The last time we were in Tokyo, we bumped into our friend and previous airbnb host, Keita outside a convenient store. We decided to catch up over drinks right across our apartment in Shibuya and told Keita all about our adventure earlier in the day.
We were in Asakusa, exploring Sensoji temple and the grounds around it. Asakusa is a window to the traditional Japanese cultural trading, lined with wooden shophouses in the midst of modern development. We tasted various types of traditional snacks and walked around watching street performances around the area. Keita then told us to meet him in Asakusa two days after around lunchtime. I never expected that he had a plan brewed in that brilliant mind of his.
Two days passed and we found ourselves navigating the streets via Google Maps for this exact location Keita mentioned. I thought we were going to have lunch, so I skipped breakfast and was expecting a great Japanese meal. We reached the spot and all I saw was a poster in Japanese and a photo of a Geisha on it. Wait, what?
We went up the elevator and a Japanese lady greeted us in a less than perfect English, but she was a ball of fun. She ushered me onto a seat and directed me to keep my belongings in a plastic basket. The process of transformation then begun. I had a choice of transforming into a Geisha or a Maiko. They suggested that I take the Maiko, due to my Asian features that would suit the ‘kawaii’ look. Geishas are bolder, mature and more ladylike while Maikos are youthful, being the geisha’s apprentice.
The process and seeing my finished look wasn’t the highlight of my day. Keita and point8cam (filmer) suggested that we walk around for an hour in the area. I hesitated at first, cause I’m not one that likes public attention but after much nudging I gave in. The first few quiet streets weren’t that bad. It was until we reached the grounds of the temple that shit hit the fan. I had tourists and locals swarming me for a photo opportunity. The amount of camera phones and cameras in my face felt really weird, even while I pretended to offer prayers at the altar. As I walked out to the shophouses, it got even weirder. I had people jump in front of me and snapped a selfie without asking, and those that snuck around a photo while I was behind them took the biggest trophy of the day. We were even stopped by the local authorities as they thought we were trying to make money out of these tourists with a photo.
The boys tried to convince me to walk into McDonald’s and buy a meal but I refused as I knew it would draw much more attention and the thought of possibly ending up on 9gag was not how I’d want my 15 minutes of fame to be like. We wrapped up and headed back to the studio to clean up and head over for lunch.
This was a short experience but an hour being totally unrecognisable behind that makeup and outfit was an out-of-body experience. I was expecting something interesting but I never expected that much attention was given. The studio owner said that she’s had many customers but most of them are Westerners, so they weren’t very convincing as a real Geisha or Maiko. Thanks to my Asian features, I probably made someone’s day by just a single photo.
Would I do it all over again and spend more time understanding this culture? Yes, definitely.
If you are interested to have the same experience, please email for inquiry direct to Studio Cocomo
Also, check out Keita’s airbnb listing’s in Tokyo for your stay – https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/6334933