Monday, 17 December 2018

Studio Shiki Maiko Henshin Review

Studio Shiki Maiko Henshin

To carry on from my oiran henshin (courtesan makeover) review, I thought it'd be best to follow suit with the maiko (apprentice geisha) henshin I experienced in Kyoto during the same trip to Japan, at Studio Shiki. It was my first trip so I really went all out in making sure I had the best, most memorable trip with every experience I wanted to try, since I wasn't sure when I'd be able to visit again (spoiler alert: I ended up going the next year, for twice as long). I did my maiko henshin before my oiran henshin as the maiko one was the one I knew I 110% wanted to do, and I wasn't sure if I could afford both experiences during one trip. I ended up throwing caution to the wind and booking the oiran transformation after my maiko experience because I knew I couldn't let the opportunity slip me by. I did these experiences in January 2016 but checked recent TripAdvisor reviews to see if my experiences are still relevant, which I believe they are. The only thing that may have changed is the prices/conversion rate changing slightly.

I gave a little bit of information on what an oiran was during my last post, but I feel like people may know more about maiko and geisha. However, some of the knowledge may be untrue or exaggerated, such as they were prostitutes. Like oiran, maiko and geisha are first and foremost artists and entertainers. I could go on and on about the difference between maiko and geisha (called "geiko" in Kyoto because they were thought to be higher quality and more talented than geisha from anywhere else), why people think geisha were prostitutes and more but I'll spare you from that. All I will say, that relates to the post, is that a maiko is an apprentice geisha who wears more hair accessories, cuter make-up and more decorated kimono and accessories than a geiko. This is because the emphasis was on the maiko being the epitome of young beauty, and that when she graduated to full geiko status, she didn't need to rely on more accessories and flashier kimono to attract customers. Her skill, talent and subdued beauty would be more than enough. You could only be a maiko up until the age of 21, then you had to graduate (known as "turning the collar") as a geiko, and if a woman wants to become a geisha after the age of 21, there is no maiko stage and she debuts as a geisha immediately after training. I was 21 when I had this makeover so I was juuuuuust in time haha! I had the experience in January 2016 and my birthday is in February, phew! Of course, you can have a maiko henshin at any age, but I got extra pleasure from being just the right age. Now I have done a maiko makeover and am a bit older, I would love to do a geiko henshin to compliment and compare.

I did some research and settled on Studio Shiki for my maiko henshin as they seemed one of the highest quality studios, with a large selection of authentic kimono and accessories, and had consistent good reviews and service. Their transformations look more authentic than other studios I have seen. Their head shop is located in Gion, the most famous geisha district in the whole of Japan, let alone Kyoto, which was a definite selling point to me. They also have another branch in Higashiyama called the Sakura Branch. Studio Shiki's prices were reasonable and they had a sale running when I visited. They also had a sale on when I last checked their website recently for writing this article, so they may be one of those shops that have continuous sales. It seems the package I went for is no longer available, it was inbetween "Studio shoot with strolling plan" and "Executive plan". I can't remember the exact price but as the "Studio shoot with strolling plan" is currently ¥18,900 (about £140) and the "Executive plan" is ¥33,900 (£240), I think it was around ¥20,000 (£150) at the most. In my plan, after hair, make-up and dressing (in which you keep the white tabi socks they give you to wear as an additional souvenir and for hygiene reasons), I had four studio photos taken, around 40-60 photos taken outside, a rickshaw ride, 30 minutes of free strolling outside in the attire, all the photos on a CD and 8 photos in a full colour photo book. The "Executive plan" comes with postcards and phone charms which mine did not, so they have updated the packages slightly. I wouldn't be particularly interested in postcards or phone charms so I'm glad I visited before they changed the plans.

Another titbit for you: all maiko/geisha makeover studios are required to dress you with a couple of inaccuracies at least (very small inaccuracies that a regular person wouldn't be able to spot, such as slightly out-of-season hair accessories, kimono or accessories) so that you can be distinguished from real maiko and geisha. There is one studio I know of that can dress you completely authentically, but you aren't allowed to go outside, you can only have photos taken in their studio and garden.

Geisha makeover review

The studio was very easy to find using Google Maps, and I was greeted by the staff. There was an slightly older lady being served when I entered, and she was enquiring about having a geiko henshin instead of maiko and they said it was no problem. I was taken to a changing area, and changed into a white "nagajuban" robe, which is worn under kimono. I put my clothes, shoes and bag in a lockable locker.

