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The Best Maiko Makeover Experience in Kyoto, Japan

maiko makeover kyoto japan

Home to over 1600 Buddhist temples, impeccable gardens, traditional wooden houses, and the mysterious world of the Maiko and Geisha, Kyoto is the center of ancient Japanese culture and history.  In April 2016 I visited esteemed Aya Maiko Makeover Studio in the heart of Gion Quarter who offered Haute Culture Fashion one the most realistic, educational and exquisite henshin experiences in all of Japan.

aya maiko makeover experience gion kyoto

Traditional transformation. My final photo shoot at Aya Maiko makeover in Gion Quarter, Kyoto.

Kiyomizudera temple, Gion, Kyoto.

What are Maiko, Geiko & Geisha?

The word Geisha literally translates in Japanese into ‘Person of the arts’. Primarily all 3 titles are given to females who are highly skilled in the ancient Japanese arts of entertainment. Under the direction of a Geisha mother, known as Okasan, the women complete a minimum of 6 years rigorous training in traditional dance, music, games, conversation and singing, whilst living voluntarily under the mother’s care and provision at the Geisha boarding house, the okiya. Predominately they were hired by men for entertainment at banquets and parties, but today women and families hire their services as well. They are hired by the hour with the fee going to the Okiya until their training is complete.


  • Maiko is a trainee Geiko in between the ages of 15 -20. Maiko training lasts 5 years on average.
  • Geiko is how geisha are called in Kyoto dialect/in Kyoto region. Geisha training never stops as longs as she’s a geisha/geiko.
  • Geisha is a generic name given to those outside of Kyoto.

How do you tell a Maiko and Geiko apart?


Maiko’s red collar

  1. Maiko wear lots of decorative hair ornaments such as silk flowers, metal tassels and jeweled pins known as Kanzashi . Geiko wear simple combs often made from wood.
  2. Maiko style their natural hair. Geiko wear a wig.
  3. Maiko hair is pulled up at the back of the neck to reveal the hairline. Geiko hair covers the top of the back of their neck.
  4. In the first year of training Maiko only paint their lower lip, as their training progressors their lips are painted to resemble a flower bud. Geiko paint their full lips.

    Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 5.14.04 PM

    Maiko okobo shoes

  5. When looking at the front and back neck of a kimono, Maiko wear a red collar and Geiko wear white.
  6. Maiko tie their obi (sash) high up on their chest. Geiko tie their obi under their bust.
  7. Maiko sleeves are very long. Geiko sleeves are much shorter.
  8. Maiko wear extremely high platform wooden wedge sandals called okobo. Geiko wear much shorter styles called zori or geta. Traditional geta wedge shoes and split toe tabby socks are a popular trend inspired by the Maiko seen on the runway this 2016.

guide to geisha culture

My Maiko Makeover

Aya Maiko Makover Studio is found at the centre of Geiko culture in Gion Quarter. Climbing up the narrow cobbled paved streets, past pillared temples and beside wooden windowed houses, I couldn’t help but feel transported back to a traditional era and knew this experience was going to be very special.

As I stepped into the house I was asked to remove my shoes and follow the make up artist through to the dressing room. From there I unrobed and was asked to put on Maiko underwear. The transformation known as a henshin took place over 1.5 hours starting with the cosmetics.

WATCH the step by step video (and see the funny bit at the end)

Step by step

  1. Face, neck, chest and shoulders are cleansed.
  2. Bintsuke-abura (bees wax) is applied to the cleansed skin.
  3. Starting with the back neck, shiro-nuri (painted in white) foundation is applied to the skin over the layer of bintsuke-abura to help the mixture adhere.
  4. The skin left bare on the nape of the neck is know as the eri-ashi (collar legs). It is designed to draw attention to the most sensual part of the Geiko’s body.
  5. The shiro-nuri foundation is applied to the front of the body with a hake brush. Before blotting with loose powder to absorb excess moisture.
  6. A rim of bare skin is left around the hairline to give the illusion of a mask. Geiko and Maiko traditionally wore shiro-nuri makeup made from rice powder to illuminate their skin in dark candle lit rooms.
  7. Pink powder is applied to the forehead and around the eyes.
  8. Eyebrows were plucked before adding crimson and charcoal colored cosmetics are added to the eyes to create a dramatic and contrasting aesthetic. As Maiko become Geiko their bold appearance becomes more subtle and mature.
  9. Lips are painted red in different styles, depending on the stage of their training.
  10. The front of the hair is pulled out of the net ready for the katsura (wig). Your natural hair is pinned over the top and sprayed with black powder.

Version 2 aya maiko makeover gion kyoto aya maiko makeover gion quarter kyoto Version 2

Masked Maiko

My Aya Maiko makeover experience was my primary objective for visiting Japan, and one of my most favorite accomplished bucket list moments of 2016. Like many people (Japanese and foreign alike) the aesthetics and lifestyle of a Geiko with their colorful kimonos, killer okobo shoes, memorizing makeup and dainty decorations, completely captivated me from a early age.

The whole process from beginning to end was a unique and unforgettable experience and insight into the complicated and rigorous dressing technique of a Maiko. You can see from the video that although I was amazed by the transformation, I also felt stunned and slightly overwhelmed by the outcome as it was extremely hard to recognise myself. Somewhere between the shiro-nuri and katsura my identity had been painted over. Donna was now buried behind a mask and almost suffocated by silk (not literally), so in one way the experience was most certainly a realistic taste of how these women are trained to be anonymous as much as they are to be experts in the traditional arts.

Aya kyoto maiko makeover japan

The house of Aya Maiko Makeover studio in Gion Quarter, Kyoto

Book now

To book your Aya Maiko Makeover experience with 15% off at Voyagin

Have experienced a Maiko or Geiko makeover? Have you been to tea with a real Geiko in Kyoto?  Please share your experiences, ideas and suggestions in the comments box below, we would love to hear from you.

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How to get there

Aya Maiko Makeover Studio
MAP 499-8,Shimogawara,Higashiyama,Kyoto,Japan
TEL +81-75-532-6666 Open daily

From bus stops in the Gion quarter

B.In front of Gion Hall

C.In front of Gion Hotel

D.In front of Gion Hotel

E.In front of Yasaka-jinja Shrine

・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

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