Maiko Transformation experience! – FYI and Steps

Last year, I finished school half a year early so I spent half a year finding job and traveling. I decided to go to Kyoto with my friend. Kyoto is my all time most favorite city in Japan. The city is beautiful and full of shrines and temples and reminders of Japan’s old capital while it is modern and friendly city at the same time. A lot of foreigners like to visit this city for sightseeing. There are just so many places to see in Kyoto.

That was probably the 5th time I visit Kyoto. This time I decided to do something a bit different from my other visits–I transformed myself into Maikoさん while my friend transformed into Juni (meaning 12) Heian princess that has to wear 12 layers of clothes weighing around 20 KGs! We had such a great time and I did film a video about my experience and put it on YouTube as well-Check it out!

First, let’s talk about some basic Maiko FYI!

  • What’s Maiko? Geisha? And Geiko?

Maiko is an apprentice of Geisha who is going through arts training for about 5 years. ‘Mai’ means dance and ‘ko’ means child. Thus, maiko’s direct meaning is a ‘dancing child’, an apprentice of Geisha before becoming a real Geisha later on.

Geisha is a woman who is trained in the Japanese traditional arts such as dancing, singing, and others. Literally, ‘gei’ means art and ‘sha’ means person so in this case, it is ‘the person of art’. As you may have seen in the movie ‘The memoirs of Geisha’, Geisha dances in traditional Japanese style and was trained for many years since they were little girls.

Geiko is almost the same as Geisha. The only differences may be their location, customs, and traditions. The word Geiko mostly represents Geisha in Kyoto but the word Geisha generally refers to Geisha around Tokyo area. However, the word Geisha is more popular for foreigners and become the name for Geisha in general (because of the movie? 😉 ).

  • Appearances/differences of Maiko and Geisha/Geiko

The difference betweet maiko and geisha is the hair, make up, and kimono. I prefer Maiko since the make up looks a lot prettier (for me). I won’t go into details with the appearances but basically, Maiko’s lips and eye makeup are more red while Geisha’s eyes do not have red lines and paler red lips. Also, maiko’s face is whiter than Geisha’s. These appearances also differ with the rankings- Junior Maiko, Senior Maiko, Junior Geisha, and Senior Geisha.

  • Are Maiko and Geisha prostitutes?

I remember something about this from the movie but had doubts whether it’s true. So, I did some research. It is said that Maiko and Geisha are NOT prostitutes by any means. This profession is rooted deeply within the traditional arts and is non-sexual in any way. According to some source, they are believed to be prostitutes because of the misunderstanding by the US service men during World War II. And probably the movies and tales that are told and misinterpreted. However, these days many prostitutes do dress up as Geisha to attract customers.

  • Why is Kyoto famous for Maiko and Geisha?

That is a good question. I always think of Kyoto every time I think about Maiko, Geiko, and Geisha. Apparently, there were Maikos and Geishas around Tokyo as well. They were just in different location and less elaborate. According to some sources, they are called ‘Hankyogu’, which means ‘half price’ or ‘half charged’. They disappeared quickly leaving the title to the famous Geishas in Kyoto.

My experience – How to do this?

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As of how to do this, I will show you some easy steps and guides you can do. I was very lucky and got to do in a really great discounted price. The experience was more than I can describe. It was worth every penny. Here are some steps!

1) Plan you trip to Kyoto. Leave about 3 hours for this experience. The make up and dressing up took about 2 hours for me.

2) Find a studio near your hotel or the area of your choice. >> I did this in Gion since it is the place where REAL maikos work and it’s one of my favorite areas in Kyoto. A perfect setting for a stroll in Kimono as MAIKO san! This is the studio I went to has branches in other famous areas in Kyoto such as Kingakuji shrine, Kiyomizu shrine, etc.

Some links to the studios I found – Yumekoubou (the studio I went to), Maiko Henshin, YumeYakata, Katufumi.

3) Book a plan at the studio. >;>; There are many plans such as studio plan, strolling plan, and others. Prices differ according to the plan. Also, you can choose to request for a professional cameraman or if you have your own camera and a friend to help, you can do that yourself as well. You may also choose to add extra CDs, extra shots and others. For me, I brought a friend to help taking all the videos and pictures. I also requested 20 studio shots with a professional cameraman. More than that, I choose the walking plan so I got to go out for a walk as Maiko san in Gion area and my friends took all the pictures for me. The CDs I ordered came a month later in the mail. All of this was about 12,000 yen for me which was very worthy!

4) Go to the studio. >> In my case, since I took the studio shots and a walking plan, the process takes about 3 hours. First, make up. Then, kimono. Then, put on a wig. And you’re done! When this is all done, they’ll take you to a studio and a camera man will take photos for you. Then, someone will take you to walk outside. The shoes are the ones Maiko really wears so it was quite hard to walk on but I was able to get the grip at the end.

