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While visiting Kyoto and Tokyo, I would like to dress up as a Geisha/Maiko and have professional photographs taken (I will be a solo traveler).

So far I have found two studios in Kyoto (one and two) offering various plans including dress-up, photo session, walk and extra prints/CD. They require to make a reservation beforehand and since I will be travelling in July I would like to secure a place in that busy period soon enough.

My questions are - is this experience popular among tourists? Is it actually 'genuine' - I mean are the dress and ornaments accurate or rather adjusted/simplified for ignorant tourists? And finally, has anyone experienced this and can say if it was worth time and money? And is there any useful advice I should know while choosing the studio and price plan? I don't speak Japanese and I'm fine with paying more to have an authentic experience rather than cheap but fake one.

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Asking whether it is "worth the time and money" is far too subjective, as this is a question of your personal sense of value. The rest of the question I think is very good, though. –  Flimzy Jun 2 '13 at 23:55
    
Just curious - are you male or female? –  Affable Geek Jun 3 '13 at 20:41
    
@AffableGeek: I am female, otherwise I probably wouldn't publicly reveal my dress-up ambitions;) –  Rabbit Jun 3 '13 at 21:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Yes, this is reasonably popular to do. It takes quite some time so it's not like people line up for it outside the shop, but I have seen several places offering this service.

I would assume that a shop in Gion should be pretty much authentic. This is finally the place you would most likely run into a genuine Maiko/Geiko. Further, the chances of getting cheated in ANY way are fairly low in Japan in general, much more so in Kyoto. From the photos both look quite genuine. You will know the difference specially on the time it takes to put on the kimono. There are not supposed to be any buttons, zippers etc on the whole thing. it's all being done with wrapping and eve very few knots.

I would assume that the likelyhood in general that someone gives you a "fake" kimono is VERY small. It's not that hard to get real ones since there are many rental companies. There are also enough services that help you wear one since it is quite difficult to do so by yourself without any help.

It might be hard however to make a judgment on the price beforehand. The cheaper places might have not as expensive kimonos and accessories. Simply the kimono can cost up to 30k USD to buy and a shop that uses nicer ones might be more expensive. Also the location is a huge factor since a house in Gion is significantly more expensive than one further outside.

I would recommend to ask the shop to send you a photo of the kimonos they have available to use for you beforehand so you can chose. They should also be able to explain what the different kimonos are meant to be for. Every season and event has different colors and patterns. It will also tell you something about the person wearing it.

Also, if you are above 170cm their choice will be limited. The amount of tall-size kimono they have will give you a picture of how many foreigners they work with.

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Dressing up as a maiko is a trend. I believe the term for it is "maiko henshin", so if you haven't googled using that term, try doing so.

Regarding "ignorant tourists". Japanese people, as well as foreigners, dress up as maikos - I've seen them blog about it. I think they'd generally be harder to fool if there was fakery going on. On the down side, some studios mainly deal with Japanese people, and have limited English.

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You can do this in Tokyo as well at at Studio Mon Katsura, they also require a reservation like the ones you mentioned above, but reserving for July you should have no problems.

The kimono are authentic. Though this studio caters heavily to international tourists, they have Japanese guests as well (as stated above).

I would say this experience is popular among tourists that know about it, but most do not. The price tag keeps a number of people from doing it as well, but everyone I know who has done it has been happy with the experience and their pictures have turned out quite nice.

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