In March and April of 2003 we spent a few weeks visiting Kyoto and Nagoya. In the Gion district, one can occassionally see a Geisha (Geiko in the Kyoto dialect) or Maiko (Geisha apprentice) coming to or from an appointment - often just a glimpse as she leaves a restaurant and steps into a car to be whisked away. Sometimes people rent the costumes and walk through the souvenir shop lined streets around Yasaka Shrine or up to Kiyomizudera temple as if reliving an earlier time.
There are differences in the appearance of Geisha and Maiko. For Maiko ("dancing girl"), the kimono and obi (sash) are more colorful and patterned, have longer sleeves, and the obi is tied so that the material hangs down the back. Her hair is decorated with flowers, beads and ornaments. Her face has full white makeup with red lips. A red collar contrasts her white makeup. Her feet are covered by white tabi and she wears Oboko - very high platformed sandals.
A Geisha ("person of the arts"), being more mature, wears a more subtle kimono, with shorter sleeves and a white collar. The obi is tied in a bow in the back. Her hair has fewer decorations and her makeup may not include the full white face of the Maiko. On her feet are Zori (no, not the rubber kind worn to beach) - but flat, lacquered sandals. Her appearance is very beautiful and colorful, but more refined or understated than the Maiko.
K made an appointment to have our photo taken in costume. This is a popular thing to do, particularly with young women like K ;^) and as with any photo studio, one needs to make arrangements some time in advance. When that time came, we had been out sightseeing and caught a bus to get to the studio. The buses were jam packed and the streets clogged with cars. Our bus driver was alternately stomping on the brakes and then the accelerator, causing the standing passengers to slosh back and forth like so many socks in a washing machine. After just a few stops I'd had enough and announced that I was getting off. In Japan, one boards the bus in the middle and exits through the front, paying as you leave. Working with the motion of the bus, we oozed our way forward and got off. It was actually faster to walk, and a whole lot more comfortable.
The studio was down a narrow alley. In a small waiting room, we were served green tea and sweets. There were lots of magazines and even a television set with a selection of videos to keep those in wait occupied. K was presented with sample pictures and all the options were explained to her.
Most of the pictures taken were of just K, of course. There is a lot of waiting done by the men while a team dress the women with makeup, wig, and kimono. When she was almost ready, they called me up stairs to measure me for my outfit. Getting me dressed only took a few minutes (some things never change). In the picture, I am wearing a formal man's kimono with a haori coat and black tabi (a cotton sock which has fasteners up the back and is split at the toe to accomodate the thong of a sandal). The black "thingy" above my belt is actually a decorative knot on the braided cord that closes the haori. The belt is called kaku obi.
I wasn't crazy about the idea at the time, but now I am glad we had the pictures taken. I've worn hapi coats and yukata (summer kimono) to Bon Odori (Buddhist dances) for many years, but this was quite different. Clothing is an important element of any culture and, like trying to do some of the arts, listening to its music, or eating the food, putting on clothes of another culture or period can help to add a little more depth to one's understanding of it.