First was make-up, as the white face make-up needs to be complete before hair styling or a wig is put on. They applied my make-up very expertly. At first the stark white make-up with no contour colour and your eyebrows covered is a bit shocking and interesting to see, but they fill in your eyebrows and contour your face with a light pink powder to add dimension and shadow, and of course do your eye make-up and lips. I paid a small surcharge (around ¥500-¥800; it's ¥800 now so I can't remember if it was always ¥800 or they put the prices up) to have false eyelashes applied as they look better in photos. Next was hair - you can choose between a full wig, or half-wig, where the back of your hair is covered with a half wig and the front is styled in the maiko hairstyle slightly overlapping the wig (like with the oiran henshin), and it looks more natural than a full wig. If your hair is not black, they can spray it black temporarily. Because my hair is long and black, it was a no-brainer to go with the half-wig and I wanted it to look as natural as possible. They styled my hair well, using wax to smooth my hair and wispy bits at the front. They put a couple of classic maiko hair accessories in my hair, such as the red fabric tied around the front "bump" of your hair, and a tortoiseshell comb. The rest of the hair accessories would come after kimono dressing in order to match them up.

After hair and make-up, you can choose your kimono and accessories. I went with a beautiful black kimono with pink and purple cherry blossom flowers, red and white collar (all maiko have a red collar and change to pure white when they graduate to geisha) and matching accessories. I asked for recommendations on obi and accessories to look better and was given a couple of choices with everything so the experience was personalised. After I was dressed in the kimono and accessories, they chose hair accessories (kanzashi) to match the kimono. I was very pleased they chose two short kanzashi: first year maiko have only their bottom lip painted red, and one short and one long kanzashi that trails down in their hair, whilst second year maiko have both lips painted and two short kanzashi in their hair. One common inaccuracy that studios sometimes do (as required) is that they get the client to wear a long kanzashi but paint both lips. Anyone who knows even slightly more than a regular person about maiko and geisha know these signs of a first and second year maiko, so I was pleased they didn't make that obvious (to me, at least) mistake with me. Obviously someone who knows next to nothing about maiko and geisha wouldn't know, which is fine. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable about maiko, geisha and their attire would be able to point out the inaccuracies of my outfit.

After I was dressed fully with accessories, hair accessories, my hair and make-up done, I was led to a small studio set up to have some pictures taken without shoes on. They gave me props like a traditional straw bottomed bag, fan and parasol to pose with, and advice on how to pose. To be honest, the studio backdrop was not very attractive to me, it was that kind of mottled blue similar to when you have school pictures taken so I wasn't particularly bothered about studio photos. Obviously I'd have them as I paid for them but I was more interested in location photos. After the studio photos, they gave me a pair of maiko shoes to wear, "okobo", which are wooden platform sandals with small bells in them to tinkle as you walk. Genuine maiko okobo are quite high, around 4 inches/10cm in height but I think the studio's okobo were a bit shorter. I'm assuming it's for client safety if they aren't used to walking in high platforms (being a bonafide goth, I would've loved to try my hand walking okobo with the proper height) and also maybe another slight inaccuracy they're required to do. I can't confirm this as I have seen photos of genuine maiko and their okobo vary slightly in height. After stepping into the shoes, I took my first steps outside (easy peasy) and the staff advised me on how to hold my kimono as I walk. They also said I could put my phone or camera in my kimono sleeve as opposed to using a bag so that my hands were free, and so that I could take photos during my time outside.

I was taken to some beautiful traditionally Japanese locations in Gion to have pictures taken in my ensemble. I was given further advice on poses and positioning. The photographer was lovely and encouraging. Whilst I was having my photo taken in some small quaint alley, a Chinese couple saw me and asked to have their photo taken with me! The girl was in a lovely white lace dress (kind of bridal style but I'm sure it wasn't her wedding day) and the man was in a black and white suit. It was very sweet, I would've tried communicating that I'm not a real geisha but the language barrier was a bit of a problem and they didn't seem to mind. The photographer asked if I would mind having my photo taken with them, which was considerate to ask.

