Blue Birds Adventures

The Slow Travel Experience

My Geisha Makeover in Kyoto

Stepping into the enchanting world of Kyoto, Japan’s cultural heart, I found myself captivated by the allure of geishas. Their elegant grace, elaborate kimonos, and enigmatic beauty seemed like a portal to a bygone era. Eager to immerse myself in this rich tradition, I embarked on a transformative journey—a full geisha makeover.

Geishas, or geikos as they are known in Kyoto, are highly skilled performers who captivate with their artistry and refined demeanor. Rooted in Japanese culture for centuries, geishas are the epitome of grace and sophistication. Contrary to popular misconceptions, they are not courtesans but rather entertainers trained in traditional arts such as dance, music, and conversation.

Immersing myself in the world of geishas, I sought out a reputable studio in Kyoto that offered authentic geisha makeovers. Guided by skilled professionals, the transformation began.

The Difference Between Maiko and Geiko

Within the world of geishas, there exists a distinction between maiko and geiko. Maikos are apprentice geishas, while geikos are fully-fledged, accomplished geishas. This journey from maiko to geiko is a transformative process that takes several years of dedicated training and mentorship.

Maiko: The Blossoming Apprentices

Maikos are young women who undergo an intensive training period, usually starting in their teenage years. Recognizable by their vibrant and elaborate kimonos adorned with long, hanging sleeves, known as “furisode,” maikos are a symbol of youthful exuberance and blossoming talent. They are easily spotted in Kyoto’s Gion district, where they walk gracefully in wooden sandals, known as “geta,” and wear distinctive hairstyles adorned with vibrant floral hairpieces.

Geiko: The Accomplished Artists

Geikos (geishas), on the other hand, are fully matured geishas who have completed their apprenticeship and achieved a level of mastery in their art forms. Geikos often wear more subdued and refined kimonos compared to maikos, reflecting their status as established practitioners of the geisha arts. Their hairstyles are more subdued as well, with simpler hair ornaments that exude elegance and sophistication.

The Art of the Geisha Makeover:

Next came the mesmerizing art of geisha makeup. The delicate application of white powder, meticulously highlighting specific facial features, created an otherworldly complexion. The eyes were adorned with captivating shades and accentuated with elegant lines, while the lips were painted an alluring shade of red. Each stroke of the brush was a brushstroke of tradition and cultural heritage.

In the world of maikos, the color red holds a significant role, both in their makeup and attire. The vivid red lips and eye makeup are not mere cosmetic choices but carry deep cultural symbolism. The application of red makeup serves to accentuate the youthful vibrancy and vitality of the maiko, symbolizing their energy and the passion they bring to their performances.

The significance of colour red

The vibrant red lips draw attention to the maiko’s mouth, enhancing their ability to captivate and engage with guests through their conversations and storytelling. The boldness of the red color acts as a visual cue, inviting interaction and creating a sense of allure and intrigue.

Similarly, the red around the eyes, is a distinctive feature of maiko makeup. It traces back to the historical practice of blackening the teeth, which was once prevalent among noble women in Japan. The red around the eyes was used to create contrast and make the white face appear even more striking.

The uncovered neck of a maiko is another important aspect of their appearance. The neck, left bare without makeup, symbolizes both youth and vulnerability. It is a visual representation of the maiko’s transitional stage, as they progress from adolescence to maturity. The exposed neck also accentuates the graceful movements of the maiko, drawing attention to their delicate gestures and the elegance with which they carry themselves.

Why is the Face and Neck White?

The white face, known as “oshiroi,” is a quintessential element of geisha and maiko makeup. The application of white powder, traditionally made from rice flour, serves multiple purposes.

Firstly, the white face enhances the perception of beauty and purity. It evokes the image of a porcelain doll, conveying an otherworldly, ethereal quality. The flawless complexion achieved through white makeup symbolizes the geisha’s detachment from the mundane world, creating an aura of mystery and enchantment.

Secondly, the white face acts as a canvas for the other colours in the makeup. By providing a neutral base, it allows the vibrant red lips and eyes to stand out. This contrast emphasizes the maiko’s expressions, drawing attention to their emotions and the nuances of their performances.

Lastly, the white face holds historical significance. It harkens back to the practice of applying lead-based makeup, which was believed to have a skin-whitening effect. While modern geishas and maikos use safer alternatives, the tradition of a pale complexion remains an integral part of their identity.

No geisha transformation is complete without the iconic hairstyle. Skilled hands deftly worked their magic, weaving my hair into an elaborate masterpiece adorned with exquisite hairpins and accessories. The intricate hairstyle, known as “shimada,” was a testament to the dedication and attention to detail that geishas invest in their appearance.

Finally, I was dressed in layers of exquisite silk, meticulously folded and secured into a traditional kimono. The vibrant colours and intricate patterns brought the garment to life.

Unforgettable journey

My maiko makeover in Kyoto was an unforgettable journey into the heart of tradition. Through the meticulous artistry of kimono, makeup, and hairstyle, I gained a newfound admiration for the geisha’s dedication to their craft. It was a privilege to embrace their world, even if only for a short time, and to carry a piece of their grace and elegance with me as I continued my travels. Kyoto’s geishas are a living testament to the beauty of tradition, and I am grateful to have experienced their captivating allure firsthand.

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