Our experience getting a geisha makeover in Tokyo including a fascinating history about male geisha in Japan.
“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!”
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.
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.
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…
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.
iii. Putting on the geisha underwear
We then had to undress to put on the hada-juban undergarment and the unique geisha pabi socks.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
Experience Japan on a gay tour
Psst! Want in on a secret? Our friends at Out Adventures recently launched a super kawaii tour of Japan. On this all-gay foray, travelers will ride the Shinkansen bullet train between Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Highlights include a street food tour, samurai experience, a night in an authentic onsen, and an evening in Tokyo's gay district, Shinjuku Ni-chōme.
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.
FILL OUT THIS FORM TO ENJOY A 5% DISCOUNT FOR YOUR HOLIDAY TO JAPAN
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 Booking.com to find the best deals and to book accommodation online.
Happy travels are safe travels
For more inspiration:
- Read more about our geisha makeover experience in The Guardian!
- Check out our Gay Travel Guide to Tokyo
- Along with the best gay tours of Tokyo for LGBTQ travelers
- Plan your trip with our 10 days itinerary to Japan for first-time visitors
- Make sure you check out our gay travel guide to Osaka
- As well as our gay travel guide to Japan's Yaeyama Islands
- Make sure you try our 10 favourite traditional Japanese foods while you're in the country
- And try a few of our favorite Japanese recipes at home!