BEAUTY and FITNESS
All dolled up
before and after her maiko makeover
Until a few weeks
ago, the closest encounter I ever had with geisha was chasing a few with my camera through
Gion, the geisha district in Kyoto. Even then I only caught a fleeting glimpse of their
magnificent dress and dramatic makeup. I never actually considered the transformation a
woman underwent in order to look like a geisha. Wasn' she always a display of beauty and
charm? The answer is simple: No. The brief hour and a half I spent in the Maiko Make Over
Studio gave me a firsthand look at the process and it certainly is a process involved
in becoming a geisha.
Located in Shibuya, the small, tranquil makeover studio offers a delightful reprieve from
Tokyo's congested streets. I went in with almost no knowledge of the ingredients blended
to create a maiko, or apprentice geisha. Luckily, I didn't need to know anything.
I shed my clothes, put on a white robe and tabi socks and became a life-sized
doll to be painted, dressed and posed.
makeup is surprisingly thin
First, I was ushered into a makeup room where my hair was swept into a net; the makeup
artist began to prime my face with baby oil. I could've been in any beauty salon in the
US: Soft American rock music playing in the background, a large lit mirror in front of me.
The familiarity was quickly lost. I was told to shut my eyes and, when I opened them
approximately five minutes later, I no longer recognized the image in the mirror. My face,
neck and upper back were covered with white makeup, and a space was left unpainted on the
lower back of my neck to display what is considered the most erotic part of the body. Only
my eyes were recognizable to me.
I imagined the white makeup would take the longest amount of time, but it was actually the
quickest part of the routine. The makeup was surprisingly thin, though smiling wasn't much
of an option (as I found out later, a wide grin really was not important. I could only
offer a demure close-mouthed smile, my pearly whites kept hidden at all times). True
artistry was shown with the application of makeup to my eyes and lips. She lined my eyes
with red and black, adding mascara as a finishing touch. My lips were the masterpiece; the
makeup artist hovered close by my face, shrinking my actual lip size by nearly half,
perfecting each arch and curve of the shockingly red mouth. Within half an hour, I was
completely transformed. Initially, I feared I wouldn't be able to sit through the entire
makeup process, but as soon as I began to grow restless, it was over. The studio boasts a
complete makeover in under an hour, so quick that you can stop in during your lunch break.
Just remember that you need to undo the process as well.
After my makeup was complete, I was faced with dozens of hangers of kimono, ranging from
dusty blue to deep crimson. You have a choice of 80 kimono, so if you're the indecisive
type, it's a bit overwhelming. All of them photograph well because of the vibrant colors.
I went with a striking green kimono - "very popular with gaijin." (Incidentally,
seventy percent of their customers are gaijin.)
Two women expertly dressed me in a matter of minutes. I resumed my doll stature and tried
my best to stand still, arms extended, while I was wrapped up in an under robe, kimono and
matching obi (belt). I hadn't anticipated how uncomfortable the whole outfit
would be. The soft, sensuous material of the kimono was nearly unnoticeable as my dressers
yanked on strings to tighten the obi. Amazingly, I was probably five pounds thinner around
my midsection, and my posture was impeccable because I had to balance the weight of the
obi. Then came the wig. It was fitted to my head, but also quite heavy, so between the
weight of the kimono and my new hairdo, I was more than slightly off kilter.
outfit was surprsingly umcomfortable
Hobbling into the photo studio I was greeted with yet another challenge: okobo,
or wooden thongs. Luckily the photo shoot was relatively brief, so my discomfort was
minimal. I was offered a variety of poses: standing, kneeling, holding a fan or an
umbrella. I tried my best to arrange my mouth in a coy, close-mouthed smile, all the while
attempting to tilt my head at just the right angle in an effort to show some of the poise
and grace that geisha always possess in photos. It was no easy task.
Removing the kimono was the fun part. Though I had only worn the outfit for under an hour,
it was more than enough time. The makeup artist pulled a few strings, and giggling with my
returned freedom, I spun out of my bindings a la Gwenyth Paltrow in Shakespeare in
Love. I stepped out of the gorgeous green fabric, leaving it in a heap on the floor,
and headed to the sink to remove my makeup.
The price of transformation (JY10,000 for a maiko-san, JY12,000 for a geiko-san, a more
refined, subdued makeover), is well worth the bucks. In about an hour, you'll glimpse the
elegant world of geisha, leaving the studio with an appreciation (or shall I say enhanced
sympathy) for the makeup and wardrobe of geisha and maiko, along with two fun photos to
show family and friends. And, best of all, your ratty old jeans and Chapstick will have
acquired renewed appeal. Trust me.
For a makeover (available for men as well!) contact Maiko Make Over Studio (03-5459-1230).