1. The four best Geisha makeovers in Kyoto

The four best Geisha makeovers in Kyoto

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Masaya Osada

Born and raised in Kyoto. I love traveling. The more I was exposed to foreign culture, the more I realized how fascinating Kyoto is. This is why I am writing this English article for you to make your trip in Kyoto much more enjoyable!


What’s your image of Kyoto? Temples, shrines, Japanese inns, kaiseki cuisine, macha sweets – so many to choose from! But there is one other – the Geisha and Maiko – a true symbol of Kyoto.

A Maiko is an apprentice to a Geisha, and their appearance is quite exceptional. You might recognize one from films or Pinterest, as there are many. Geisha and Maiko looks like Japanese dolls, with a white make-up, a traditional hairstyle, of course, their beautiful kimono and pokkuri-geta sandals – quite a stunning vision.

I’m sure you would love to see Geisha and Maiko on a street in Kyoto but, how about turning yourself into Geisha or Maiko?

Sound exciting? Well yes, you can be a Kyoto Geisha or Maiko. You might get the chance in Tokyo, but a Geisha makeover in Kyoto is a more special experience, part of the Geisha and Maiko culture since the 16th century. Imagine that you could explore Kyoto as Geisha  – even in a Geisha district?

It has recently become popular for foreigners to try on Kimono or Yukata, but I don’t think many, including Japanese women, can become a Geisha due to the limited places that offer this opportunity.

So would you like to know more about Geisha and Maiko makeover in Kyoto? I am more than happy to help you by recommending The four best Maiko makeover places, something you can not get anywhere else in the world!

Geisha Makeover Experience ① Gion AYA

AYA has many good reviews from foreign customers, all stating that they had been treated very well. This is because Gion AYA knows the best way for you to have the make makeover, as more than half of their customers are foreigners. So you don’t need to know Japanese or anything about Geisha – Gion AYA will look after your every need.

But for you to understand a little bit about Geisha, let me introduce the process of becoming Geisha that Taiwanese Lily – who loves Japanese kawaii (cute things) and the culture – as she underwent the Geisha makeover at Gion AYA.

Let’s take a look!

Step 1: Geisha Sironuri base makeup

To put shironuri on to the face, some oil must be put on first. It is so white! This makeup is the same used by Kyoto’s real Geisha.

First, put shironuri on to the back of a neck. Then powder is applied to the face, ensuring coverage is even. This will also make a face look matt, so free of any shine.

Apparently, shironuri is the most difficult part for makeup staff, so it must be applied carefully and patiently.

Step 2: Geisha Makeup

After shironuri comes to the eyebrows. Maiko’s brows are done in a very specific way. Usually, they are drawn to suit a typical Japanese shaped face, but sometimes this way does not suit the sculpted face of some foreigners.

So the staff draw the brows differently and customize the shape to suit a variety of face of face shapes, but of course, traditional Maiko makeup colors are adhered to.

Gion AYA makes the transformation comfortable, fun and flexible, but all the time keeping to the formality of tradition dictated by the Geisha heritage.

Next comes the eyeliner. Lily has a sharply sculpted face, so she looks cuter having slightly thicker eyeliner. Gion AYA’s staff consider each customer individually, and choose the most appropriate styling for them, but always communicating, asking which style they prefer – cute or beautiful – and then make the decision together.

Lip rouge is put on carefully. The color is so beautiful, the rich, deep red color is such a strong contrast to smooth white shironuri makeup.

Eyeshadow is added to the eyeliner, but the order in which it is applied depends on the makeup artist doing it.

Because Lily wants to be a Kawaii Geisha, rather than a beautiful one, the artist uses a pale pink color of eyeshadow in-order to achieve the style.

Eyeshadow is generally drawn on a lower eyelid, so Lily’s eyes take on a smoldering appearance – Kawaii Geisha.

Very cute, and Lily’s facial transformation is complete. You can imagine how excited Lily!

