There are numerous studios, which offer a large variety of packages for all price-points. Doing your research ahead of time to decide which studio to choose is important! I wanted a full photo shoot but did not want to walk around in the full kimono and wig, plus wanted to be photographed as a Geiko instead of as a Maiko (which tends to be the most popular option, but which I would feel silly doing since I'm too old to be a Maiko). I looked at different packages, prices, customer reviews and locations and decided on Gion Aya's Maiko and Geisha Makeover Experience.
What was the experience like?
Communication with the staff for the booking was very easy, and their website lays out all the steps, and all the packages very clearly and answers almost any question you could have in their FAQ section. Plus they had good reviews, and had many beautiful photos of real customers on their website to get an idea of what it would be like! Location was also a factor; Aya is conveniently located in Gion, which has many beautiful spots for photographs if you choose one of the packages where you can go out while dressed up. The building itself is also very nice, and was an authentic teahouse during the Taisho Period.
The plan I decided on is known as the Studio Course. In all it takes about 2.5 hours for the makeup, dressing, photo-shoot and development of your photos. I did it in the morning since we planned on exploring Gion in the afternoon. It cost 12,420 yen, plus I purchased an extra CD of all of the shots. This was the cheapest of the plans, and is more expensive than some of the other studios in Kyoto. If you do your research, you can find coupons or deals for some of the other studios too!
Upon arrival, my mother and I were greeted very courteously and led into the reception room, where a staff member went over the plan, helped me choose which poses to do, asked me if I wanted any of the add-ons (like the extra CD-rom), and explained the process to me. The staff were very friendly, and had pretty good English. My mother waited in the reception room until it was time for me to get dressed, and staff kept checking in on her to see if she wanted tea, or needed an extra cushion. I was led off to the changing room where I could lock up my purse and clothes and change into the correct underthings and tabi, and then into the makeup room. I went to get my mother after my makeup was done, and it took her a few moments to recognize me! Quite the transformation.
The next step was getting the kimono and wig on, which is a lot of work! I hadn't realized how complicated and constricting a large formal obi is. The woman who was dressing me was tugging, yanking, winding, folding, and tying like a pro. The clothing options for Maiko are more colorful and cute, but I had a small selection of black and other dark colored kimono and coordinating obi to choose from. Getting to choose the combination was a lot of fun. Once fully dressed it was time for the wig. The Maiko package includes a half-wig normally, and then temporary spray dye for part of your hair, but the Geiko package was only with wigs, which is what many actual Geiko rely on too.
After being wrestled and bound into my kimono, it was time for the photo-shoot. The photographer was very professional and good at explaining how to get into the correct positions. After he finished the official shots,, I had time to do some shots with my own camera, and he took some so me and my mother could have them together too.
Once the time was up, it was time to get undressed and go back to the changing room to get the makeup off. Surprisingly it did not feel much heavier than my normal makeup, and they provide everything needed to get it cleaned off, and get yourself ready to go back out sightseeing.
We didn't have to sit and wait very long for them to bring the printed shots, and CD-rom to us in the reception, and I was very happy with the professional finish of them.
If you are interested in Geiko, Maiko, or kimono, I would definitely recommend a makeover photo-shoot. The whole experience is very interesting, and gives you an even more 'traditional' feel than a kimono rental. It was a very interesting experience, and provided me with a very unique souvenir of my trip. It can be expensive though, so do check around at different studios to find the best fit for you! If you are travelling in a group, with kids or with men, most studios including Aya also have options for children, and have men's kimono or samurai outfits to choose from too!