My Maiko Experience
AYA studio, Kyoto
I signed up for my friends and I to experience being a Maiko (apprentice geisha) for 3-4 hours in Kyoto, Japan. Our appointment was for 15:00. We reached 20 minutes late, but we were able to call ahead of time to let them know. They seemed so understanding for the mere fact that prior to arriving, I wasn’t sure I could make it since I also had different last-minute presentations that popped up. So prior to our appointment date, I had canceled the whole thing, then re-booked it for 2 (because my friends said that they would still be able to go without me), then I re-booked it for 3 (because I finally got my presentation dates confirmed). So long story short, the ladies at the Geisha makeover place had LOTS of patience with us. Finally, we arrived, and I was as excited as ever to go along with it, at this point, one of my friends canceled so it ended up being just 2 of us that got to dress as Maikos.
We picked Maiko because of all the decorations and the lovely kimono choices.
Once we arrived, we filled out a form, then chose our plan. I picked the one where you get to walk outside afterwards. I regretted it later on because by the time they were done with my makeup, it was getting pretty dark outside so I didn’t get too far. 🙁 Regardless, it was a once in a lifetime experience that I was so excited to take part in. It was even funner because I am black, so a black geisha? Huh? Yes! It’s possible! People on the streets were like “Oooh a real geisha, then they saw my arms and neck and they said “Oh”. Haha, Still, many wanted to take pictures with me. I guess they said to themselves, why not!
My whole experience cost about ¥14,000 and this included walking outside of their building. You can choose cheaper options where you can just stay in the courtyard area and take pictures or just take in-studio pictures. If you’re choosing their 15:00 booking time, come prepared with a camera flash in the event you want to take outside pictures. The sun tends to set at about 17:00-17:30 in fall and winter. I think I missed the daylight because of us being 20 minutes late and the fact that the staff was waiting for both my friend and I to be done with the whole process so that they can take group pictures and then release me to go outside. So if you’re lucky and there are no hiccups, you would be able to get some lovely sunset pictures if you choose the 15:00 booking time.
So for the process. We arrived there and were seated into a waiting room while we confirmed which plan we wanted to go with. There was a form to fill out as well. Then, once confirmed, we carried our belongings in the changing room and removed all of our clothing. There was a locker with a key for our stuff. There were two very narrow but functioning bathrooms. TIP-Use them before getting dressed. Once clothes were off, we wore a white inner robe and the tabi socks. Then made our way to the hair and makeup room.
The makeup artist used wipes on my face to clean it. Then put oil, which felt awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever had a face massage quite like this before. Following this, she placed some type of wax which mattified my face. Then she proceeded with a white liquid foundation on my face and neck. Then, she placed a white powder (which felt like baby powder) on top of it. Finally, she asked me which style of makeup I wanted (one of the options were cute, but I forgot the other one, I chose the one that I forgot, haha). She painted the white paint over my brows and lips, and at this point, for the makeup, she was drawing the eyebrows, the lips, did some eyeliner work as well as some blush. And voilà! Finished.
The next step was the hair. If my hair was the same texture as the wig, they would have placed a half-wig with portions of my hair left out in the front, but since it didn’t blend at all, we used a full wig. The inside of the wig felt like a helmet, it was super heavy. But the look came together quite well. The final step was to dress up.
I went upstairs and chose the color of kimono and obi that I wanted. Then they showed me the hair pieces, and I chose the one befitting of the season (autumn). After this, I went into the studio to take a couple of pictures. They showed me a book with a number of poses and I got to choose the ones that I wanted (I think we could choose 4 poses). At the end of the photo session, the photographer asked my friends and I to pose together for a group shot. She even took shots with my camera. So that was very much appreciated.
Finally, my friend and I were allowed 10 mins in the studio to take random pictures with our cameras, then they released me to go out and explore in my Maiko attire.
At the end of the experience, I went into the hair and makeup room where they removed my wig and kimono. Then, I went into the changing room where I used wipes dipped in oil to remove the makeup, then washed my face with a white foam. Foam face washes are very popular in Japan. Finally I removed the white underwear they gave me as well as the tabi socks and placed them into the relevant baskets (they are labeled).
I went into the reception/waiting room and there, we received our studio pictures and paid the fees.
The whole process was about 3-3.5 hours. So by the time we left there, it was almost 19:00.
It was an awesome experience.
Would I do it again? Yes, but this time with my husband and daughter and at a much earlier time, it would be totally fun to do it as a family. They can dress up children, so this should be interesting! Yay!
Do I think the price is too high?
No way, you are paying to experience a culture. Geishas and Maikos will always be very symbolic of Japanese culture and I highly respect the work they go through as well as their training. They’re artists in their own rights.
Did I like AYA studio, Kyoto?
I did. They were professional and they tried to make this experience fun for us, although I didn’t need much help. I was so excited. ( •́ .̫ •̀, ). They were very patient and while doing the makeup, the artist was talking to me about her life and asking me about mine. It was done very tastefully, and not in a nosy kind of way. As most Japanese, they were very respectful and I couldn’t thank them enough for their wonderful service. I also couldn’t apologize enough for some of the misunderstandings.