Stroll Around Kyoto (京都) in a Kimono (着物)

Have you ever wanted to stroll around Kyoto in a kimono? I have always wanted to do so seeing many tourists walk in beautiful kimonos sightseeing around beautiful temples and shrines of Kyoto. I always thought to myself that I must do this at least once while I am in Japan.

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Kyoto is definitely the most famous place in Japan to do kimono fitting since it is an old capital with numerous wonderful old shrines and temples. A lot of Japanese traditional things that pop up in your mind when you think of ‘Japan’ or see in movies are here; for instance, Maiko, Geisha and other forms of arts, traditions, sweets and so many others. As you may know, I have done Maiko transformation before and it was such a great experience. You could never get closer to a Japanese traditional culture than this. 😉  This time, I wanted to simply wear a kimono and walk around Kyoto city, especially to visit Kiyomizudera temple (清水寺)and take photos for memories.20130422-110309.jpg

I finally did it and I had a great time. It was worthwhile. As of how to do kimono rental (着物レンタル)in Kyoto, very easy!

HOW:

  •          First, plan you trip to Kyoto.

Leave a day or at least half a day in case you don’t have time for this experience since you obviously want to take a lot of photos while you’re wearing kimono. If you stay in a ryokan (旅館) within Kyoto, some kimono rental stores may allow you to return the kimono the next day at your hotel. But, in case you stay in a nearby city, you must return the kimono by the designated time at the store (until 5pm in my case). Keep this in mind when you plan your visit.

  •          Select store and decide the places you want to visit.

For this, you want to choose a kimono rental store close to your hotel or tourist attractions that you want to visit. Especially when you’re wearing a kimono and walk around in kimono shoes, you want to be as close as you can to the places you are interested in.

          Recommended kimono rental stores

  1. Yume Kyoto (夢京都)– I visited this store for kimono fitting. It is located right next to the entrance of Yasaka shrine (八坂神社)in Gion (祇園)district (central Kyoto) and only around 15 minutes on foot to the famous Kiyomizudera. Yume Kyoto also has another branch near Todaiji temple. They have kimono rental plans from 3,500 to 5,250 yen depending on the type of kimono. For 3,500 yen plan, you cannot choose kimono but for the 4,000 and 5,000 yen plan, you can choose kimono, bags and accessories as well. I liked their kimono choices. They also give free Tabi (kimono socks) for free and you can bring home as souvenirs.
  2. Okamoto (岡本)– This store is located in Kiyomizudera area which can be convenient for people who wants to visit this temple. I remember seeing in just on the bottom of Kiyomizudera!
  3. Yume Yakata 〔夢館)– The cheapest plan of this place is 2,500 yen which is pretty ideal. This is also the place I did my Maiko transformation.

In addition, if you are a traveler from abroad with limited time to plan, you may opt for a package tour for this kind of kimono experience. Many are sold within the city such as at big JR stations and travel companies. Some are also sold in websites for tourists from abroad. See this discount tour for a great 1 day plan with hotel pick up, English speaking guide and admission fees included (Input code L2AI9 when downloading their app to get free credits! –apple, android). 🙂

  •     Make a reservation

Make sure you reserve in advance so you can be sure you will get a place and time you want.

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PLAN & PRICE:

Usually, the price ranges from around 3,500 to 5,250 yen for Kimono rental. However, depends on the type and prints of kimono, it can also be much more expensive or less expensive if you are very lucky. At Yume Kyoto, I chose 5,250 yen kimono and got my hair done for 1,500 yen. So in total, it was 6,750 yen. Unlike Maiko transformation, you need to do your own makeup. After you are done dressing up, you are free to walk around in kimono and return it at the store or at your hotel depending on the store’s policy. Beware not to spill anything on your kimono. You may need to pay for the cleaning fee if you do so.

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PROCESS:

  •           Go to the store at your reserved time and tell your name.
  •          They will lead you into a room full of kimonos. Choose a kimono of your choice, then choose obi (similar to a big belt). In my case that I chose 5,250 yen plan, I could choose a rope which is a layer inside the kimono, too. You can see my reddish collar inside my kimono which is not a regular white layer.
  •           Then, they will start dressing you up. Starting from the rope, inside layer, then kimono. After that, they will tie you with some more ropes and Obi. And then, you’re done! It took less than 30 minutes for me.
  •           After you’re done dressing up, they will lead you into a hair section where you can choose a hairstyle that fits you the most.20130422-110338.jpg

The whole process took about 40 minutes for me.

