Kyoto is the Japan you imagine in your dreams- old-style houses with tatami mats, narrow cobbled streets lined with cherry-blossoms, and geishas slipping from one appointment to the next.
Always fascinated in Japanese culture, I have read a lot of books about the mysterious geisha (or geiko as they are called in Kyoto), the famed Memoirs of a Geisha (a work of fiction) and another called Geisha by Liza Dalby, an account of an American woman who worked and lived alongside geishas in the 70's.
Something about the painted faces, their elegance, and the elaborately beautiful kimonos has always gotten me...and so when I went to Japan I wanted in! (Or as in as uncoordinated chubby Australian is ever going to get!)
|Signage in front of Maiko. Not a word of English, but easily worked through|
My trusty Lonely Planet guide recommended a company called Maica, who specialise in the geiko and maiko makeover experience. A maiko is an apprentice geisha, which many non-Japanese get mixed up. The image of the geiko in bright kimono with flowers in her hair is stunning, but is more likely to be a maiko. Geiko tend to have a more subdued appearance, with muted colours and less adornments.
|Maica is quite easy to spot, despite not having a street number|
I did a little bit of a double take when there was only an intercom to communicate- when I pressed the button a Japanese sing-song voice spoke a mile a minute whilst I stood there looking baffled. Luckily, the lady of the house heard my pathetic little "Hello?" took pity on me, and collected me from the front door.
The lovely woman (I wish her name, but it was very difficult to find out with no common language!) was very warm and welcoming, and made it clear what she needed from me with her pointing and hand gestures. The whole process was very smooth.
|Sexy cotton robe I was to wear over my undergrunds|
The first step was makeup. The woman led me into the very narrow, creaky old building with three stories of winding stairs (with no handrails). Even the steps were super narrow, and I felt like a giant bull in a china shop, lol.
The white makeup basewas very, very thick. It was thicker than the pancake I recognise from dancing, and the Kroyolan I have at home for costume parties. I had moisturiser on but I could just tell that this was going to be a tough job to get off my face! The makeup itself was very oily, and reminded me of the oil paintings I paint on canvas at home.
I found it interesting that there was only a tiny touch of red on my top lip- most of my top lip was went over with the white base, and then the bottom was highlighted.
|Ironically the pink eyebrows matched my hair for the first time ever|
Have you ever been on school camp and when it came to pack up time, became frustrated that your sleeping bag was not fitting in its case, so you stuff it in haphazardly?
Yeah. I was the sleeping bag being stuffed into a kimono. Stuffed in by tiny Japanese women, the heaviest of which probably weighed 50kg. (When wet.)
There were 3 (!) women grabbing here, grabbing there, one holding an obi (Japanese sash) tie, one with her hand inside my cotton robe pressing down on my boobs to keep them flat, and another behind trying to secure it all in.
It wasn't so much that I was too fat for the kimono (they are kind of a free size situation) it was just that there are so many layers, things to tie, and bits to keep hidden under the final kimono layer.
In the end the kimono was very tight and the lady kept asking me if I was ok. I think she thought I was going to faint or something, but all I could think of was 'This is nothing compared to the first time I wore Spanx!'
I will also mention that if you have a chubby round face, and a double (or triple?) chin you are trying to draw attention from, a slicked back hairdo and white face paint is not going to do you any favours, lol.
A maiko emerges from the dressing experience
My hair was combed over what they call a semi-wig. The semi-wig was exceptionally heavy and I felt like I couldnt move my head too quickly or I would lose the whole lot. Did you ever try to balance books on your head as a kid? It felt like that.
Instead of just having hair on the semi-wig there were like 3 waxy blocks covered in hair, that they then took my hair and brushed into it before securing the whole 'do with some pins and flower clips.
I kinda like how my pink hair matches me outfit! All of the photos of Japanese women getting the makeover have the black hair that matches- im not sure what they would do if I was a blonde. Maybe they would then offer the full wig? (I spied one in the shelf where they had my wig, but it didnt look nearly as good as the semi-wigs.)
|Mock tea ceremony|
I thought it was really helpful that the team at Maica let you take photos with your own camera. Because I was all on my lonesome, they even acted as a photographer for me, which I thought was really kind!
There are all kind of mock traditional setups inside the building for posing. I felt very silly, but how often am I going to be dressed as a maiko in Kyoto?!
My new photography assistant even took me outside, to get authentic photos in Gion. Gion is the tradional Geiko quarters in Kyoto, and much of the old architecture remains. I truly felt like a real geiko hobbling around those streets.
Oh yes, hobbling. Ever worn camel socks, and balanced on wooden clogs that have an exceptionally small base but a very high platform? Oh, and they were about an Australian size 5 (if even that.) My shoe size is normally 8.5.
|The photographer kept making odd movements indicating for me to look in the distance, tilt my head etc. Most of these photos I just look kind of confused, lol.|
'Pretty! Pretty! Gaijin Green eye geiko!' (Gaijin means non-Japanese or foreigner.)
She then giggled and ran away!