Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kyoto: Memoirs of 2 Geishas

On our second day in Kyoto, Ki Ki and I decided we'd like to experience what it's like to be a Geisha firsthand. We booked a Maiko (which literally means apprentice Geisha) makeover at Yumkoudou, which is essentially a place where you are dressed as a Maiko in full make up and kimono, and then you have photos taken.With the help of the concierge at our hotel, we booked an appointment. Yumekoudou is located in the Gion district (the Geisha area - think 'Memoirs of a Geisha'), and our concierge gave us loose directions on how to find the shop (Japan can be like that - unless you have someone who knows where something is located exactly, you generally get pointed in the right direction, and then you have to wander around for a while looking for a sign). So off we went, not really knowing where we were going or what might happen.
We wandered around, asking a few locals the location - and everyone kept pointing us towards the same direction. Eventually we found the street we thought it was on, but we could see a sign or anything remotely related, aside from a Geisha shoe shop where the old man who worked there had no idea. Eventually a young chap in a cafe literally lead us by the hand to the street behind the one we were on, where we found the sign for Yumekoudou.
Inside the traditional street frontage, we found ourselves in a traditional paper and wood walls. We rang the door bell, and were ushered inside, and son discovered no one spoke English (from then on we knew this was going to be a fun day!). After a lot of gesturing and a conversation in broken English over the phone, we were ready for our Maiko experience. Here's our before photos:
First, we were asked to use the bathroom. We soon found out this was because once you're wrapped up in a kimono, there's really no easy way out if you need to pee (which made me wonder how the heck someone can stay dressed like that all day long!).

Next, we were shown into a change room where we were given white wrap dresses and sock-shoes with separated toes to wear during the makeover. We were asked to take off all our jewelry - but Ki Ki's piercings couldn't come out! They said that was OK though. And they were quite taken with my tattoos which were mostly covered by the kimono in the end.
Then we were taken upstairs to the dressing room. We were asked to choose a kimono - they had so many colours! Ki Ki chose her fav - purple - and I chose a colourful blue one. They carefully laid the kimonos out ready to dress us after our makeup was done.
We were seated in front of mirrors where makeup was applied. A sock was placed over our heads to keep our hair back. Layers of white and pink cake makeup were applied to our faces and and low onto our necks. Then read eye shadow, black eyeliner and mascara was applied to our eyes. And finally, red paint was applied to our lips. We looked whiter than Casper at this point.
Then we went back to the dressing area. Kimonos are made of several different pieces that layer over the top of each other. Different layers of kimono were draped and fastened with fabric ropes over each of us. Ki Ki looked lovely, but I instantly looked like fat Geisha - mostly because big boobs do not equal svelt Geisha figure.

The last part of the transformation was a headpiece. The headpieces they use are the complete package - hair & accessories.
Finally we were ready to have our photos taken. With the full get up, it was hard to recognise myself at all! We were taken into the photographic studio, where they had various sets that were dressed in traditional Japanese style. Ki Ki went first. I think she looked so beautiful, like a real Geisha.
I, on the other hand, was not only fat Geisha - I was round eye Geisha. My big blue peepers really don't help the overall look!
After our photos, we mucked around and took silly photos while we waited to be undressed. We played Geisha monsters and dropped a bunch of scissors and peace outs!
It was amazing to experience how complicated Maiko dressing is. All the layers are so heavy, it would be so difficult to dress like that everyday. But the end result is so beautiful - all the amazing fabrics and colours. And I suppose once upon a time Geishas had a sort of celebrity status - I have to admit it was quite glamorous to have someone dress and make you up that way. I wish I had someone to dress me everyday!
Undressing and cleaning off the makeup takes quite a bit off effort. Once all the layers were off, we both looked like lunatics who'd escaped the asylum. Of course this gave us perfect photo opportunities!
The whole experience reminded me how much fun it is to dress up. It was an amazing experience and the photos we have as a memento are really special. Go Kim Chi power!

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