TIPS/ADVICE:

It is important to bring a friend to take photos for you. I was lucky as my friend’s friends join us with their professional cameras. So, we got very good photos. Also, prepare to smile a lot because so many people will ask to take pictures with you or try to snap a photo of you.20130422-112409.jpg

Last but not least, CHECK THE WEATHER before you decide to do this. It is hard to predict the weather as you may want to reserve in advance but the day won’t be as fun if it’s raining, so try to avoid it!

And…of course, ENJOY! 😉

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At the ladders in the front entrance of Kiyomizudera

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In front of Yasaka shrine

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We met two tourists dressed up as Maiko-san, too.

Big thanks to two amazing photographers Kenichi Sanguan-ngern & Nichchima Anongjanya.

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Japan Mint Cherry Blossom Viewing, Osaka 2013 – Yaezakura

In a few posts before, I talked about Yae-Zakura (八重桜) which is double cherry blossoms and the event for Yaezakura viewing at Japan mint bureau (造幣局) in Osaka head office which is now officially opened to public from April 16th-22nd.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to go to the event. I choose to go on a weekday expecting that there will be zillions of people on the weekend. As soon as I got out of Temmabashi station (天満橋駅), I could see sign saying ‘Cherry Blossom viewing’ (桜の通り抜け) with police shouting and pointing out the direction toward Japan Mint Bureau.

From the station, we walked across Ogawa river (大川)and turned right.

20130419-092553.jpgSo many food stalls were all along two sides of the road making the place look like a festival.

I got there around 5 pm, just before everyone gets off work so there were not too many people but still…I wouldn’t say there weren’t a lot of people. 😉

As soon as I passed through the crowd into Japan Mint, I was in shock for a few seconds… Most of the sakura were gone! The area was mostly green and some sakura trees had zero blossoms or some with withered blossoms. Before going there, I had some doubts whether the timing of the official event was a bit too late or not too since the weather this year got warm faster than other years. However, despite a little disappointment, some sakura trees were still very beautiful. 🙂

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This one was still full of blossoms. This type of sakura is just beautiful. The blossoms look like little bouquets hanging on a tree.

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Apparently, even among Yae-zakura, there are so many types as well. Unfortunately, this year we could not see the green and yellow Yae-zakura which must have already fallen a couple of weeks ago.

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The area inside Japan mint is somewhat similar to what supposed to be a cherry blossom tunnel with coins and metallic objects factory along side.

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Most sakura trees started to have green leaves indicating that the blossoms are about to fall. Still, it is beautiful. But as we all know, sakura is short-lived. At night, all the sakura trees were lit up and the night sakura view is said to be enchanting. I did not stay till the light up this time.

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There were also so many food stalls from the exit gate of Japan mint till the main road. I had lots of delicious festival food. 🙂

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Then, I walked back to the station pass the beautiful Ogawa river. Across the street, a huge crowd of people who just finished working were marching down to Japan Mint bureau to see Yaezakura.

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Beautiful view of Ogawa river in Osaka city

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People walking from Temmabashi station toward Japan Mint

Website: http://www.mint.go.jp/category/eng

Yae-zakura (八重桜) – Double-layer Cherry Blossom

There are many kinds of  cherry blossom. Yae-Zakura is a double-layer type of sakura which is famous for its beauty and strength. The normal type of one-layer sakura tends to be fragile and easily be blown away by strong wind or rain. I believe that a lot of us have never heard or seen this type of sakura before.

I recently visited Osaka castle wanting to see some sakura but sadly the storm had blown all the blossoms away. However, I did found this one tree of Yae-Zakura that was still full of blossoms. This type of sakura is just truly beautiful! Definitely worthwhile to see.

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I have read somewhere before that it used to be found only in Nara prefecture and mostly up on Yoshino (吉野) mountain where you can go up by rope way to view the whole mountain full of beautiful cherry blossoms. But these days, it seems to be found everywhere. I also found some information about where to see Yae-Zakura in Osaka. Apparently, there are some exhibitions and places to see this particular type of sakura.  Yae-zakura blooms a bit later than the normal sakura and the exhibition is only opened to public officially when they are in full bloom. The hanami may have been over but Yae-zakura is still here!

