KYOTO - Many women of various ages are visiting shops and studios in Kyoto that offer lessons on how to dress and behave like maiko, the young entertainers of Kyoto's hanamachi entertainment districts known for their beautiful clothing, glamorous white makeup and graceful behaviour.
Maiko are apprentice geiko, the term used in Kyoto for geisha. Maiko are usually aged from about 15 to 20 and perform Japanese dance for guests at banquets. They also train in singing, playing the shamisen and other Japanese traditional performing arts to become geiko.
I asked former maiko Shigeko Yasuda for practical hints on becoming a more sophisticated, charming woman through a maiko's routine. Yasuda, 68, operates a maiko programme near the Gion entertainment district.
"I want you not just to wear the clothing, but also be interested in maiko's beautiful movements, and their courtesy and rules of etiquette," Yasuda said.
When I visited her shop in mid-March, two local women, Mai Kuriyama, 24, and her sister Mika, 21, were in the middle of transforming into maiko. They said they had not worn kimono since attending their Coming-of-Age Day ceremony.
Customers at Yasuda's shop are allowed to stroll around the neighborhood with their hair arranged, wearing makeup and kimono. A basic course lasting about three hours starts at ¥15,500 (S$175), plus tax.
The workshop begins with hair arrangement. As doing up the customer's own hair takes too much time, wigs are usually used.
After that, the signature white makeup used by maiko is applied. First, paste powder is dissolved with water and applied to the face with a brush. The eyebrows, eyelids and lips are then accentuated with a touch of rouge.
"It's like I'm somebody else," Mai said, looking at her reflection in a mirror. "It automatically makes me stand straighter."
Next the kimono is put on.