As the former Imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto encapsulates upwards of a thousand years of rich Japanese tradition and history. A walk around this cultural city reveals thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, immaculate gardens, and of course, the Japanese geisha and maiko of the most famous Kyoto geisha district, Gion. When the Aya Maiko Makeover Studio invited us out to their shop in the Kyoto geisha district to have our own maiko Kyoto makeover (and a samurai costume henshin makeover for men), we jumped at the opportunity to undergo this educational Kyoto travel experience!
- 1 Japanese Geisha and Maiko Kyoto Makeover Experience
- 2 What are Maiko, Geisha, and Geiko?
- 3 Kyoto Maiko Makeover Experience
- 4 Japanese Geisha Makeup Process
- 5 Samurai Costume Experience
- 6 Photoshoot with AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
- 7 A Perfect Couples Travel Activity
- 8 Ideal for Family Travel
- 9 Making a Reservation with AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
- 10 Add-ons at AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
- 11 How to Get to AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
- 12 Like this post?
- 13 You Might Also Appreciate…
- 14 What Japanese henshin experience do you find most intriguing?
Japanese Geisha and Maiko Kyoto Makeover Experience
The Kyoto geisha of Gion have captured the hearts of Western tourists and Japanese natives alike—those enamored by the tradition of grace, elaborate Japanese geisha makeup, and masterfully crafted maiko and geisha kimono that continues to be carried on by the modern geisha of Gion. Deep respect for these beautiful Kyoto geisha and maiko has inspired some Kyoto locals to offer authentic Japanese geisha and maiko henshin (transforming) experiences to those wishing to learn firsthand the exquisite art and grace of the Japanese geisha makeup. Of all the services available, the Aya Maiko Makeover Studio is unmatched in its attention to detail, authenticity, and tradition.
Looking for the best Kyoto hotels? Make sure to check out our hotel review of the Four Seasons Kyoto!
The Aya Maiko Kyoto experience offers both maiko and geisha makeovers, in addition to samurai cosume dress up experiences for the men. The Japanese geisha makeup experience is both an art form and an educational experience, and the experts at Aya Maiko Kyoto also offer professional photoshoots to forever capture your Japanese geisha, maiko, or samurai transformation!
What are Maiko, Geisha, and Geiko?
We all recognize images of Japanese geisha, but who exactly are geisha? Hopefully, a visit to this Japanese geisha or maiko Kyoto experience is guided by a respect for Japanese traditional culture, and not merely a tourist geisha makeup or samurai costume outing! We were vary wary about taking too much liberty into the realm of cultural appropriation, and instead treated the Japanese geisha makeup and samurai costume experience as an opportunity to learn about this revered element of Japanese traditional culture, outside of Hollywood movies.
Geisha translates literally as “person of the arts.” Geisha, maiko, and geiko are all titles that are given to women who are highly skilled in traditional Japanese entertainment arts. It takes at least 6 year’s training under a geisha mother (okasan) in traditional dance, music, games, singing, and even conversation skills to become a geisha. Traditionally, geisha were hired by men to provide entertainment at parties and banquets, though today women and families also hire them.
Maiko are trainee Japanese geisha between the ages of 15-20, with an average training length of 5 years.
Geiko is the term for geisha in Kyoto dialect.
Planning a Japan trip? You’ll also love taking a sushi making class in Japan!
Kyoto Maiko Makeover Experience
The geisha Kyoto experience from Aya Maiko Makeover Studio in Kyoto offers visitors to Japan the experience of a lifetime to get a makeover in full Japanese geisha makeup. At their studio in the heart of Kyoto’s historic and beautiful Gion district, AYA Maiko provides everything you need to be transformed into a maiko or geisha, from the geisha girl makeup to the beautiful geisha costume.
Japanese Geisha Makeup Process
After entering the studio, removing your shoes, and choosing your traditional kimono from AYA’s beautiful and vast selection, the whole process takes about an hour and a half to finish. Here’s what to expect from the maiko or geisha make up process! Make sure to watch the video at the top of this post to see the entire geisha make up process from beginning to end.
- First, your face, neck, and shoulders are washed.
- Bintsuke-abura (beeswax) is applied to the cleaned skin.
- White foundation is painted onto your skin over the beeswax to help the mixture stick.
- The nape of the neck is left bare, known as eri-ashi (collar legs) to draw attention to what is considered the most sensual part of the body.
- Foundation is applied to the front of the body with a brush.
- A rim of bare skin will be left around your hairline to give the illusion of a mask.
- Pink powder is applied around the forehead and eyes.
