Geisha are the extraordinary Japanese female entertainers with beautiful kimonos and unique white paste make up.
Their history was popularised in the West by the Memoirs of a Geisha film, and spotting them on the streets of Kyoto has now become a tourist attraction in itself.
But what better way to discover more about this beautiful, fascinating and wonderful cultural facet of Japan then to dress up like them!
The Nomadic Boys, gay couple Stefan and Sebastien, tell us about their geisha transformation in Tokyo. Here’s a photo of the boys before their geisha transformation:
We fulfilled this life long ambition in Tokyo at the excellent Studio Geisha Cafe.
“50% of our customers are in fact Japanese men, mainly heterosexual, who simply want to transform into something completely different”.
Michiru, a former model/actress, set up the Studio Geisha Cafe with her husband to provide people with the chance to live out their dream. She’s used to Japanese men who want to be transformed, and we were fortunate to be her first foreign male geisha.
The cafe (actually two apartments) is in the Tokyo suburb of Morishita, and people come here to experience what it’s like to be a geisha (or a samurai) and get a feel for traditional Japan. Most dress up for a photo souvenir, while others are honeymooners who want to dress up in traditional Japanese wedding outfits.
The experience is an education on geisha daily life. Tradition is everywhere, whether it’s the way wigs are styled or the vivid whiteness of the makeup. Michiru was on hand to answer our questions about culture: such as why geisha pose with a pout or serious expression (to avoid baring their teeth) or flash a little red from the undergarment (a coy way to titillate). There’s so much detail involved at every stage of dressing up as a geisha that you only begin to appreciate it once you transform into one.
The Male Geisha
But did you know the original geisha were in fact men? Not women!
The original geisha was male advisors and entertainers to their daimyo (feudal lords), dating back to the 1200s. They were tea connoisseurs, artists and gifted story tellers. The first female geisha didn’t appear until 1751 but grew so quickly in popularity that they soon outnumbered their male counterparts.
The Nomadic Geisha
Our geisha transformation took a total of 3 hours, mainly because of the elaborate make up.
Geisha are instantly recognisable by the unique shironuri makeup. This is a white paste, traditionally applied to showcase a young, beautiful face in the dark candlelit rooms. As part of the application, several layers of foundation were applied to hide our beard shadow.
In addition, our eyebrows had to be hidden using a special wax and new ones painted over. This was the most surprising part of the experience as we watched our faces transform from the features we’re so used to, into this new, more feminine impression.
Once our kimonos were fitted, we perfected our pouts and were ready for the full-length mirror.
The transformation was incredible – the makeup so intense that the image staring back at us was almost unrecognisable.
You can watch a time lapse of Stefan’s geisha transformation here:
Read more about the Nomadic Boys’ Japanese adventures in their gay Tokyo article.