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Geisha makeover in Tokyo, a must do for men and women

Stefan Arestis
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“As Sayuri was standing beneath the Cherry tree, speaking to the one man she loved but could not have,
a sprinkle of delicate pale pink petals fell upon them like snow…”

At this point, Sebastien GRABBED the remote control, interrupting the most beautiful moment of Memoirs of a Geisha to declare:

“STEFAN! One day, we too, will become geisha!”

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Gay couple travel bloggers travelling Dressing up as geisha in Tokyo
The “Before” photo

1. The studio Geisha cafe in Tokyo

Fast forward a few years and we find ourselves in the unassuming Studio Geisha Cafe in Morishita, suburbia Tokyo, ready for our own transformation and experience of a lifetime.

“50% of our customers are in fact Japanese men, mainly heterosexual, who simply want to transform into something completely different”.

Michiru, a former model/actress, set up the Studio Geisha Cafe with her husband to provide people the chance to live out their dream. She's used to Japanese men who want to be transformed and we were fortunate to be her first foreign male geisha.

For those who've been following us, you'll know we love to seek out extraordinary experiences, like that one time we learnt to pout and swim like mermaids on Boracay. So imagine our jubilation when we discovered geisha makeover in Tokyo.

Geisha makeover in Tokyo first foreign white male geisha
And yes geisha is both singular and plural…Stefan is 1 sole geisha, but with his French beau they become 2 geisha

2. A quick word about culture appropriation

Before proceeding any further, we want to make it quite clear this is not in anyway intended to mock or poke fun at the Japanese geisha culture.

Our intention is simply to discover more about it and celebrate this beautiful, fascinating and wonderful cultural facet of Japan.

Sebastien geisha makeover in Tokyo
Seby-Yakko preparing for his big moment to shine in front of the cameras

3. The elusive male geisha

Geisha comes from two words, gei and sha which translates to art person. The young geisha apprentice is called meiko, meaning dance child. Historically, geisha are entertainers who perform various arts like classical music, dancing and games.

But the original geisha were in fact men not women!

The original geisha was male advisors and entertainers to their daimyo (feudal lords), dating back to the 1200s. They were tea connoisseurs, artists and gifted storytellers. The first female geisha didn't appear until 1751 but grew so quickly in popularity that they soon outnumbered their male counterparts.

Today, there are 5 known (male geisha) in Japan according to Wikipedia (4 in Tokyo and 1 in Kyoto), like Senzo Sakuragawa.

Make that 7 if you include us…

Nomadic Boys geisha makeover in Tokyo
Geisha spotting in Tokyo: can you spot the Nomadic Geisha?

4. Our Geisha transformation

The make up transformation along with dressing up in the elaborate geisha kimonos took around 2 hours, plus a further hour for the photo shoot.

i. First we had to shave!

It goes without saying you need to shave before doing anything (much to Stefan's reluctance):

ii. Choosing our kimonos

The Studio Geisha Cafe has a selection of beautiful traditional kimonos to try on. Stefan chose his favourite colour (mysterious purple) and Sebastien the more chic, classical black.

geisha makeover in Tokyo choosing kimonos
Stefan always striving for subtetly (!) chose the elaborate bright pink/purple kimono while Sebastien opted for a more classical style

iii. Putting on the geisha underwear

We then had to undress to put on the hada-juban undergarment and the unique geisha pabi socks.

Geisha makeover in Tokyo geisha socks
The special pabi geisha socks which are uniquely divided in the middle

iv. The wig fitting

Before make up, the correct geisha wig had to be selected and fitted. The wig was then put aside and an under layer taped to our head, ready for make up.

Geisha makeover Tokyo wig fitting Seb
After Sebastien's under layer for his wig was in place, he was then now ready for the geisha make up

v. Applying the geisha make up

The Studio Geisha Cafe works with specialist artist Kyoko Matsushita, who has a lot of experience doing make up for men (and women).

A special oil (bintsuke abura) was applied, followed by a white mayu-tsubushi wax to hide the eyebrows and a few layers of foundation to hide beard shadow. Powder was then applied to set the foundation, followed by the shironuri white paste makeup along with red lipstick and eyeliner touches.

The shironuri white paste, so commonly associated with geisha, is a tradition from the days when there was no electricity. It was used to showcase a young beautiful face in the dark candle lit rooms.

Geisha makeover in Tokyo Sebastien 1 hours make up
Does this geisha shironuri make up showcase this young (!!) beautiful face?

vi. Kimono…wigs…lights…and action!

After make up, we were ready to put on our kimonos, have our wigs re fitted and prepare the pouts for the cameras.

Traditionally, teeth are hidden by Japanese girls when smiling as it's regarded as impolite, which is why they cover their mouth when laughing. This suited the pouting Seby-Yakko just fine!