Where to see: Japan Mint – Osaka Head Office. This organization is an Incorporated Administrative Agency where coins, medals, metallic art objects and others are produced. You can visit the factory and see the facilities and how the objects are produced. This sounds a bit strange as a place to display Yae-zakura but the special thing about this place is not the metallic objects they produce but the fact that it has so many Yae-Zakura trees inside the place.

This year, the official opening for cherry blossom viewing is from April 16th to 22nd. Every night, the lanterns are also turned on so you can enjoy beautiful night views of sakura. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit when the event starts! 🙂

Info on the official event: http://www.mint.go.jp/enjoy-eng/sakura-eng/toorinuke-eng/eng_osaka_viewing2013.html

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CUP NOODLES MUSEUM – Make your own Cup Ramen!

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This museum is the coolest museum ever! Everyone who visits here would definitely enjoy the experience at this cup noodle museum. This museum was established by Nissin, a company that produces many of our favorite instant noodles such as Chicken Ramen, Cup Noodles, UFO, and even the space ramen for astronauts!!

The inventor of instant noodles is Ando Momofuku, one of the Japanese heroes! He was well-known all over the world as Mr.Noodles. His story is inspriring. I really enjoyed learning about how he created this invention very much. I have heard of him many times before since he was a PhD graduate from Ritsumeikan University, a mother university of my university and Nissin gives scholarship called Ando Momofuku scholarship to our students. But I’ve never really knew who he was and it was very interesting to hear about his stories!

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I live very close to this museum which is located in Minato-mirai, Yokohama but I’ve never really got a chance to visit since it is always full and I couldn’t make my own cup noodles every time I went there. This time, we went early in the morning around 10.30 and there was not many people so we got in a paid 500 yen for the tickets. Then we went upstairs to reserve a session for making our very own CUP NOODLES! We decided to go for the cup noodles and not chicken ramen since Chiken ramen takes a lot of time making it from the scratch. And cup noodles are fun!

So, let’s talk about how to make your own cup noodles!

First, after getting our 整理券 (sei-ri-ken), we waited a while and went up there when it was our time (11:30). We got in line and paid 300 yen for a blank cup, wash our hands and then we were led to our seats where we can decorate our cup noodles.

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It didn’t take very long to finish drawing and painting our cups. It was very fun! Here is the front part of my cup noodles.

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When we finished, we took our cups and lined up to get the cups filled. First, we put the noodles into the cup! This one is another one of Ando Momofuku’s big innovations.  He thought of how to put the ramen in the cup in a good shape and he came up with the idea of putting the cup over the ramen, then roll it over so that the ramen goes in nicely. We got to experience this as in the pictures!

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After putting in the noodles, it was time to choose flavor and toppings! There are many choices of stuff to put in but we can only choose 4 toppings with 1 flavor (normal cup noodles, spicy tamato, curry, seafood!). I chose the original flavor with shrimp, eggs and others. 🙂

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After filling in the flavor and the toppings, it’s time to put the cover and the package! The first put on the cover and then a plastic bag that became flat and stick to the cup after heating it up.

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And then…Tadaaa! We put our cup noodles inside a plastic bag and pumped some air inside and then it’s done. 🙂

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After making our own cup noodles, we went to look around the museum for exhibitions. It was very cool to see the development of instant noodles from decades ago. I found many that I absolutely love including instant ramen in other countries as well!

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The room next to the instant noodles showroom is Momofuku Theatre. There, we watched the origin of Momofuku’s life and how he invented this instant noodle in a cartoon version. It was pretty impressive! After failing everything with only his house left for him and his family, he still able to find ideas right out of the kitchen when he saw his wife making tempura which sparked the idea of frying the ramen and then put in water again.

We got to see the model of his house where all the ideas happened too. 😉

20130306-104114.jpgAfter that, we saw many stories on the wall in chronological order. Apparently, Ando Momofuku san lived a very long and happy life after all his hard work and died when he was 96!! We got much information about instant noodles industry…It’s unbelivable how so people people in the world are consuming cup noodles these days.

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Having seen all the exhibitions, we went up to get some lunch. There is a cup noodles park right beside the restaurant.

