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Girljin in Japan By Rachel Tranter Davies
I Dreamed of Being a Geiko


Anyone who knows me knows how fascinated I am by the world of maiko and geiko in Kyoto; how beautiful and feminine the kimono, how perfect the positioning and movement of hands whilst pouring tea, how intricate the hair ornaments and minute details in their make up, I'm in awe of it all. So when I was offered the chance to dress as one in a real ochaya, I jumped, heart first...



Geisha, or geiko as they're called in Kyoto dialect, are synonymous with Japan. Mysterious and fantastical, theirs is a world that has inspired many stories and is still little understood, particularly by foreign visitors. Though geiko can be found throughout Japan, Kyoto has long been considered the birthplace of this incredible culture where these professional entertainers undertake years of intense study into the practices, dances, songs and traditions of this elegant world. Starting lessons from the age of 15, learning takes place in an ochaya, a teahouse used for entertainment by geisha, usually with adjacent living quarters known as an okiya.



The path towards becoming a fully-fledged geiko begins with the apprentice 'maiko' stage and is often the look one envisages when imagining modern day geiko. The elaborate and brightlycoloured kimono, faces covered in white makeup with painted lips in deep carmine red, eyes and nose accented with light rose hues and hair coiffed into neat, gravity-defying twists, decorated with sparkling pins and delicate silk flowers. This beauty is revered by locals and tourists alike, so much so that it has become an industry in itself with a few studios in Kyoto giving tourists the opportunity of a full geiko and maiko makeover, but very rarely will one be done in a real ochaya

Here's where my luck came in. Being introduced to an Okasan (meaning "mother," but which also refers to the owner of an ochaya or okiya) in Kamishichiken, Kyoto's oldest kagai (geiko/ maiko district), it was here that the opportunity to partake in this incredible experience was extended.



I arrived at the ochaya on a beautiful spring morning, I rang the doorbell and waited, nervous to be on my best behaviour in such a prestigious and unfamiliar setting. The okasan buzzed me in and up I went to the second floor to be met with genuinely friendly smiles and a chorus of "ohayo gozaimasu (good morning)" from herself and the dressing assistant. My nerves were settled. I was given photographs of the kimono that belonged to this particular ochaya and asked which I'd like to wear. Black is the most formal colour of kimono. Katsufumi had one decorated with a vermillion palate in the folds of the flowing fabric near to the feet, interspersed with beautifully designed crane motifs, a bird, which in Japanese culture, is believed to live for a thousand years, inhabiting the land of the immortals and so symbolising longevity and good fortune.



I sat down to start the make up application process. Pots of powders and creams appeared and the okasan started to paint, only this time I was the canvas. I sat patiently imagining how it would feel to go through these motions every night as work. Perhaps the novelty would eventually wear off but for me it was thrilling. After a while of drifting in and out of a daydream, in which I was Kyoto's most accomplished and best-loved geiko, I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror... I didn't recognise myself, I had been transformed into the geiko from my dream.


Rachel is a food, drink and travel writer. Originally from England, she recently relocated to Japan and is now finding her feet in Kyoto. You can find her blogging tweeting and instagramming her experiences at Girljin in Japan.




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