They say that it’s rare to see a real maiko walking the streets of Kyoto, since these artists usually work at night and live in their own secluded world, far from the rest of Japanese society. In fact, if you spot a maiko strolling around Gion during the day, there’s a good chance she’s a tourist who’s undergone a fabulously elaborate makeover.

We took our Japan Wish competition winner Ashley to a studio in Kyoto’s Gion neighborhood to have a maiko-over and be transformed in an amazing process that yielded completely stunning results. Ashley was able to choose her own kimono and obi sash, and as part of the deal she was treated to a professional photography session and the opportunity to take a stroll around the streets of Gion in full maiko garb!

Upon arrival at the Gion AYA Studio in Shimogawara, Gion, Ashley was greeted warmly by the all-female staff and shown into a tatami room to relax with a cup of barley tea while the process was explained to her. At this stage, she was able to tailor her own plan, including choosing from a menu of selectable extras.

When she was ready, she was invited into the hair and makeup studio, where the stylists transformed her from the shoulders up into an incredibly authentic-looking maiko. Ashley was especially pleased with the make-up artist’s skill of emphasising her best features through clever use of the thick white base, red lipstick and black eyebrow pencil. Ashley was also fitted with a heavy wig before being led through to the kimono room.

Inside, Ashley was able to choose from a wide selection of beautiful kimono and obi sashes. She made her choice in mere seconds, and the kimono dresser quickly wrapped her into the kimono (as you can see from the video below, this procedure is impossible to perform on oneself) and made several adjustments to make sure the fit was perfect, before adding some extra accessories such as hair pins and a traditional bag for Ashley to carry.

After that, she was led through to the professional photography studio for her photo session! Check out some of her professional shots below!

The photographer talked Ashley through some traditional poses, including a proper maiko bow (left)

We were also allowed to take some shots of our own with Ashley posing in the tiny traditional Japanese garden adjoining the house!


▼ By this time, Ashley was a pro at maiko posing.


▼ She seems so comfortable in kimono!


▼ The kimono at Gion AYA are truly gorgeous.


▼ The attention to detail is incredible!


▼ The entire ensemble is completely authentic and traditional, right down to the tabi socks.


▼ The wig was incredibly intricate, as well.


▼ Maiko traditionally leave a section of neck unpainted, as this flash of bare skin is considered to be part of a maiko’s sensual appeal.


Photo shoot over, it was time for Ashley to slide her feet into the precariously high wooden geta sandals and take a stroll around the streets of Gion! Within moments she found herself being followed by tourists who were all trying to surreptitiously take snaps of her. Luckily, Ashley loved all the attention and was happy to pose with her new-found fans!

Even though it was extremely hot outside, and she was wrapped in an extremely thick, heavy kimono, Ashley’s composure never faltered. In fact, it almost seemed as though she had become a real maiko!

While you’re given plenty of time to stroll, it seemed to pass in minutes and before she knew it we were back at the studio where the staff helped Ashley out of her kimono and removed the heavy makeup. After being given ample time to redress and freshen herself up, Ashley returned to the waiting room where she was presented with a CD containing all of her professional photographs, plus a complimentary photobook featuring some of her best shots!

Check out our video showing the entire experience here!

An you can probably tell, Ashley found the experience extremely positive, and praised the professionalism and friendliness of the staff. We have to agree with Ashley that this is surely a must-have experience when you visit Japan!

The studio welcomes couples and groups as well, so it’s a great option for an unforgettable experience with your significant other or group of friends! There’s even a family plan, too!

Special thanks to Gion AYA for allowing us to document Ashley’s experience!

Gion AYA / ぎおん彩
Address: 499 Shimogawara, Gion, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
TEL +81-75-532-6666

All photos and video © RocketNews24