- Eyebrows may be plucked before adding crimson and charcoal colored cosmetics to the eyes to create a dramatic look.
- Your lips will be painted red in various styles.
- Your hair is pinned over the top of the wig and sprayed black to match it.
Samurai Costume Experience
Men can choose the Samurai Course to wear a samurai costume composed of male kimono and a katana (samurai sword). This includes a free 10 minute outside walking option as well.
For the samurai costume experience, the dressing process is much more straightforward than the geisha makeup process. Men will first choose their kimono and sash, and will then be escorted a room to get dressed in the provided undergarments. After dressing in the kimono and sash with help from the AYA Maiko Makeover Studio staff, men will select their poses for photographs. You’ll get your sword to complete your samurai costume, and VOILA! You’ve become a samurai!
You’ll love checking out one of Arigato Japan’s Food Tours after your makeover experience!
Photoshoot with AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
Each package at AYA Maiko Makeover Studio includes a photoshoot in addition to your Japanese geisha makeup or samurai costume, where you can select your favorite shots to be printed out for you to keep.
You can choose the Studio Course to be photographed inside AYA’s beautiful 100 year-old traditional machiya townhouse, which was a performance venue for real geisha and maiko in the past. Or, choose the Courtyard Course to be photographed in the beautiful courtyard interior garden at AYA’s studio. The Walking Course features a 60 minute walk and photo shoot to some of Kyoto’s beautiful traditional architecture in the Gion quarter.
For those looking for extra shots to capture your geisha makeup or samurai costume, the AYA Luxurious Course provides 1 studio shot and 1 courtyard shot, as well as 4 outside location shots, a 30 minute walk through Gion, and a CD with all photos. The AYA Ultimate Course includes everything that the Luxurious Course offers but doubles the amount ( 2 studio/courtyard shots, 8 outside shots). Whew!
A Perfect Couples Travel Activity
AYA’S Couples Course makes your geisha makeup or samurai costume experience perfect for couples travel! In this hetero couples course (to avoid being exclusionary), women get the maiko or geisha makeup and costume makeover while men wear a male kimono in full samurai costume style. This couples course provides 2 studio shots with the woman only, and 2 studio shots of the couple together. You’ll also receive 6 large-sized portrait printouts, as well as a CD with all photos.
Think you’d love to rent kimono or yukata without the full geisha transformation?
Check out our guide to renting kimono in Kyoto!
Ideal for Family Travel
AYA also provides a Family Course ideal for traveling with kids! The family course provides 2 studio shots for each person, as well as 1 studio shot of the entire group together. Each member will receive a large-size portrait printout, and the group receives a CD with all photos.
Making a Reservation with AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
If you are interested in getting a maiko Kyoto makeover with AYA, then you must first fill out the reservation form on their website. If planning on visiting within a week, a phone call reservation is requested.
Provide both your first and second choice of days and times. AYA Maiko Kyoto Makeover Studio is open daily from 9AM to 5PM, but you will not be able to make a reservation at 5 PM.
Check AYA’s plan listings for up-to-date pricing.
Add-ons at AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
In addition to what you receive in your makeover, you can choose add-ons as well. These include a CD with all photos, postcards, additional portrait printouts, extra studio/courtyard shots, and additional walking time.
Kyoto maiko makeover experience and photoshoot with AYA is one you’ll definitely never forget. What an amazing experience to be transformed into a geisha or maiko (or even get decked out in a samurai costume) in Japan, while wearing authentic kimonos and geisha makeup! Your friends and family won’t believe the photos when they see them, and you’ll develop a profound respect for this wonderful aspect of Japanese traditional culture and history.
Still an LA girl at heart!
How to Get to AYA Maiko Makeover Studio
AYA Maiko Makeover Studio 舞妓体験処ぎをん彩
499-8, Shimogawara, Higashiyama, Kyoto, Japan (Japan, 〒605-0825 京都府京都市東山区下河原通八坂鳥居前下る下河原町499−8)
Phone Number: +81-75-532-6666
- Pass Yasaka-jinja Shrine and turn left at the first intersection.
- Turn right at the next intersection.
- Go straight on and make an immediate turn to the left at ”Hamasaku ryotei” corner.
Be sure to check out the directions on AYA Maiko Makeover Studio’s website for incredibly detailed and helpful information to help you get to the studio.
Disclosure: This post is a collaboration with Aya Maiko Makeover Studio, but as always, all opinions are very much our own!
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What Japanese henshin experience do you find most intriguing?
Tell us in a comment below!