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The restaurant was quite fun as well. I never imagine a restaurant in a museum would be like this. In front of the restaurant, there is a Tuk Tuk (three-wheel car), the famous vehicle from my homeland-Thailand. Inside the restaurant, everything is decorated as if it was Thailand or somewhere in South East Asia. I have to admit that it really felt like home. We had a few cups of noodles-Tom Yum noodles, Mi goreng, etc. *happy*

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We can go out to the balcony and see the view as well!

Don’t forget to visit this cup noodles museum in Yokohama if you have a chance. You won’t regret it! 🙂

More information on the Website –> Click here

For interesting discounted day tour of Yokohama from Klook, click here! (Also, get free credits from their app download & input L2AI9 to get bonus credits)

Illumination inside subway station?? -Akasaka Mitsuke, Tokyo

One day last month around 8.10 am, I came to work normally but this time I found the station a bit different.

The whole station was dark and the ceiling was covered in colorful lightings looking like space with stars! There was music played in the background as well. I was super surprised to find this illumination in a regular morning. Apparently, they do this from time to time and this have been going on for a while. I’ve never seen it again but if you have a chance, check it out!! 😉

 

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I saw this again last week! But around 6 pm…so I’m not quite sure about the time schedule they do this but it’s really cool, isn’t it? 😉 I would say ONLY IN JAPAN!

New Year in Japan: Lucky bag, FUKUBUKURO 福袋!

Happy New Year 2013 everybody!

I hope you all had a wonderful countdown to the new year and a great holiday! I had a great dinner on the 31st and a count down at Minato mirai, Yokohama where they had a small firework at Cosmo square! 🙂

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Short countdown video here 🙂

My holiday is 9 days this time and after the countdown, the fun is nowhere near over. New year in Japan is the time for the biggest sale of the year and the annual shoppers-attractive promotion called “Lucky bag” or Fukubukuro in Japanese. This lucky bag first started in Matsuzakaya department store in Ginza. Each shop would put a lot of stuff in a bag and sell in cheaper price than normal. For example, for clothes- 5,000 yen for 6 items, which the real price would actually be around 25,000 yen. The customers cannot know what is inside except some stores that tells people the content of the items but people have no chance to choose color or types.

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Every year, people line up for these bags, sometimes even before the stores open. This year, I also joined the crowd. I shopped for some stuff I need which were on huge sale on January 1st. Most stores sell Fukubukuro on January 2nd-3rd. So, on 1st night, I searched for the stores list at a mall close to my place, then how many bags they sell, price, opening time, item details, etc. The mall I was planning to gave out fukubukuro catalog! After choosing the store I want to get the lucky bag, I went to bed early so that I can wake up early to line up for one! I went to Sotetsu Joinus in Yokohama around 9:10 (the mall opened at 9) and ran to the store I wanted a lucky bag. Turned out that I wasn’t early at all. I couldn’t get a waiting ticket for the shop I wanted so I gave up that one and went to another store. 🙂

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I got a 5,250 yen lucky bag from a clothing store. They offered another bigger bag sold at 10,500 yen as well. Inside the bag, there are five items! One coat, knitted sweater, scarf, and two shirts. It was worth it! 😀
Then, I also got a lucky bag from Bodyshop as well. Then a few stuff on sale and then I was out. Got tired from waiting in line for cashiers and decided to take a rest with my friends. 🙂
All of the stores have a really good deal on new year and lucky bag is just fun!!!

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These days every shops offer Fukubukuro. From clothes and shoes to snacks, cosmetics, and so many others. Even Apple has a lucky bag! I heard it is a great deal but people started lining up since the day before. Next year, I’ll try to go line up for Apple too! From the sources I read, it was 33,000 yen and the bag contains so many cool expensive stuff, even iPad or even a MacBook Air for some lucky people! Click here to read more about Apple lucky bag.

If you don’t like lucky bag and rather see the stuff for yourself before buying it, I recommend that this is still the best time of the year to shop. Everything is on sale! All the stores have a great deal during New Year. But…beware that there are loads of people out shopping during this time of the year, so make sure you sleep and eat enough- much energy needed. 😉

My 2013 started in a very happy holiday mode! I am enjoying my holiday a lot and sincerely hoping that this year will be a much better, brighter, and  happier year for me and for you all as well!
My best wishes to you!

HAPPY HOLIDAY!

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! ^^