Bestselling novelist and Holiday Goddess editor Sara Foster finds out how you can play geisha dress-ups in Kyoto, Japan.

Geishas are iconic Japanese female entertainers – and despite a sometimes lurid past are not connected with prostitution, but with high-class performing arts. If you get the rare opportunity to visit a geisha, you can expect to witness traditional music and dance, fine dining and perhaps a tea ceremony. You’ll also be required to pay a hefty price for the privilege.

Don't try this at home

Becoming a geisha doesn’t happen overnight – the women who choose this path train for at least a year before qualifying. It is difficult to spot a real geisha, even in the hanamachi (geisha areas) of Tokyo and Kyoto. They are notoriously shy, and their community is shrinking as their services become misaligned with the interests of the modern world.

Geisha style

However, if you can’t resist a dress-up opportunity, this is surely one of the best. In the Gion district of Kyoto, various townhouses offer tourists the chance to become maikos (apprentice geishas) for the day. For a fee of around $150 US you get full make-up, hair and costume, followed by photographs and a walk – or rather a totter – around town on high shoes that are part clog and part thong. Don’t be surprised if unwitting tourists mistake you for the real thing and cameras begin to flash. Bear in mind that the more you pay, the more choice and precision may go into your dress-up experience, since the costumes are detailed, with patterns and material aligned to the seasons, and traditional wigs are woven into the hair. The links below should get you started.

http://www.eok.jp/travel/experience/dress-up-costume/aya

http://www.maiko-kibun.com/english.htm

http://www.yumekoubou.info/english/studio/index.html#gion

And if you’d rather play spot the geisha, then here’s how: Maikos (and dressed-up tourists) have red-lined collars on their kimonos, and a distinctive dovetail design to the white paint on their backs, whereas authentic geishas have white collars and the dovetail is replaced with a scalloped design. If you head to Gion after dark, you might just be lucky enough to see a true geisha scurrying along the backstreets between appointments.

 

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