Maiko, or apprentice geisha, have become a symbol of Kyoto (as the apprentices dress more colorfully and elaborately than their seniors), such that getting a maiko makeover is a touristy but worthwhile must-do when in Kyoto. The experience is anywhere between 2-4 hours, but the memory will definitely outlast that short while. The average price of a maiko plan used to be about 12,000-13,000 yen, but now that these makeover shops realized that tourists can make do with fewer frills (fewer photos, just being content to stay in the studio rather than walk around in maiko attire) and just pay extra for whatever add-ons they want, cheaper options have become more plentiful. Here are some of them.
Some things to take note of: first, the prices quoted here include the 8% consumption tax, as many of the maiko makeover websites fail to clearly mention that the prices displayed are without tax. Also, prior reservation is required for most studios. Lastly, English versions of the shop websites may not be as updated as the Japanese ones, so some information here is taken from the latter.
Maica’s basic plan, Okigaru, costs 7,020 yen, and consists of the full costume (including the wig – worth taking note of, as some shops may charge separately for the wig) and make-up, one framed photo, and an hour’s worth of freely shooting in the studio with your own camera. More expensive plans include, aside from more shots, photography in the garden and a walk outside. On your birthday month, if you opt for a plan that costs at least 10,000 yen, you get 5000 yen off.
Address: 4-319 Miyagawa Street, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Access: Kawaramachi-Matsubara (Bus A2), 3 minutes from Exit 1 of Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line, or 5 minutes from Exit 1 of Shijo-Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line
Business Hours: 9:00 am-7:00 pm
With 4 studios – near Kyoto Station, Gion, and Kiyomizu-dera – in Kyoto’s popular sightseeing spots, this studio is quite prolific. Reservations can be done even as late as the day itself, and you can try your luck as a walk-in, but additional charges may apply, and there’s a chance that the staff will have no time to accommodate you. Its basic maiko plan, which is 10,260 yen, is slashed to 6,372 yen until April 5th. The plan includes shooting up to 8 poses, 3 2L-sized photos, a wallet-sized photo card, and free shooting with your camera. There’s also a plan that involves the basic makeover and a short stroll, which is discounted to 9,612 yen, also until April 5th. Book at least 2 days before, as booking 1 day prior means higher fees of 7,452 and 10,692, respectively. If you miss out on these promos, fret not, as you can get 10% off Yumekoubou’s regular prices if you book online. (This bit of information is only on the Japanese website, so it’s best to confirm.)
We also recommend Yumekoubou’s oiran plans while their discount promos last. Oiran are courtesans, or high-class prostitutes. “Why would I want to dress as a prostitute?” you might ask. Well, being a prostitute doesn’t mean looking trashy; that’s why! You can choose from the classic look – which is actually quite covered-up by today’s standards, only showing a hint of shoulders and thighs – or the modern one, which consists of a funkier hairdo and more cleavage. Available only at the Gion and Kiyomizu Sannenzaka branches, it’s 5,400 yen for the costume, hair, make-up, 8 poses, and free shooting with your camera, but no printed photos. The Kyoto Station and Kodaiji branches have an 8,640-yen plan that’s basically the same package plus printed photos.
Business Hours: 10:00 am-8:00 pm (weekdays), 9:00 am-8:00 pm (weekends)
3. Studio Shiki
Studio Shiki’s normal prices are above 10,000 yen, but they regularly hold discount campaigns. They did so in 2014, and for the entire 2015, their cheapest plan is 5,292 yen, inclusive of the makeover, 6 studio photos, and 10 minutes of picture-taking with your own camera. Also, it’s not mentioned on their English website, but from March 1-May 10 this year, they also have an early-bird basic plan for only 4,212 yen. If you can visit the studio at 8 am, before they open, this is the plan for you!
Address (head branch): 351-16 Masuya-cho, Kodaiji Minamimon, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Address (Sakura branch): 110-9, Tatsumicho,Higashi-oji Matsubara Agaru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Access: Kiyomizu-michi (Bus 206 or 207)
Phone: 075-531-2777 (head), 075-533-6666 (Sakura)
Business Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm
Yumeyakata’s maiko plan isn’t that cheap or inclusive at 9,180 yen for just one studio shot, and no mention if there’s time to do your own shooting, but their major advantage is that they’re very used to foreign clientele, so they have bilingual staff. Their kimono rental plan is very cheap, though, so stay tuned for a write-up about that!
Address: Hosai Bldg, 353, Shiogama-cho, Nishiiru sakai-machi, Gojo-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Access: 3 minutes from Exit 1 of Gojo Station (Karasuma Line)
Business Hours: 10:00 am-8:00 pm
Aoi’s basic package normally costs 8,424 yen, but you can get it for 6,264 yen until March 31. For that, you get the makeover, 4 postcard-sized photos and free time to shoot. You can also get a CD of your photos for an additional 540 yen. Their 10,800 yen plan is also currently available at a discounted rate of 8,640 yen, which includes 8 postcard-sized photos, 4 2L-sized photos, and a CD.
Address: 4/F New Suehiro Building, Higashi-Notoin Shichijo Shitaru 2-chome, Higashishiokoji-cho 541-1, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Business Hours: 10:00 am-7:00 pm
At Kyo, 6,480 yen gives you the makeover, 4 photos, a photo album, and free time to shoot. They have a couple plan for 10,800 yen, which consists of the maiko plan for women and a Shinsengumi (ancient Japan’s equivalent of police) kimono for men, 8 photos, photo albums, and free time. Considering the cost per person, that’s quite a steal!
Address: Kiyomizu 3-327-6, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Business Hours: 10:00 am-7:00 pm
What About the Men?
What if you’re a man, but you don’t want to miss out on the fun? You can opt for a samurai, Shinsengumi, or feudal lord makeover, but don’t get your expectations up, as this consists of a kimono, not armor. It’s just not as elaborate as dressing up as a maiko, so if you were looking for a drastic transformation, such as being in kabuki make-up and attire, you’ll be disappointed. But if being a beautiful, elaborately made-up woman for a few hours is exactly what you want to do, some shops can help you out in that department! Maica is one of those that allow men to try the maiko makeover, but most shops explicitly do not allow it. Just ask to be sure.