Be a Geisha for a Day in Kyoto

March 4, 2013 by

Things to Do, Unforgettable Experiences

Two geisha in Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Marc Veraart via Flickr.

Two geisha in Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Marc Veraart via Flickr.

As you walk around Kyoto you are bound to pass many Maiko (apprentice geisha) dressed in elaborate and colorful kimonos and tottering around on their okobo (wooden clogs). If you love dressing up or are interested in the experiencing Geisha culture process required to transform someone into an authentic looking Maiko, then dress up as a Maiko and be a geisha for a day in Kyoto!

There are many studios in Kyoto that offer Maiko makeover plans, a photo session and the chance to walk around the city dressed in your full garb. While western-looking women are rarely going to be able to pass themselves off as a genuine Maiko, it is part of the experience to be the center of attention, whether you look like the real deal or not!

Stunning kimonos, distinctive make-up, elaborate hairstyles and accessories are essential elements of every Maiko’s look. Here’s a guide as to what to expect if you decide to play Maiko for a day.


Make-up is applied to an exact formula and applying it is a meditative and time-consuming process. First, a wax or oil based substance is applied to the skin on the face, neck and chest. White powder is then mixed with water and applied with a bamboo brush starting from the neck and working upwards.

The white makeup is deliberately applied to form a W or V shape at the back of the neck to accentuate the upper back (traditionally seen as an erotic area) and a line of bare skin is left around the hairline, which creates the illusion of a mask.

The foundation is then blended and the eyes and eyebrows drawn on with black and red eyeliner. Traditionally, Maiko plucked their eyebrows and used charcoal to create fake eyebrows and also to accentuate their eyes. The final touch is the carefully applied red lipstick in a distinctive ‘rosebud’ shape.

Wig & Costume

After makeup you’ll be fitted with a wig and dressed in an elaborate kimono of your choosing. An Obi (a large sash) is then tied in the traditional manner before slipping on the surprisingly high clogs!

The whole process takes roughly 1.5 hours and is a fascinating insight into the world of a Maiko – one that has barely changed in centuries.

- Emma McMahon

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