Maiko makeover review

After the couple thanked us and left, we took some more photos in different locations, such as in the general hanamachi ("flower town", a name for the geisha districts), in front of shrine gates and other locations. I was then led to a rickshaw stand and a very friendly rickshaw driver, Ryo, was there to meet me for my rickshaw ride. The photographer told me he would take me around Kyoto for around a 20 minute ride, and then I would be able to stroll around for about half an hour before I was expected back at the studio to reverse the makeover. Ryo was so friendly and polite, he spoke a bit of English and was very eager to practice with me as well as encourage my Japanese by asking if I knew various objects and things in Japanese. Not only did he take me around Kyoto in a rickshaw, he also stopped to take photos of me in the rickshaw using my camera, pointed out local landmarks and places of interest and really went out of his way for a wonderful rickshaw tour of Kyoto. As he took me around Kyoto, people stopped to watch, some smiling, waving or taking photos, especially when we stopped for photos. My ride was a round-trip, and Ryo took me back to the rickshaw stand where we took a photo together, and he gave me a few small souvenirs free of charge, including stickers and postcards. Having a friendly and eager rickshaw driver added to the experience wonderfully, I could not have asked for a better driver. I felt like a celebrity being drove around Gion in a rickshaw and being photographed.

After I bid farewell to Ryo, I was left to wander Kyoto on my own. I didn't want to stray too far from the studio as I didn't want to get lost or arrive late back at the studio, but I also wanted to use the strolling time fully and not head back early. I stopped to take a couple of selfies on my phone, obviously, and strolled around for a bit. I didn't want to stop and browse stores as I could do that another day, and I was kind of pretending to be a real maiko so of course they wouldn't stop to look at window displays in their regalia. It would be more authentic to be power-walking daintily through the streets and alleyways of Kyoto, pretending I'm on my way to my next banquet or event as that's pretty much all you see of maiko and geiko outside in Kyoto, unless a new maiko is debuting or turning her collar to become a geiko. Lots of people stopped, stared, smiled, waved or took photos. I must admit, I don't normally care what people think of me or if they stop to stare or take photos, but I felt a little self-conscious in my maiko get-up. It was mostly down to myself and my weird pride; I knew I wasn't a real maiko and I didn't want people to think I was pretending to be one. There are plenty of photos of girls dressed as maiko and geisha in public, and people think they are the genuine article but they aren't. I just wanted to play make-believe in my head and stroll around for my own enjoyment. I didn't let this put me off though; I'd paid for the strolling plan after all, so after about 20 minutes of walking around, I headed back to Studio Shiki just to make sure I wouldn't be late. As I ducked into the studio in a small alleyway, I noticed people poking their heads round the corner to see where I was heading, so it was quite a nice touch to be heading into a traditional looking Kyoto building to add to the illusion.

Once I arrived back at the studio, I took the okobo off and was led upstairs to begin the process of undressing. Staff took off my kimono, accessories, hair accessories and half-wig for me, led into the original changing area, which had sinks, hair dryers and toiletries in it and told me to take my time removing the rest. I didn't feel pressured to hurry so I did indeed take my time removing the make-up and washing my face with the skincare they offer. They had a thick cold cream to remove the make-up by massaging and melting the make-up, then rinsing it off. I also washed the wax out of the front part of my hair using the provided shampoo and dried my hair with the provided hair dryer. I'm pretty sure they also had some make-up products to use as well but I brought my own. The amenities they provided were a necessary and thoughtful touch to keeping your experience perfect. No need to go out with lanky, waxy hair or specks of make-up still on your face. After I'd washed my face, washed and dried my hair and got dressed, I went downstairs to a waiting area, gave back my white robe and  was told to relax in the area whilst I waited for my CD of photos in digital format. I was given a photo book with 8 of my photos printed in full colour on thick, glossy photo card. They didn't ask me which photos to use, and I can only assume they print the photo book as you are having the rickshaw ride and stroll. The photos were okay and included the studio ones I weren't enthralled with, but you can't really complain when they also give you all the photos on a CD. Their logic is, quite rightly: make your own goddamn photo book if you don't like this one! They put everything in a bag for me along with a pamphlet for the studio and walked me to the entrance where they wished me a warm goodbye. I continued my day sightseeing in Kyoto, almost in a daze from the wonderful experience I'd had. I almost couldn't wait to get back to my hostel that evening, where they had a laptop free for guest use, so that I could see the photos on the CD and upload a couple to social media. I'd previously posted my selfie from earlier in the day and my friends and family were eager to see the rest of my experience.