Step 3:  Geisha Hair making

After makeup, the next step is the hair. There’s no additional cost to have a Han-katsura – half wig – at Gion AYA. Han-katsura is a wig that uses your own hair which is introduced into the wig for a more natural looking hairline, hence half wig. As Lily’s hair is already a dark color, it ends up as a very natural and beautiful combination.

The wig for the Geisha makeover only comes as black, but don’t worry. Gion AYA prepares a black hairspray (黒彩) for foreigners who have blonde or light brown hair. Though, if you are not comfortable using the spray, or don’t want to take a shower afterward, a full-head wig is recommended. But if you would like to keep your own hair, and photography can be retouched as an option after photo shooting.

Please be advised that people who choose the Walking course, need to use the black hairspray to ensure that customers look like real Geisha whilst walking in the street.

Lily has chosen the Walking course and so the spray is used to cover her brown hair. This is down to Gion AYA’s ethic, that everything must be as the real Geisha in appearance.

Step 4: Dressing up in Geisha Kimono

Lily loves Kawaii things, so of course, she wants a red or pink kimono.

A fun part of the transformation is that you can choose your kimono yourself from many kimono samples, for example, there are many different shades of red.

So quite a difficult decision for Lily, so she has to concentrate carefully.

The makeup artist continues to help put the kimono on, and that is a good point, as the staff can suggest kimono that suits your styling, as they have already been communicating with you during the hair and makeup stage; what is your favorite color etc. Apparently, many foreigners prefer vivid or cold colors, so Gion AYA has quite a variety of kimono to choose from.

It should be emphasized that the kimono at Gion AYA is not cheap kimono, but actually, high-quality ones, as would be expected to be worn by real Maiko.

So Lily is getting more items, this time the wide Obi belt.

It is hard work to put on the obi – it has to be tight, and neat – so the dresser has to do a lot of pulling!

“It’s tight!” Lily is saying, but she looks as though she is enjoying the experience.

Obi is chosen to suit the kimono.

One long obi is called Darari-obi – not using a Tsuke-obi which is a pre-tied one. A beautiful Darari-obi is a typical obi worn by Geisha. Darari means hanging down at the back and can almost reach the Geisha’s calves.

Recently, many foreigners have been seeking the real Japanese culture, so some actually ask whether Tsuke-obi is used or not, so their expectation is very high!

The answer is very clear at Gion AYA. They only use one type of obi – Darari-obi.

Step 5: Geisha Kanzashi hair ornament

There are many different types of Hana-Kanzashi, and Maiko usually put on a Kanzashi which has a seasonable style.

The Gion AYA staff will suggest two Kanzashi: a seasonable pattern same as the Geisha, and one that is Lily’s favorite. The professionals, the staff consider both the traditional way but also respect the customer’s wishes.

Step 6: Geisha Photo shooting

Photo shooting time has arrived, and Lily is clearly excited.

Just relax as the photographer leads and directs the shoot.

There are many props and small adjustments made during the shooting.

For one shot Lily sits down on the bar of a window; she changes her face angle and position of her hands as directed by the professional photographer who doesn’t make any compromises.

Step 7: Strolling as a Geisha

Now the Geisha transformation is complete, and the chance to head into Kyoto!

Immediately some Japanese tourists spotted Geisha Lily, and come over and ask if they can have their picture taken together.

For Lily, walking around Kyoto as a Geisha gives her the feeling of being a supermodel – she became a Geisha in Kyoto, and loves Kyoto even more!

Thank you, Lily for your time and cooperation!

Website: http://kyoto-maiko.com/english

Geisha Makeover Experience  Maiko Henshin Studio Shiki

Studio Shiki Maiko transformations are among the best, resulting in the real Maiko appearance, and their quality of service is excellent. Many studios have the same transformation process; but Studio Shiki is very proud of their sensitive makeup skills, attention to detail and excellent photo shooting – “a beauty with a difference”. Let’s find out more.

It’s quite a thrill, to have your photo taken in a beautiful tatami room, especially by a professional photographer

We interviewed four Japanese girls from Nara prefecture, who had decided to do something Kyoto-ish, so chose Shiki’s Maiko makeover.

