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Goin’ Japanesque!

Almost 40 Pounds!? Dressing up as Geisha per Tradition in Kyoto, Japan

The very first time I came across a maiko, I knew not what she was. Then I read and read and read and…finally last summer in Kyoto, I almost became one.

Then In a narrow alley in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, there lies Yumeyakata. A studio where the present wears the past and curious people may wear silken kimono, waxed wigs and above all, elegance. There, you can uniquely become a geisha. 

Yumeyakata has professional staff to make over Japanese and foreign people: guests line up and select the look of an elegant formal geisha or her carefree apprentice, the maiko. My boyfriend was a bit skeptical about this but my enthusiasm for everything that is traditional overwhelmed him. I was about to meet a former geisha, Ms. Mamoru, as I requested upon booking. We were ushered into two separate rooms and my long make-up session began.

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Original geisha used to wear lead-powder based foundation that caused skin diseases; but nowadays they use safe mixture of talcum powder and water, which was applied cold on the face and the neck.

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The nape was partly tinted in a characteristic fork-shaped image reminding of the alluring skin underneath.

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A thick layer of nut-based dye would be placed near the eye and on the upper lip for a dramatic result. Geisha were like works-of-art enthused with dancing and music skills; their face a canvas of the uttermost beauty. My modern make-up was an expert mix of eye-shadows, blush and mascara and I did look different and classy.

Another member of the staff was unrolling layers of vests and cotton bands while Ms Mamoru was telling me of the customs she had to comply with when she was in the profession. She loved being a part of the show. She loved the thrill that she felt entering a room, anticipating all eyes of waiting guests would land on her. She did not mind the long training and hours of lesson. She was happy in the profession and now she has found a way to stay close to the world she had contributed to preserve.

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The kimono I chose was heavy but not as heavy as those used in the past- sometimes nearly 20 kilos! My curly hair was tightly wrapped in a hair band then a wig was placed on top. A silk-made hair ornament was pinned on one side. To be a geisha it takes more than meets the eyes but the result was stunning. I held a dancing fan and almost tip-toed to the other room where my boyfriend, now a tall and handsome Japanese lord, was waiting for me.

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Our picture says it all but if you wonder why I decided to dress up like a geisha, I admit it was not just for the fun or the curiosity of it. Not only. I got to wear a genuine kimono and met a page of history.

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Ms. Mamoru was open and willing to disclose the formalities of her former job. I was not interested in morbid secrets: I wanted to know whether women were happy to be considered as the living heritage of their country. I do believe some of them really were.

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Writer’s Photo

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