My maiko henshin was my number one thing to do during my Japan trip, and it couldn't have gone better for me. It was worth every penny paid and I treasure the experience fully. The staff were warm and attentive, perfect Japanese customer service as always, and eager to find out I speak Japanese. They gave me full choice in kimono selection, and multiple options for accessories when I asked for advice. The photographer was lovely and my rickshaw driver, Ryo was the perfect attentive driver and tour guide. I highly recommend this unforgettable experience if you have any interest in a maiko or geisha makeover and want a unique experience during your trip to Kyoto! As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, I would love to do a geiko henshin now I have done a maiko one and because I am a little bit older. Some may find it pretentious but I sometimes remind myself of the notion that geiko are more refined and subdued in grace and style as they rely on their experience and talent to progress in life. I remind myself of this when I notice my fashion style evolve but still compare myself to younger girls and think "I wish I could look as cute as them!".

I hope this review was informative and in-depth without being too long. I wanted to cover every aspect for a comprehensive review but if I've left anything out or you have any questions, pop them in the comments and I'll get back to you.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Studio Nanairo Oiran Henshin Review

Studio Nanairo Oiran Henshin review

I was just about to post these photos of my Oiran Henshin experience at Studio Nanairo back in 2015 on Instagram along with a mini review and it motivated me to write the full review I always intended to. I meant to write an in-depth review of their service, studio and experience after my trip but, well, time makes fools of us all. I checked TripAdvisor reviews for the studio recently, just in case their service has changed drastically, however unlikely, and it still sounds the same so I'm sure this review will still be relevant.

First up, for the uninitiated: what's an oiran? Henshin? Nanairo? Studio Nanairo is the name of a makeover studio in Asakusa, Tokyo. Nanairo means "seven colours". "Henshin" means "transformation", so in this sense it can be translated as "makeover".

An oiran was a high class courtesan (a classy way of saying a prostitute) whose culture rose to popularity in Edo period Japan. They were first and foremost entertainers, and were highly educated, intelligent, witty and skilled artists in dance, singing, calligraphy, musical instruments and flower arranging. They weren't your cheap street corner prostitutes. The highest rank of an oiran was "tayuu". A night with a tayuu easily cost over a month's wage for a regular Joe like a labourer or shopkeeper and around the annual salary of a shop assistant. As well as, well, pleasuring you, they attended banquets, were skilled conversationalists, danced, sang, played musical instruments and kept a banquet entertained and flowing. They were the precursor to geisha, who actually performed alongside or behind oiran but did not have sex with clients. The decline of oiran and rise of geisha is another story for another time, perhaps, but it was mostly down to prostitution laws and cost. It may seem strange that people want to dress up as prostitutes, but oiran were revered, had celebrity-like status and their art and fashion set trends in Japan. Nowadays the fashion and culture has been preserved with the prostitution taken out of it, and there are still a handful of real oiran and tayuu about today, but like I mention, they more preserve the culture, perform at festivals and do not participate in sex work.

 Studio Nanairo have many makeover packages including kimono walking packages, which are where they dress you in standard kimono and let you sightsee for the day in it, then return it in the evening or morning after. There is a maiko (apprentice geisha) and geisha makeover package, but personally I would not recommend these. I can tell they are not the studio's forte and you would have a much  better experience having a maiko/geiko henshin in Kyoto, the home of geisha culture.

There are various levels of oiran package, only really relating to the amount of photos and prints given and printed, and the choice of two uchikake (highly decorated outer kimono) to be photographed in for variety. All the oiran packages come with hair, make-up, full kimono and accessories, uchikake, studio use with props and at least 3 printed photos. I opted for the "nadeshiko" package, which allowed me to wear one uchikake and have 3 printed photos of my experience. I ended up purchasing all the digital images on a CD (about 40-50 images) for around an extra £100 because I simply couldn't decide on just three images and wanted to treasure the experience fully. I also wanted the ability to post the photos online rather than just have prints of them.

The prices may have changed a little in 3 years, and undoubtedly the conversation rate, but it cost me roughly £150 for the experience then the additional cost for the digital images. The "nadeshiko" package is currently ¥25,000 plus tax (8%).

It was easy to make a reservation online, and their website is available in very good English. The studio was easy to find with Google Maps. I was greeted warmly upon entry and the customer service throughout was impeccable, as is expected of Japanese customer service. I must note that I have heard that Western tourists that don't speak Japanese can receive a little less than exceptional service, not in Studio Nanairo but in general. I do speak some Japanese and was always met with delight that I could speak Japanese so I feel it's good to note this. The staff were friendly, chatty and polite with me.

