I've read about tourists who go to Kyoto to get made up to look like geisha or maiko. Over half a million a year according to Foreign correspondent, and mostly Japanese, based on some makeover houses lacking English language support.

Where and when is the best time to photograph fake geisha/maiko? Criteria include likelihood of finding such individuals, having a photogenic background, and being in a location where they're more likely to agree to be photographed. A time and place where real geisha don't frequent is also good, but this article indicates when the real ones are active.

There's also women who are paid to dress up as maiko to pose with tourists. That's not what I'm after either.

  • 1
    Hmm, maybe google for such make over houses and check their addresses or contact them directly? Check with travel agencies. I know there are "real" geisha walking between temples in Higashiyama Ward. Maybe in the other temple and castle grounds as well.
    – Alendri
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 16:52
  • @alendri I thought of camping outside of a studio, but that'd be kind of creepy.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 23:48
  • Indeed it is, it seems a better solution to befriend someone that is willing to dress up as fake geisha :D Or just take pictures of the "real" geisha and say they're fake.
    – Alendri
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 7:21
  • May I ask why? Curious. Also, Flickr might have something, if you can find free use pics. Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 9:17
  • @codinghands tourists have been photographing geisha a lot. Some tourists have been running after and/or blocking geisha in order to photograph them, and I suspect even the sheer number of times they get asked for photographs must be annoying. Lonely Planet actually advocates taking photos of fake geisha instead. Also, I think that tourists dressing up as geisha is interesting in its own right, and I wanted to take a photo of it.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 8:36

3 Answers 3


From the Foreign Correspondent story:

In Kyoto's most exclusive districts, the real geisha are disappearing but fake ones are thriving.

I gather the exclusive district they're talking about is Gion. It is the hub of Geisha culture and has many exclusive Geiko teahouses. I'm guessing you'd see a lot of people dressing up as Geiko around the major festivals there and cherry blossom season as well. If you were going to dress up as Geiko, Gion is the place to flaunt it.

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    I crashed at a friend's place in Gion who was an English teacher in Kyoto a year or two ago. We did see plenty of real geisha but I don't recall ever spotting a western geisha at all, which would be the only way I could know detect a fake one. (Yes I know there is at least one genuine western geisha too.) Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 5:12

The walk up to Kiyomizu Dera is a tourist bazar, there are several 'make you up as a Geisha' places along that walk and you are likely to see the customers of those shops out prancing around. You'll know immediately that they are fake if they are giggling and chatting amongst themselves.

April/May (cherry blossom season) and August (festival season) being the highest tourist season in Kyoto for Japanese would be the times to find the most Japanese tourists from outside Kyoto dressing up like geisha.


You could considered hiring an amateur model sending them to one of the studios to have them made up and then taking them to the location you would like to photography them against.

This has advantages of you can choose the specifics of appearance of the subject as well as specific locations.

You probably need to ask a question on photography.se for a standard Japanese model disclosure forms, so you then own all the images. They also might be able to track down model agency's in Japan. I had a quick look but google uk wasn't returning anything helpful.

The down side, its not going to be cheap.

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