Playing Maiko Believe

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I’m not usually into doing tacky tourist things when I travel, but there was one thing that I was dying to do while in Japan.  I wanted to dress up as a Geisha.  I wanted to play make believe.  The best place in Japan to do this is in Kyoto where the highest number of Geisha’s can be found, although the number’s of Geisha’s are dwindling.  We spent our first night in Kyoto Geisha hunting, trying to see if we could capture a decent picture on camera.  We actually saw 3 in one night.  They glide by so quickly, that it was very difficult to get the camera up in time to take a non-blurry photo.  I followed one down the narrow alleyway.  I loved the way she glided in her shoes, I would later find out that the outfit makes you move like that.  I was right behind her so that I could see how the make up was applied to her neck.  Just as I was about to overtake her to see if I could get my paparazzi shot, she quickly moved into a private tea house.

As tricky as it was to see Geishas, you can only imagine our surprise when we saw Geisha’s in the daytime in full attire making poses all over Southern Higashiyama.  They weren’t shy at all when we pointed our cameras at them.  Then we realized that these were ordinary ladies who had dressed up as Geishas.  We had found somewhere that we could dress up.  We had generally found Japan very pricey and this was no exception.  It worked out roughly to 65USD (and this was the discounted price) to get dressed up as a Maiko which is a geisha apprentice and have 6 studio shots taken.  If we wanted to have take outdoor shots around the studio or walk around Higashiyama for 40minutes the price increased and then increased more if were going to dress up as Geishas.  We just went with the studio shots.

We were the first appointment of the morning.  Before the process started, they gave us all the other options: full wig vs half wig, group shots, printed booklets, and digital copies.  We kept ours costs as low as we could.  So it started with us getting into dressing robes and then getting our make up done.  We were painted with white over our faces and necks and then red lips and eye make up were applied.  Once that was done, we were given an opportunity to choose only one kimono from a sea of Kimonos.  The choice was overwhelming.  Once chosen, we were dressed.  If you ask me to tell you the steps and layers that went into getting that Kimono on, I can’t remember.  I just remember being padded down and robed up and in the end, the whole outfit was so heavy and fitting that I now understood why a geisha’s stride length is only 5 cm.  Finally, the wigs went on.  We went for full wigs.  Although the half wig is more natural looking because they use your hair, the edge of the full wig which sits on the top of your forehead, was not noticeable in the pictures.  Now we had been transformed.  It barely looked like us.  (Even my own mother didn’t realize it was me when she looked at the picture).  We found ourselves not wanting to smile because against the white paint on our face, our teeth looked really really yellow.   Then our pictures were taken in a matter of seconds.  We were given 10 minutes to take pictures of ourselves with our own cameras.  This was the fun moment when we relaxed and started to have fun in our make believe world.  But the 10minutes came to an end so abruptly.  We were sent through the studio in reverse dropping the wig off, being undressed and then having to remove the make up.  We loved every moment of it and the make believe was worth it.

It was a fun experience but a bit rushed.  There are other companies out there who do this too, and I’d recommend a company that gives you more time to take photos with your own camera.  I don’t think you’ll find anything less than 65USD.  If you want the full experience of walking outdoors and getting shots against the back drop of cherry blossoms and temples, then expect to pay upwards of 130USD.

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5 Unique Cultural Experiences to Japan that I discovered in a Short Visit

Golden TempleOnce I had hit the road again, the bug had infected me and I was quickly on my next trip.  This time the destination was Japan.  I had always wanted to go to Japan to experience their unique culture and now I was actually going.  So many people were excited for me when I told them that I was going.  There is something that is magical about Japan.  I was told that I would find the Japanese culture such a unique culture that would stand out compared to most of the other cultures that I have visited.  I didn’t think I would notice the intricacies of their culture being there for such a short time.  There were a few things that I did notice:

1.  The most sterile culture I’ve ever visited even down to the toilets.  We were fascinated by the toilets.  At first a daunting experience of using one – I admit that in the arrivals hall in the airport, there was a choice of a regular toilet and a “singing/spraying toilet,” I chose the normal one.  It took awhile to figure out what the pictures all meant and they weren’t consistent from toilet to toilet.  But truly in Japan, there is no such thing as a dirty toilet.  Even in the busiest McDonald’s!  The most sterile experience was opening a bathroom door which triggered the toilet lid to rise. There are always wipes near a toilet to sanitize the seat.  Trust me, you want to sit on these seats because they are heated.  Then you can opt for a silent toilet or one that makes noise.  There are two types of sprays.  One for the bottom and one for women.  There is a temperature control and an intensity control for the spray.  I just have to fine the toilet that air dries you after the spray.

2.  When we arrived in Tokyo and were figuring out how to get into town, we were stopped by a local film crew who wanted to ask questions about why we were visiting Japan and what we were planning on doing.  These questions seemed tame enough…until they got personal.  We were asked if we were married and none of us were.  Then we were asked if we had boyfriends which again the answer was no.  Then we were asked if we were lonely.  OK? Then the best question was were we going to look for boys in all the cities that we were visiting?  We were a bit worried how all of this was going to be edited on their show.

3.  Plastic Food.  There were no worries about not understanding menus because most restaurants had plastic models of the dishes in their display cases.  There is this industry that exists in Japan to make life-like plastic food of every possible dish you can think of.

4. The most polite culture I’ve ever met.  I’ve heard that native English speakers say thank you a lot compared to other cultures.  We are not nearly as thankful as the Japanese.  When buying items in a store, thank you might be said more than 5 times.  In the trains, we were amazed at how the staff would always bow when entering and exiting a car.  If you ask for help, they will go out of their way to find the answer. When you thank them in the end, you can end up in endless head nodding as they nod in response to your head nod and then you feel somehow obligated to nod back.

5. Onsens.  These are the natural hot springs that are around Japan.  There are onsen towns where you go just to experience the hot springs.  This is culturally a very unique experience.  We went to Kinosaki which sounded amazing, a town where you walk around in robes and sandals from hot spring to hot spring.  However, I hadn’t read all the information properly about this cultural experience when I suggested it for our itinerary.  I never realized that you go completely naked.  There were 4 of us travelling together.   We were all, let’s say, modest about our bodies and weren’t quite sure how to enjoy the onsens without having to be seen by our friends and see our friends.  The Japanese ladies must have been laughing at us as they saw us accidently drenching our miniscule towels as we tried logistically to lift them as we entered the water trying to keep everything hidden. The Japanese ladies would stay together and chat and meanwhile we were all in different corners of the onsen.