So we were half-way through the trip and this was our last day in Kyoto. I had a friend from England whom I wanted to catch up with and we’d organized to meet near a temple south of Kyoto station. We went to university together in Tokyo (she came for a 12 month exchange while I was there for the long-haul!) and after going back to England for a while, she went back to Japan and had been living in the Nagoya area ever since.
But before that, there were things to be done!
First, we wandered down the canal near the Pontocho area and admired the cherry blossoms that were just starting to make an appearance:
M liked the streetscapes of Pontocho with its many little bars and eateries in narrow streets:
Then we crossed over the Kamo river and headed into the Gion area:
And caught a bus to take me to my maiko transformation appointment at 11am.
I’d wanted to book my appointment at a traditional Kyoto machiya house, but the place I’d wanted to go to was booked out, so I had to go to a place with much less ambience, Kanon. It turned out that the staff were very nice and I had a great time though, so it was all good.
I chose a plan that included a half-wig, maiko-style kimono, 4 professional photos taken outside and 1hr free time to walk around outside. A half-wig always looks more natural because they actually incorporate your hair into the wig so there are no ‘wig lines’, but it does take more time to do and is often an additional cost. I also like the look of outside photos better than studio photos. I paid 13,500 (about $170 at current exchange rates) for everything and after doing much research on the web, found it to be one of the most reasonably priced places out of the fifty billion places in Kyoto that do it (it’s a popular thing amongst Japanese people to do too.)
I started out with some uberly sexy undergarments (that were waaaaaay too small for me as my boobs were hanging out and the lady had to put a hair clip on the front to prevent further wardrobe malfunctions):
Then eyebrows, eyeliner, lips and other assorted highlights and blush were added (the next few pics are stills from videos so they’re not the best):
The eyeliner was ridiculously painful and you can’t wear hard contacts while they do it. I wear soft so it was okay, but, quite seriously, I was feeling the urge to safeword…
Then it was time to prep my hair for the wig:
Then the wig went on and my hair was incorporated into the wig:
The blonde is a bit of a problem – until you spray it black!
Once I was sprayed, face and wig were done (taking about 40mins all up) and it was time to get dressed:
Dressing took about 20mins or so. I have enough problems putting on a yukata myself (which is about as easy as it gets) but I guess if you’re dressing 20 people or so a day, everyday in kimono, you become a pro.
After the kimono I then had to choose a head piece and went with a pretty wisteria (even though it wasn’t seasonally appropriate, I liked that it was so ‘dangly’). Then I had to choose which poses I would do for the photos from their samples. Once I had chosen, the camera man, the assistant, M and myself headed outside and up the hill to a nearby shrine to take some pics with various props.
Once we got to the shrine, various poses were taken with props:
Some really important things to remember when doing this are (a) don’t open your mouth – yellow teeth are not a good look, (b) don’t smile too much – you’ll look like a fool, (c) stick your chest out and hold your bum in – you’ll still look like a tree trunk, but it looks better in photos, (d) walk with teeny, tiny steps and point your toes in – this will make sure your kimono doesn’t start opening of its own accord.
After photos were done, they asked me if I wanted to change out of my very challenging angled shoes (I decided to suck it up and persevere), hitched up my kimono so I didn’t have to hold it up, gave me a map of some scenic places to walk and said they’d see us in an hour:
So I wandered around with M taking copious photos and videos and I had lots of random people coming up wanting to take photos with me and lots of passing people telling me I looked good.
Secretly, just between you and me, I felt totally like a star and it was great. I’d hmmmed and harrrred about doing it because it is such a touristy, kitcsh thing to do, but afterwards, I was super glad I’d done in. In fact, I’d like to do it again!
Once we went back, they removed the kimono and then the wig and then I had a shower and attempted to wash the black streaks out of my hair (it ended up taking a few days…). Once I was back to normal, I handed over the cash and they handed me the four pics plus a couple of bonus ones and some postcards. Then it was time to catch the bus to go and meet my friend.
We decided to go to Tofukuji and have a look at their gardens. Neither of us had been there before and after seeing it, I’d recommend avoiding Ryoanji and heading straight for Tofukuji.
The rock garden is very cool:
The temple complex is made up of a whole series of different buildings and gardens and I’d recommend wearing easy to remove shoes (as you’ll be carrying them around with you in a plastic bag on several occasions and the bags ain’t made for boots):
After the temple, we caught a taxi and headed down to the Fushimi area that is packed with old sake breweries. We went to the Gekkeikan Sake Museum for some education free tastings. On the way we had a very chatty driver who was pointing out all the local landmarks like the original headquarters of Nintendo (when they manufactured card games) and the current headquarters of Kyosera. Then it was time for a late lunch/early dinner at a nearby chicken speciality restaurant Torisei.
We started out with a selection of yakitori grilled on skewers:
Minced chicken with perilla leaves and sour plum paste:
M had some unpasteurized sake straight from the barrel that is served in a very full and over-flowing cup (thus the saucer):
And I had a ramune:
Afterwards we decided to take a scenic walk back along the canals that were used to bring the rice to the breweries and head back to the station.
Unfortunately, I got a bit lost and had to ask my friend to whip out her mobile and look at the GPS. We went ahead to see which way were were supposed to be going and got separated from M by some train tracks:
Part 6 to come…