It was interesting to watch, as one of the girls was told to hold the tsuma – the bottom hem of the kimono in the same way that a real Maiko would.

Shiki takes there responsibility very seriously, and explain to their customers the proper rules and etiquette of a Maiko, this way customers adhere to and respect the centuries-old tradition.

A small, but important tip during the photo shooting, is not to show the teeth when smiling, therefore avoiding rouge on the teeth. These small points for customers, go on to enhance the already high-quality of Henshin Maiko’s success.

All the staff at Shiki are very friendly and considerate, so we can see that their customers are very satisfied.

The impression received, is that Shiki provides an especially consistent service of delivering beautiful transformations; customers receive the best treatment, makeup and kimonos to complete the effect.

It’s great to see a high school student and her mother look so happy and surprised when they see themselves transformed into Maiko.

So why don’t you get memorable experience from Shiki, a place where your Maiko dream can come true!

Website: http://www.maiko-henshin.com/en/

Geisha Makeover Experience ③ Maica Kyoto

Maica – a Geisha and Maiko experience that promises all its customers the real Maiko transformation – their skills have developed from working for real Maiko on a daily basis, and all their makeup is organic and used on Kyoto’s professional Maiko.

Maica offers a great deal and has various Maiko plans along with an hour-long photo shoot. So enjoy a special time at Maica!

Geisha Makeover Experience ④ Yumekoubou Maiko Makeover Studio

One million people have visited Yumekoubou, and 60% of their customers are recommended by others who have previous experience with them. There are four branches in Kyoto, so very easy to access. They have professional makeup artists and photographers, and you can also use your own phone to take as many pictures as you want.

The differences of Maiko, Geiko, and Oiran

Here are some more details that may interest you:

What are the differences of Maiko, Geiko, and Oiran?

Maiko: They only exist in Kyoto, and are aged around 15-20 years old – they are apprentices to fully fledged Geisha.

Geiko: Geiko only exists in Kyoto and are referred to as Geisha (Tokyo). Both Geiko and Geisha are professional entertainers.

Oiran: Oiran are top-level Yujo (women of pleasure) – often confused with Geisha. Geisha do not offer sexual favors, but Oiran do. Existed during the Edo period (1600-1868), and were different to Yujo. Oiran were noted for their beauty and were also entertainers. Whilst Oiran no longer exist, the tradition continues. Oiran are from Tokyo. Kyoto’s equivalent is called Tayu.


The related article “The difference between Maiko and Geisha”:


Have you found a place where you would love to have a great experience of Geisha makeover in Kyoto? A Geisha makeover in Kyoto could be the most exciting and cultural activity you could do, and it is something not available in any other culture in the world. Actually, there is a rivalry between all the Geisha makeover studios, so I am sure that a good deal could be had when booking. The full experience includes makeup, hairstyle, kimono dressing, photo shooting and strolling in Kyoto – so it is all ready for you.

While you are being turned into a Geisha, you will be able to chat with staff, the photographer, and even Japanese tourists during your walk in Kyoto, so this is the real thrill during your trip to Kyoto!

There is another exceptional experience in Kyoto after your Geisha makeover. Would you like to know?

You have the experience of being a Geisha, so why not make the next experience to meet a real Geisha! Because you know how to become a Geisha, how it feels wearing the special makeup, the Geisha wig, wearing kimono and obi belt and the footwear if you met a real one you would never stop talking. A Geisha would be very impressed with your newly acquired knowledge of the Geisha.

I hope this article enables you to enjoy Kyoto, and make your trip a special one, and perhaps you next opportunity will be to meet a real Geisha – it can only happen in Kyoto!

Thank you very much for reading!

Even foreigners can now have access to Geisha and Maiko

We are proud to offer an excellent opportunity for foreign visitors to Kyoto to meet and interact directly with Geisha, at an exceptional price, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 6 pm to 8 pm. This tour includes dinner, an English guide, watching a traditional dance performance, and be able to play a unique game with the Geisha.
Are you curious about this tour? Check the detailed information, and make an online reservation now to meet an authentic Japanese Geisha in Kyoto!