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Choosing Kimono was very fun. Each piece is very expensive! I choose the red one with beautiful prints on it.

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5. Enjoy >> If you choose the walking plan or any other plan, be prepared that some tourists will ask to take photos with you. 🙂 I highly recommend to take a friend with you for this experience because you will surely want extra photos.

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Here are my studio photos taken by a photographer. The CD and a small postcard with my picture on it are sent to my house. I could not believe I looked like that day. It was great fun. The Kimono and the shoes gave me a bit of a hard time but I enjoyed this experience very much.

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As for my friend, she transformed into juni, a princess in Heian era. This is very expensive to do and very rare these days. It was quite expensive but since she is into Japanese history, it was something she couldn’t miss. 😉

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Don’t forget to check out my video on the process of Maiko Transformation too! ^^

 

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Official seal-Inkan/Hanko (はんこ/印鑑) in Japan.

In Japan, a lot of times, a signature only is not enough for official documents. Other than a signature, a personal seal or “Inkan” or “Hanko” in Japanese is used when you sign official documents at a bank, workplace and others.

Last week, I just made myself a new inkan since I need it for work when I sign documents related to the work I’m in charge of. My old inkan is a traditional type that contains no ink and I need to dip it into red ink every time I use it which is very inconvenient. The new one I ordered looks like lipstick with a cap that contains ink already. The ink is also refillable!

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So…

What’s a personal seal or Hanko/Inkan?
A personal seal is like a small stamp that includes your name in it. (See mine below)
It acts as an identification or an official personal signature. For Japanese in general, it would be the last name in Chinese characters (Kanji) but for foreigners, it’s ok to be first name or even nick name and in katakana, hiragana, romanji or even kanji if you have one. Most of the time, companies or governmental organizations would use a big square-shape inkan while inkan for business or personal would be small and in a circular shape. I use katakana of my last name in my inkan. Up to 6 characters fit into this small circular inkan.

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When’s it used?

A seal represents one’s official signature which means it is used in official occasions. It is used when opening a new bank account, making contract, and others. In other words, things that are related to money and business. I find myself using it all the time at work when I need to sign on documents related to the work I am in charge of!

There are two types of seals: personal seal and registered seal. The one you register is your official seal that you should bring to the city hall to register. Once you have done that, you will get  a registration certificate or 印鑑登録証明書. With this certificate, you can use it to make loan, buy a car, house, etc. In some certain circumstance, you will need this certificate.

Why do Japanese people use this? /Where is it from?

Seals are made of stone and are carved with names. Thus, it is some kind of a calligraphic art as well. According to some articles, hanko was found a very long time ago and it was a hanko of the emperor. Thus, a hanko represented authority. Then, noblemen started to use hanko, followed by samurais. Finally, hanko become widely used in Japan. Nowadays, there are many kinds of hanko fraud since it is easy to copy. Therefore; hanko may be lost soon. However, it still has a lot of cultural meaning remain within it.

Where to get it?/How to make one?! 

Where: For Japanese or people with common kanji name, inkan can be purchased at regular stationary shop, book store, or even 100 yen shop. Unfortunately for most foreigners, inkan must be ordered and made specifically. I got my inkan made at my university when I first came to Japan. They opened a booth for all foreign students so we didn’t have to go anywhere else. But normally, you can make an inkan everywhere. I recommend Tokyu Hands, AEON mall, and any hanko shop around. It is not so hard to find a hanko shop but if you can’t find one in your area, go to the stationary department at a mall. One of the convenient ways is to order online in case you can’t find any place nearby.

Some interesting online Hanko shops: 1. Toyodo shop   2. Shachihata kan shop

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How much: The price range is mostly from 1,500 yen to 5,000 yen. There are some kinds of inkan that are very expensive and the price can be up to 50,000 yen! (I saw one in Tokyu Hands-shocking). I got mine in a reasonable price of 2,250 yen. For orders online, note that you may need to pay for some small shipping fee depends on your area. Mostly around 500 yen. Also, depends on how you pay, there might be a small transaction cost as well (convenient store and credit card =o, pay at delivery and deposit = yes).

Which one: There are many types of seal. A traditional type is the most commonly used which is a carved stone like my old one. However, these days there are many kinds of seal that is similar to a stamp. Some, contains ink within the cap and some even comes together with a pen (one side-pen, one side-seal). Note that sponge or rubber type stamps is not acceptable as official seal.

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Design your seal: Once you’re done choosing your favorite type of seal, now you can choose how to write your name on it. For Japanese or people with kanji, it is easy since most people have 2 kanji characters which will fit perfectly in the seal. But if you are a foreigner like me, you can choose your last name or name as you like and you can write it in romanji, kanji, hiragana, or katakana. I chose my last name since it fits with 5 characters in my seal and it is written in katakana. You can also choose your favorite font, order, and color as well. Normally, an official seal should be in red ink.

