I have amazing friends, something I’m incredibly grateful for. Three of my good friends from Canada recently came to visit me for 14 days and travel around Japan with me as their tour guide. There are days where I wake up and wonder if it was all just a dream, because it was that amazing; it seems too good to be true. Sadly however, all dreams must come to an end and my friends returned home and I returned to my busy job. The fun we had still brings a smile to my face even as I sit grading the neglected mountain of essays that awaited my return. Visions of cat cafes, shopping in Harajuku, karaoke marathons and Suntory whiskey dance in my head. It was assuredly one of the highlights of my 3 years in Japan.
Reflecting now on our time together, one afternoon in particular was my favourite; the afternoon we underwent the transformation from cute caterpillars to breathtaking butterflies. One of the things I really wanted to experience with my friends was dressing up like a maiko (or as most people in the West would say, geisha). Maiko, meaning “children of the arts” as they prefer to be called, and are the traditional Japanese traditioanl art entertainers in Kyoto.
One of my friends in Fukui had done this when her sister visited and I enviously poured over her photos. I wanted to do it too, very badly! I was far to shy to ever do this alone however, I absolutely needed backup. Cue best friends planning their visit to Japan. I waited with the patience of a cat ready to pounce, and casually suggested the experience and waited with baited breath. After all we are all 25-year old mature adults; long gone are the days we dressed up in our mothers clothes and inexpertly smeared makeup over our faces convinced we were little fashion masters. I was really nervous they wouldn’t want to dress up as maiko with me. Luckily they all agreed! Best decision of the trip!
At first I was a little shy to post these photos, but my friends kept begging to see all the photos so here they are, so enjoy everyone!
The photos with the umbrella were my absolute favourite. The man taking the photos was so professional and had the process down to an art, and even though we spoke different languages somehow everything turned out breathtakingly. I wasn’t allowed to see any photos during the shoot and so when I received a series of pictures at the end of the session I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it was actually me in the photos. I looked so…beautiful (sorry for the vanity everyone)!
Here is a full shot of the kimono I wore that day and holding the traditional package-style purse of maiko in Kyoto. Walking in those shoes was bloody HARD for the record. The photographer and I had quite a few laughs as I attempted to move my body for the poses he directed, nearly dying numerous times in the process. I was the most beautiful “bambi” you can imagine. Eventually I found my balance, mastered the knack of moving in a kimono and got the hang of teetering around in these babies. Tada!
After the shoes came challenge number 2: sitting Japanese style and arranging my body in the traditional Japanese room. I thanked heaven for 2 years of studying tea ceremony because sitting seiza (Japanese style with both legs tucked neatly underneath your body) wasn’t too difficult. The photographer actually mini-applauded me for grace with which I was able to sit down whilst wearing the bulky kimono, what with all of it’s layers and tight obi ensuring I could not lean forward the teensiest iota. For most foreigners this is incredibly difficult, the only way to master this is practice, even Japanese women struggle.
I absolutely loved the particular red kimono that I chose for the day. The company owns about 60 kimonos in various styles, lengths and colours. I wanted to stand out so I chose a very traditional bold red colour. Wasn’t it simply marvellous!? I was really nervous because I’m very tall for Japan (175cm, 5feet 9inches), but they had many kimonos for my height! So if you’re tall like me don’t worry you’ll have a nice selection I promise.
Well there you have it folks! My maiko photos to view at your leisure. My favourite thing was that, at no extra fee, the company also took 2 group photos for us. It strictly speaking wasn’t part of the deal, so I was very grateful they did so. We were also allowed to take as many photos on our own cameras throughout the whole process (including the getting ready makeup part) which was really cool. I’ll be sure to post some of those soon once my friends upload them!
For anyone else hoping to do the same I really recommend Yumekoubou-Maiko Makeover Studio. We went to the one at the base of the Kiyomizudera Temple and had a great experience there.
You can find out more information or to make a online reservation please visit their website here: http://www.yumekoubou.info/english/
Plan: We opted for the Maiko Makeover + Walking Plan, which took about 3 hours, and cost 13,125yen. This plan includes a CD with all of your professionally shot photos. We chose the short walking course which was only about 15 minutes outside total (you walk to a small temple, take some photos and go back) because of the difficulty walking in the geta shoes. Also, the lady staff member with us recommend the short (versus long) walking course because the tourists tend to mob you the second you leave the studio, she was right everywhere we walked people wanted photos.
Other points: The company was very English friendly, not perfect, but easy to understand for people who can’t speak Japanese. The ladies dressing us and doing our makeup were very friendly. The company had a lovely array of kimonos to choose from. Bring a camera of your own as it’s perfectly ok to take your own photos throughout the entire process!
If you’re in Kyoto and looking for an unforgetable experience I hope you can enjoy doing this too! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!