Japan, Travel, Unusual Adventures

Becoming a Geisha

Becoming a Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

While traveling through Japan I had the opportunity to get a “Geisha Makeover”.


This was one of the things at the top of my list. I’m a huge fan of Mulan (I know, I know, that’s China but it was my first exposure to Geisha) and would love to get my makeup done in that way and get all ‘brided-up’.


I did some research and found a boutique called Miaca in Kyoto, Japan. Miaca offers the Geisha and Miako experience. If you’re a dude, you can still opt for these, or the Samurai experience!

What’s the difference between a Geisha and a Maiko?

I admit, I had never heard of ‘Maiko’. I thought there was just Geisha, Geisha and Geisha. Maybe a super Geisha even since we’re in Japan and everything is all fantastical.

I began to do lots of research on Geishas. How does one become a Geisha? What does a Geisha actually do? Are there still Geishas in modern day Japan? The answers were very interesting.

First, Geishas are more a thing of the past. While there are still Geisha houses, the training is much more formal. It involves lots of schooling and many women do not begin to formally practice as Geishas until adulthood. If a woman does choose to become a Geisha, she is normally introduced to clients through a series of private channels. Geisha houses aren’t like regular businesses you can just walk into, you have to know someone.

This is as opposed to in the 600’s/700’s, when girls whose families could not care for them, or were displaced, generally were sold into servitude. These girls were known as “serving girls”. Essentially female entertainers for male patrons. As this industry became more ‘beauty elite focused’, the birth of the Geisha occurred.
Geishas hold many roles. They they served as waiters, entertainers, dancers, conversationalists (if well educated) and sometimes as prostitutes (until it became illegal in the 1900s). However, before one was deemed a full on Geisha, they were known as Maiko – a Geisha in training. Maiko were generally very young (even bonded to the Geisha houses as children) up to their early teen years. In order to be graduated to the term of Geisha, you had to complete your training, then become licensed and classified.

Being a Geisha was more than serving drinks and talking to clients. The training involved learning traditional dances, instruments, tea ceremonies and games.

World War II marked the end of the Geisha era.


During WWII, many of the women went to work in factories while the men served in the war. Many of the pleasure houses also had to close in order to work in the factories and support the huge demand for supplies that a war calls for.

The term “Geisha” also became tarnished during this time, as regular prostitutes would call themselves “geisha girls” to the American soldiers, simply for the appeal.

After the war, Geisha houses were able to reopen, but the name of Geisha was not the same and a generation of Maiko had been lost. So here we are.

Getting Geishafied


The process of getting my Geisha on was a bit of a long one. You arrive at the house and select your package. Price varies on complexity, how many professional photos you want taken, if you want to be able to walk around town or through the garden and if you would like to purchase a CD with digital photo copies. I opted for a rather simple package and 2 photos, which ran me $140.

First, you’re taken to a locker room where you will strip down to your knickers and put on a soft pink, very thin, robe. This robe serves as a liner between your sweaty self and the kimono.

Once your changed, you are forced to use the bathroom. Doesn’t matter if you have to pee or not, you have to try! This cracked me up at first but once I got suited up I would have been screwed if I had to pee.

After your bathroom break, you head upstairs to select your kimono. They have a huge wall of them and TONS to choose from in all sizes. I was very happy with my choice of a green theme Kimono.

Next, it’s off to makeup. Your hair gets put up in a hairnet to keep it off your face. The lady saw my dreads and kind of made a “uuuugnnnghhh” sound. She mumbled pityingly to herself the whole time she was trying to fit my dreads in the net. I suppressed a chuckle.


The makeup process doesn’t take as long as I thought it would. It’s like a Geisha factory up there. 20 minutes of “open your eyes, close your eyes, look up, look down” and my face was pearly Geisha white, along with the back of my neck.

Kimono wrapping

Getting suited up in a Kimono is not a task for the feint of heart. First, there’s about 17 layers involved, including a few pieces of cardboard. The woman tried so hard to flatten my boobs with a gauze like wrapping. I didn’t think it was possible to tame those bitches, but she did!

