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!

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