Kyoto has so many beautiful sights to offer, but there’s something you definitely should try when in Kyoto. It might be expensive, but trust me it’s totally worth it. I’m talking about doing a Maiko dress-up in Kyoto.
Maiko dress-up in Kyoto. That’s me in a light blue kimono. (Studio Shiki)
What is a Maiko?
A maiko (舞妓) is an apprentice geisha. A young maiko (15 – 20 years old) will become a geiko / geisha once she’s learned certain traditional dances, instruments and the local Kyoto dialect (in case she’s not originally form Kyoto).
Maiko wear a special type of kimono called “furisode” (振袖) which has especially long sleeves. This is accompanied by a special maiko obi called “darari no obi” which is about 5 m long.
What is a Maiko Dress-Up?
I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of “geisha” walking around in the streets of Kyoto.
But be careful, most of them are actually tourists simply dressed up as maiko!
It might be a touristy thing to do, it might be a bit expensive, but it’s a great memory after all.
You get to wear a kimono and even the typical make-up as well as a wig to turn you into a perfect maiko.
There are several different plans you can choose from.
If you decide to get your photos taken in the studio, they will provide several traditional items (fans, balls etc.) and also tell you how to pose.
You could also pay a bit more for a walking course.
It’s definitely a great chance to take photos of yourself dressed up as a maiko with all of Kyoto’s awesome sights in the background. Kiyomizudera is a very popular shooting location in that regard.
Of course, your best bet is doing this during cherry blossom season or autumn leaves season. But book far in advance as those are obviously the most popular time slots of the year.
Where can I do a Maiko Dress-Up in Kyoto?
There are several studios around the most popular and picturesque locations in Kyoto.
Even during “off season” definitely make a reservation beforehand.
Here are some of the most popular studios in Kyoto:
- Studio Shiki (四季) – Gion, Higashiyama
- Studio Aya (ぎをん彩) – Gion, Higashiyama
- Studio Maica (舞香) – Gion, Higashiyama
- Yume Koubou (夢工房) 3 Studios – Gion, Kyoto Station, Kiyomizudera
- Yume Yakata (夢館) 3 Studios – near Gojo Sta.
- Studio Maikozaka (舞妓坂) – near Gojo (website only in Japanese)
- Studio Kyoto Aoi (京都葵) – near Kyoto Station (website only in Japanese)
- Studio Maiko Taiken Kyo (舞妓体験京) – near Gojo, Kiyomizudera (website only in Japanese)
- Yume miru yume (ゆめみる夢) – near Gojo Sta. (website only in Japanese)
My friends and I went to Studio Shiki and were satisfied, so I can recommend it.
It wasn’t a very busy day. I wanted to do the walking course, but my friends thought it was too expensive. Luckily you get a few minutes (I think we had 15) to take photos with your own camera. We were even allowed to do that outside. Luckily there was a nice scenery right next to the studio, so we could do at least that.
My recommendation is to definitely take studio photos, but also do the walking course and BRING YOUR OWN CAMERA!
The studios have a huge stock of kimono and obi you can choose from. You can combine them however you like although they will help you pick a good color combination. It took me quite a while to find one. Eventually I went with a lightblue-ish one. My friends went for warmer colors as you can see in the photos above.
We even got traditional geta. The maiko version is called okobo and has a very high sole. As always my feet were too large, so I had a hard time walking in them as the shoes ended around the middle of my feet. Ouch!
My friends didn’t have that issue as they have smaller feet.
They usually won’t use your own hair. You’ll get a wig and you can choose among various cute kanzashi (hair accessories).
As you can see they are very thorough with the make-up. You’ll also get the typical make-up on your back.
The kimono sits very tight and the shoes won’t let you walk very fast.
We were in such a hurry as we only had 15 minutes to take some photos outside.
Yet I think we managed to get a few decent photos. But that’s why I would recommend you to do the walking course instead. You’ll have more time for taking photos outside and with nicer backgrounds. It also might make sense to take someone with you who’s not dressed up and thus can walk around freely to take your photos.
Isn’t this a really beautiful kimono?
Me … lost in Kyoto! *g* Just kidding.
But in fact quite a few tourists stopped and wanted to take photos of or with us. They didn’t realize we weren’t real geisha / maiko. I suppose a normal tourist wouldn’t notice the difference. Although I think it’s really easy to figure out that we’re NOT Japanese.
And 15 minutes later we were back inside the studio. As you can see our wigs were taken off already.
You can then wipe all the make-up off your face (and back). You should maybe bring your own make-up pouch with whatever you might want to put on afterwards.
Expect everything to take a few hours, so plan your day accordingly.
So many dress-up plans! What should I choose?
Prices vary. Here’s a very good summary of the major studios in Kyoto and their prices, campaigns and discounts. For example, some studios offer a discount if you book far in advance, others when it’s your birthday month.
I would always go for the walking course and make sure to also have a studio shooting. They offer photobooks, CDs, posters, key chains and whatnot as little extras to your plan. Of course, that will make things pricier. Be careful and think twice if you really need all this stuff.
Guys, don’t despair! There are also various dress-up plans for you!
In fact, some were so cool that I’d have rather tried those. You can dress up as a samurai or in a traditional hakama with cool accessories such as a katana.
A lot of the studios also offer dress-up plans for couples, kids or the whole family, so definitely check them out.
What’s your personal experience?
Have you done a dress-up in Kyoto yet?
How did you like it?
Any studio you would recommend?
I’d love to see your dress-up photos, so feel free to share them!