progressed.
The goal is ultimate beauty, in an ancient, ethereal sort of way.
After removing our western clothing and donning slip-like garments that looked more like cheerleading outfits, the white foundation masque was applied to face, neck, shoulders, and back. The potion begins as a watery substance. But rapidly transforms into a chalky consistency.
The goal is ultimate beauty, in an ancient, ethereal sort of way. Red eye shadow is painted on the outer eyelids. Eyebrows are penciled in. A cherry-red lip stain is applied. Not in the small, bow-like Chinese style. But in a line that is distinctly thinner than your actual lip lines. That surprised me!
After getting my long blond locks stuffed inside a heavy black wig with kanzashi (bling and flowers), I was permitted to choose a kimono. I choose it from a closet packed with dozens of garments in a myriad colors and patterns. I ended up choosing an attractive reddish-orange. There are several layers involved in getting dressed by the attendant. The last being a cord and the obi (sash) which is wrapped as tight as a corset. Can you say H-E-A-V-Y?
I may have been blond under the wig, but I still insist that I nailed the geisha attitude best.
If it’s possible to have too much fun, we may have been guilty, striking overly-dramatic poses while our photographer snapped photo after photo.
Once outside, however, I insisted we walk “in character.” We turned our share of heads as we strutted and hobbled along the street to the shrine, especially Marie, born in Cambodia, who really looked authentic. I may have been blond under the wig, but I still insist that I nailed the geisha attitude best. The more people stared at us, the more geisha-like I became. I’m a bit of a drama-queen that way.
We opted for the most expensive plan, which was around $150 for three hours and included the makeup, kimono, embroidered collar, obi, geta, wig, professional photo, parasol walk to the shrine, and then makeup removal. They also allowed us to take as many photos with our own cameras as we liked. I highly recommend going all-out for this girls getaway. It was the highlight of our entire trip to Japan!
Becoming Geishas: A Japanese Makeover
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Becoming Geishas: A Japanese Makeover photo credits: Patti Morrow