Dressing up as a Geisha is becoming increasingly popular these days. Staff perform a complete transformation on the guest using meticulous make-up techniques, hair styling methods, and ornate kimonos. Girls may then walk the surrounding neighborhood as they soak up the authenticity of this respected custom, or take professional-grade photos in and around traditional Japanese architecture. Some studios are taking bookings months in advance, although you likely will have to pay in cash on the day. The most popular and well known place for getting made over is in Kyoto, although there are lesser known studios in Tokyo and other cities.
A little known fact, the proper term for “Geisha” is actually Geiko, and Maiko is an apprentice Geiko. Geiko and Maiko are traditional performers whose job it is to add zest to a dinner by singing, dancing, and playing the shamisen. They are also a symbol of traditional Japanese culture. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, and is home to thousands of Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines, the perfect setting for Geiko photo shoots!
The purpose getting turned into a Geiko for the day is to experience a small part of the vanishing culture of Japan. There used to be over 80,000 Geiko in Japan in the early part of the 20th century; today there are estimated to be less than 2,000.
The other purpose of this adventure, of course, is to have fun and get dressed up. Prices for this kind of makeover range anywhere from $80 to $600, depending on where you go and what style you choose. A lot of studios offer packages that include things like the choice of minimal makeup and accessories, all the way to fully done up; the option for traditional versus sexy Geisha; couple shots (men to be dressed in traditional male garb); professional photos on disc; 1 hour walks through town; and some free photo time to take your own happy snaps.
The experience may not be 100% authentic, if that is what you’re after. There may be differences in head pieces and kimonos used, such as using seasonal hair clips in the wrong season. However, the overall affect will not be spoiled.
Reviews say it’s best to get a package that allows you to walk outside, and be prepared to be stared at like never before! Check sizes before you go, as kimonos are best made for people under 170cm in height (I myself will be showing my ankles).
Here are a few places in Kyoto to get “maiko-overed” (sorry, I’ve always been terrible at puns). In my opinion, Maica, the first on the following list, offers the most reasonably priced and inclusive packages.