The whole processes of getting dressed took longer than the makeup. Once you’re suited up in your kimono, you will carefully walk to the next room to get your wig put on. For my attendant, this involved lots of mumbling, grunting and fretting. She managed to sing the song of my dreadlocks and get them to fit into the wig. Boy it was tight though!

Time for pictures!


Once you’re looking proper Geisha, it’s time to go back down the stairs to do photos. I was clinging to the wall all the way down the stairs, why was there no handrail?

The house is laid out with different “scenes” where you can take photos. I ‘performed’ a tea ceremony and then entered the photo studio where they took some professional posed photos.


I then had some time for selfies that I took up against various backdrops and was escorted outside. They were kind enough to take a few photos of me in the garden and then we walked down the street a bit. Those shoes are something else though. I walked so slowly we only went about 5 feet down from the shop LOL!


Satisfied with my photos, I was ready to get this damned thing off. My head started to hurt from the wig being so tight, and I could only take shallow breaths. Seriously, a proper kimono is the Japanese corset.

Getting undressed took about 33 seconds – they just pull one or two strings and everything unravels. Voila! You’re left now with Geisha face and your little pink robe.

In the bathroom is a trough with various sinks where you are directed to take the makeup off. You’re actually not allowed to leave with it on. Not being a huge makeup wearer this process was clumsy for me and took some time. Finally getting back to my normal self,  changed (sweet, sweet tennis shoes) and went downstairs to pick up my photos.

Eating hate for breakfast

Since posting these photos on my Facebook and Instagram (which, BTW, if you want to see even more photos from the experience, they’re there!) I’ve gotten a bit of that sweet ol’ internet hate. People telling me it’s cultural appropriation and how horrible of a person I am.

You know what, they’re right. I’m not Japanese and I’m impersonating something esteemed and particular to their culture. However, I also think these people are haters and don’t know me one fucking bit. They can suck my [insert].

I’ve used my experience here to hopefully educate you about the history of Geisha, demonstrating some respect. My intent is not to step on the image of Geisha or tarnish it. I’m not belittling the Geisha culture. I’m hoping to uplift it, share it with you, and yes, enjoy it myself a bit. I especially have a lot more respect now for the women I see wearing Kimonos!

Would you want to get made up as a Geisha if you had the chance? Did you learn something new about Geishas in this post?

xoxo <3 

 

9 Comments

  • Reply

    Amber

    July 18, 2016

    I think it’s neat and it’s part of history. Looks like you had fun!

    • Reply

      Zoom

      July 24, 2016

      Thanks for the kind words Amber! It was a once in a lifetime experience I’m so glad I got to have 🙂

  • Reply

    fionatatefreelance

    July 19, 2016

    Great post! I have a Japanese friend I’ll show it to, I’m sure she’ll enjoy it

    • Reply

      Zoom

      July 19, 2016

      Yeehaw! Thanks so much – I hope she does!!

  • Reply

    Candis Barbosa

    July 19, 2016

    That’s an amazing experience! Their kimonos are absolutely beautiful! 🙂

    • Reply

      Zoom

      July 19, 2016

      I felt very queen-esque while wearing one!

  • Reply

    Evelynn Moon

    July 22, 2016

    I think that’s so cool! I would totally try something like this, it’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences for sure…don’t let anyone rain on your parade.

    • Reply

      Zoom

      July 23, 2016

      Aw thanks for the support Evelynn! My thoughts exactly…and when it comes to having money to spend when I get home or doing this…I think the choice is pretty obvious 😉

  • Reply

    Lauren

    July 28, 2016

    This looks like it was great fun, and yes – the haters can fuck right off! You did this with respect, for your own experience, not to profit from it in any way other than to gain understanding of this part of their culture. All good from my perspective 🙂 Althought I will admit, there’s something distinctly un-Amberly about that tiny, closed-mouth Geisha smile – it does not do your spirit justice!!

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