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I think inkan is very important when you live in Japan. I was lucky that my university arranged this for us but for those of you who are looking for information about it, I hope this is helpful. Be sure to get one and don’t lose it! 😉

Fall travel: Nikko 日光, Toshigi

During this 3 days holidays (November 23rd-25th), I took a day trip to Nikko city which is located in Toshigi prefecture (日光市、栃木県). Apparently, it is in the northern part of Kanto region. I always thought it is quite far from Tokyo but in fact, it took only about an hour and a half from Tokyo by express train.

Nikko is famous for the mausoleum of Shogun Tokugawa Leyasu or the Toshogu shrine and another shrine called Futarasan which is a mausoleum of the Shogun’s grandson. I’m not sure about the history of these shrines but although they are ancient, they have been preserved very well  and praised for its historical values that these sites were stated as ”the World Heritage’ sites’. Nikko is famous for its beauty, historical sites, amazing natural and breathtaking sites and also onsen, especially the famous Kinugawa onsen. More info about Nikko-click here.

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My friend and I decided to visit Nikko since it is autumn and Nikko is supposedly one of the most beautiful places for the season in Japan. The leaves should turn red and yellow meaning the whole mountains would be scenic. We were right about that, it was spectacular, except that traveling there during holidays was not such a good idea.

We started off our trip from Shinjuku station. We had breakfast there and took Spacia express train from Shinjuku station’s new zone, ‘shin-minami’ entrance. Apparently, this train connects Nikko to Tokyo-all the way to TokyoSky Tree. You can get on from Shinjuku, Asakusa, and other stations. We arrived at Tobu-Nikko station around noon. 🙂 It was such a pleasant ride.

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Then, ramen for lunch and strawberry milk gelato! Sounds like a strange combination but it was a really good meal. The weather was quite cold so ramen was perfect..gelato-not so much.. 😉

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After lunch, we took a bus to Toshogu shrine which is the most famous place in Nikko. The bus was super packed… Something we couldn’t avoid on holidays. The normally takes only 10 minutes, but it took almost half an hour for us.  We got off at a stop called Shinkyo, which has a beautiful bridge by the river at the entrance of the world heritage sites.  It is a gateway to the shrines and temples of Nikko. The view there was scenic with all the leaves turning red and yellow!

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The world heritage sites in Nikko consists of many shrines all linked together. The most famous ones are Toshogu shrine, Futarasan shrine, and Yutenji shrine. We went straight to the famous Toshogu shrine. It was crowded with people but I can see why it is UNESCO’s world heritage site and so renowned. The architecture is wonderful with lots of decorative ancient art works. The shrine is very old. It looks sacred with its natural settings. I enjoyed this shrine very much and had to search more about its history when I came home that day.

UNESCO’s description of the shrines and temples of Nikko

At the entrance of Toshogu shrine, there is a pagoda in which I also saw a campaign comparing this pagoda with Tokyo Sky Tree.

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We took a few photos and proceeded to the trails in the shrine.

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A boy crying..not wanting to take a ride on that vehicle.

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There are so many masterpieces in the shrine. Each piece has its own meaning and history. One of the most famous ones is the sleeping cat which is an artwork on top of the ceiling at the middle gate. (picture on the right)

We also found a tree that is said to be sacred. All of the things inside this temple are preserved very well. Not exactly in a pristine condition since the shrine is very old but with the all the artworks condition and long history, they are so worthy to see. I need to read more about its history. The shrine has its own charm, very interesting!

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Look at the crowd of people. We had to line up all the way on the trails inside the shrine. It was like lining up for a ride at Disney Land. Still, it is a beautiful place and I loved it!

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Beware that the shrines close early, probably the same as shrines in Kyoto. I remember we came out of the Toshogu shrine around 4 pm but all other shrines were closing so we could only see Futarasan shrine a bit.

The picture on the right–> This circle is said to be a circle of good luck. This LUCK has two meanings of luck as being lucky with things and with people as well. In Japanese, they call it “UN” and “EN”, meaning luck and luck related to relationships. We had to walk inside the cirlce as the instructions say. 1. Go in and out from the right. 2. Go in and out from the left. 3. Lastly, go in and out from the middle of the circle. Not sure if I did it right but I hope I get lucky!

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After visitng the shrines, we decided to walk back to the station since the bus would probably be packed. We ate some Karaage on the way and went into many souvenirs shops. I got the blue cup, my friend got the red! Apparently, another important artwork in Nikko shrine is the three monkeys- the monkeys that cannot see, talk, or speak. We must have missed it in the shrine. Will need to be back for sure during…weekday probably. 😉

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I had a great time! Really recommend Nikko for anyone visiting Japan!

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Random: An old telephone booth