Studio Nanairo Oiran makeover photo

First you change into a plain cotton robe and put your clothes, shoes and bag in a basket that you ferry around with you from area to area, and that allowed me to take some photos on my phone at the end of the experience. The first experience is hair and make-up, done in the same place. You should come with no make-up on, which I don't like doing but it's essential. The staff were chatty whilst doing my hair and make-up, and asked me if I'd like a "pretty" or "cool" style to my overall look. I said that I loved the film "Sakuran", and Anna Tsuchiya's character Kiyoha in it, and they immediately set about making me in the image of her, even comparing hair accessories and changing them to what they felt were better suited! They made me feel very taken care of and my experience a special one. They used my hair and hair pieces to create the Oiran hairstyle, and using your own hair makes it look very natural as opposed to a full wig. The make-up was done nicely and to suit my facial features. They put all the combs and hair accessories in my hair once my hair and make-up were done.

Next up was changing into kimono. You got to choose from a large range of kimono, but naturally I gravitate to black kimono, and chose what the attendant said was a very traditional and lovely kimono. It was black speckled with red and white sakura blossoms on it. You have say in the obi and following kimono accessories, and I asked for recommendations to create a nicely balanced coordinate. They always gave me 2-3 recommendations and then I chose the one I liked most. You then choose your uchikake, the heavily decorated and embroidered silk outer kimono, and I chose a red one with traditional imagery of flowers and crane on it to compliment the red in the rest of the make-up and outfit.

Some reviews on TripAdvisor have said they felt rushed in choosing their kimono, but I didn't. I said all the kimono were beautiful and it was hard to choose, and they didn't rush me at all. Again, maybe it was down to me speaking Japanese, and their fear of me being able to express my disdain at any less than perfect customer service. Spoiler alert: I still don't know how to complain in Japanese so joke's on them haha.

Next up is the actual studio photography session! The studio is beautifully decorated and ambient, with a sumptuous feel and lighting. The photographer gave me poses and props to try, words of encouragement and generally was great at his job. There were a couple of staff members in attendance to hand me props and also offer tips for posing and positioning. The kimono and hair accessories are quite heavy, and the obi is kind of like a corset in that it restricts your back movement and flexibility so it was a little challenging but fun posing and looking effortless in the outfit!

Again, I read in some reviews that people felt rushed in their experience, with one reviewer saying they wished they'd had about 10 minutes or so after the photography session to simply take in how they looked and felt. I can't say I felt rushed in this aspect either, and the staff members actually asked me if I'd like some full length photos taken on my phone, and then I took a couple of selfies as well. Afterwards, I changed back into my regular clothes, removed the make-up and hair accessories. I had forgot to bring my make-up with me to be able to do my make-up after the experience, and even worse, I don't think there was facilities to wash and dry my hair after the experience as well, or if there was, I didn't see it. This was only a problem because, as tradition dictates, they use a firm wax in your hair, especially at the front, to keep your hair smooth, glossy and free from flyaways. When I brushed my fringe back down, it was super waxy and gross looking, and I hadn't brought anything to alleviate the situation. I found a hair pin in my bag and pinned my fringe to the side but it wasn't my ideal look and I had to rush back to my accommodation to wash my fringe and style myself before continuing my day. This experience wasn't really down to the studio; like I say, I can't remember if there were facilities to wash my hair but there were during my maiko henshin in Kyoto (review to come). I felt very self-conscious rushing back to my accommodation with no make-up on and my fringe greasily pinned to the side. In reality, people probably didn't care or notice but it's not how I like to present myself in public so I was in distress. The staff also didn't treat me any differently either.

After changing back into regular clothes and looking like a greasy slug, I waited in reception to receive contact sheets of my photos and to choose three prints to receive. This is when I bought all the photos in digital format on a CD as well. As I mentioned above, I had such a wonderful experience and didn't just want three prints to take away. A lot of the photos were great, wonderfully lit and angled so it was a no-brainer for me to purchase them on a CD. I would hated to have left the experience and then wish I'd have bought the CD and only have three prints that undoubtedly would not have been as good quality in digital format, as I'd have to scan them in.

Studio Nanairo courtesan makeover package

All in all, I highly recommend this experience to anyone wanting a luxurious, warmly attended oiran makeover. Yes, it's a little pricey but it's an unforgettable experience you will not regret. The photos throughout this article are some of my favourites from my experience and I still love to look at them and relive it. Naturally, the experience is also one of my favourites during my time in Japan.

When I return to Japan, which I'm sure I will, I would love to try the Studio Esperanto experience in Kyoto which looks equally as high quality. I would also love to try the Fox Bride makeover at Studio Kokoro, which is a very unique look I would definitely love to experience.

I hope this review is helpful, but if I've missed anything out or you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I'll get back to you!