Sebastien geisha makeover transformation in Tokyo
Seby-Yakko perfecting the pout during his photo shoot

An occasional flash of red from the undergarment is a subtle way to titillate: red is historically meant to drive Japanese men wild with passion, so geisha expose it every now and then, ever so coyly, to woo their audience.

Geisha makeover in Tokyo Stefan photoshoot
Fanny-Yakko flashes a bit of red to titillate

If you too want to transform into a geisha, we highly recommend Michiru and her team at The Geisha Studio Cafe. They can also dress you up as a samurai and offer wedding makeovers for both men and women.

Prices for the geisha transformation at the Studio Geisha Cafe are:


  • 16,000 yen ($150/£104) without make up
  • 23,500 yen ($220/£152) with make up


  • 15,000 yen ($140/£97) without make up
  • 20,000 yen ($187/£130) with make up

Watch our time lapse video of Stefan's geisha make over in Tokyo:


Travel recommendations to Japan

Train saving tips: Depending on how many trains you plan to take in Japan, it may be worth investing in a 7 days JR Pass ($250), which allows you unlimited travel throughout the country for 7 consecutive days. But you must buy it from an agent before you go.

We personally used Japan Rail Pass. They offered the best prices and would definitely recommend them.

Tour operator: We travelled independently to Japan but we're often asked if we can recommend a good tour company. We've partnered up with Out Asia travel who offer luxury private tours and tailored itineraries to Japan. These guys are locals, passionate travellers and have a real insight of Japanese culture. They are offering our readers an exclusive 5% discount for bookings of 7 days or more when you quote NOMADIC5 in your enquiry.


Travel insurance: Whether you go diving, hiking or just lay on the beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it's all done online.

Internet access: most public places in Japan will have public WiFi available. But if like us you want unlimited fast internet on the go everywhere you are, we recommend renting a pocket WiFi router.

Flights: To fly to Japan and within, we recommend Skyscanner. Their website is very easy to use and they always offer the best prices. You can even search for the cheapest flights for any given month.

Hotels: Japan has a huge diversity of accommodation options. It is not the cheapest country to travel in but we found that quality is consistent with the price you pay. When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research about the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use to find the best deals and to book accommodation online.

Happy travels are safe travels

We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.


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Geisha makeover Pinterest for men
Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author of the gay travel blog As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

40 thoughts on “Geisha makeover in Tokyo, a must do for men and women”

  1. this is amazing ! I love it ! where is this studio in Tokyo ? i am looking for a place to do a complete geisha makeover and i would really appreciate if you had some places to recommand =)

  2. I love this guys! I had no idea the original Geisha were men, but it makes sense. We are going to Japan in June and I really want to do this! I wonder if I can convince Guy to do it with me? 😉

  3. This is one of my favourite posts on your site so far! What an incredible, unusual experience. I didn’t think anything could top your mermaid outfits but your geisha look is stunning.

  4. Seriously, could I love your adventures any more?! I love that you dove into this with everything! You look fantastic – I had no idea that that was you guys! Thanks for sharing about your transformation into this beautiful part of Japanese culture.

  5. Words do not even begin to cover how fantastic this is or my extraordinary jealous right now. If I am ever in Tokyo I know where I’m heading (along with the bf who I’m sure would make a great geisha too!)

  6. Oh my gosh, you two are funny and cute, and I do think our whole family would love to play dress-up here. Did you just dress up for pictures, or was there more to it?

    • Sadly only for the photo. I really wanted to go into the streets dressed as geisha, but Seb thought it was a bit too inappropriate…

  7. You guys always find the most fascinating things to do! This is no exception. Who knew how lovely you can be? Very neat guys. You Rock!

  8. You book look amazing! I absolutely love this. This is he first time that I have read about the transformation process as well, which is super interesting. Thanks for sharing the history of geishas and your incredible experience.

  9. This is amazing!! I have been in Japan twice now and have always thought the geisha were so beautiful! I had NO idea the original geisha were men — cool!! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. Oh my goodness this is amazing! Such interesting and fascinating information about geishas. I had no idea that there were male geishas at one point. And this photoshoot is EPIC! I definitely want to do this whenever I go to Japan. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. Looks like a great experience if you want to transform yourself into a geisha and culturally immerse yourself into a Japanese icon

      • I’m glad you put in the quick word about cultural appropriation because I’ve been in heated discussions where people think dressing up in other culture’s traditional garb is wrong. But as a Korean-American, I love it when others dress up in Korean traditional clothes. It’s fun!

        I definitely want to do this whwen I go to Japan. However, there seems to be some price discrimination against men lol

        • Thanks Sarah. It’s cause we need a heck of a lot more make up then you lovely gals to hide the beard shadows!!!! 🙂


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