What sort of unique travel experiences do you seek when you travel? I love taking photos and I love kimono fashion, so I chose to do an Oiran makeover photo shoot in Kyoto, Japan. It was so much fun and definitely goes down as one of my most unique travel experiences to date.
Unique Travel Experiences in Kyoto, Japan
Do Japanese culture, kimonos and geishas fascinate you? Then you should definitely consider doing an Oiran makeover when visiting Kyoto, Japan! I had seen a friend do a similar photo shoot before so this time in Kyoto I decided to try it myself! After doing some research online, I found Esperanto Kokoro Kyoto Okazaki Studio on Instagram and made an appointment with them.
‘Oiran’ (花魁) were high-end courtesans in Japan in the Edo period (1700-1868). They were more than just prostitutes but more like entertainers who were skilled in a range of traditional arts such as Japanese tea ceremony, flower arranging and calligraphy. The concept of an oiran is similar to a geisha (which is more commonly known), but geishas are not always physically involved with their clients.
At Esperanto Studio there are several photo shoot plans available, but the most common one is the basic Oiran plan (Plan A). This allows you to choose one outfit, one makeup/hair style and one booth. At the end of the day you will walk away with 3 printout photos. Expect to spend about 2-3 hours for the entire process.
So let me take you through the whole process and experience of an Oiran makeover!
ARRIVAL & OUTER KIMONO SELECTION
I arrived at the Esperanto Studio at the designated hour and was immediately greeted by a staff. First I completed a basic info form and then chose the outer kimono from an iPad. There were more than 20 options to choose from and all of them were absolutely gorgeous! After I had selected my kimono they promptly ushered me to the change room. Here you get a little basket that you will carry along with you during the entire process. All your belongings will go into the locker and you have to change into a white undergarment robe. (I missed the left sleeve and instead put my arm through the armpit hole. Ooops!)
STYLING SELECTION, MAKEUP AND HAIR
Next step is the makeup and hair! Once you have finished putting your things away, you will be taken to the makeup and hair room. Here you will select from sample photos what kind of hair and makeup you want to do. There is a traditional head set for typical Oirans, but I chose to go for a simpler version of that. The kimono I chose was red, gold and black so I went with red eye makeup. You also have the option of choosing white foundation or regular foundation. White foundation is closer to the traditional oiran makeup so I went with white. I have to say, the staff here are extremely professional and they waste no time! My makeup artist Yokokawa (I didn’t get her first name) was friendly and very good at what she does. I was amazed at how fast she did my hair and makeup and how good it turned out!
INNER KIMONO & OBI
Once the makeup and hair was complete, I was to choose an inner kimono to go with the outer kimono I had already chosen. After I made my choice (black and red, of course), Yokokawa helped dress me in the kimono and tied an obi around my waist.
OUTER KIMONO & PHOTO SHOOT
Once I was dressed they led me upstairs to the photo booth. There are 4 booths to choose from for the Oiran plan: gold booth, red booth, blossoms booth and a flower wall. I went with the gold booth, which was apparently the most popular choice! My photographer Masahira helped put the outer kimono on top of the inner kimono and we went straight to work! Masahira was very friendly and gave very clear and specific instructions on how to pose. The poses were deliberate and very precise. (Photos are not allowed in the booth area)
SELFIES, CHANGE, PAY AND LEAVE WITH PHOTOS
After my photo shoot was done, there was a mirror and wall outside the booths where people can play around and take photos. I took my fair share of selfies and went downstairs to remove all the clothes, hair and makeup. Remember to bring your own makeup because by the end of the shoot you will be completely makeup-less! Once you are done reapplying your makeup and changing you can then choose your photos. It was too hard for me to choose just 3 so I purchased all of the unretouched photos at a price of 10000 yen. I waited about 30 minutes for my CD-rom and printout photos and left happily with my makeup artist and photographer bowing at the door as I walked away.
PRICE BREAK DOWN
Oiran Plan A 18500
All photos on a CD-rom 10000
Nail chip rental 500
A little over 30000 in total
In conclusion, I had a great time trying this Oiran makeover experience at Esperanto Studio. There are many more studios that do similar makeovers. Some focus on a “Maiko makeover” and others do only kimono/yukata rental. Esperanto is located a little further out, while many of the other studios are in the Gion district. In spite of its location, what attracted me the most about Esperanto is their consistency in quality, variety of backdrops and outfits. They clearly had a very professional studio and crew and the prices were also reasonable. I loved the staff, the styling and the entire transformation process. There is something special about dressing up to the nines – it makes you feel so special and somewhat powerful. And besides, this is a super unique travel experience that you don’t get to do elsewhere! Was it worth $300? Absolutely!
Here is a little blog post they wrote about my visit to their studio:
And since I spent another 10000 yen on all the remaining photos, here are some of my favorite picks in addition the the 3 selections above:
What are some other unique travel experiences you want to try or have tried in Kyoto Japan? Let me know in the comments below!
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Traveling to Japan? Then you must visit Asakusa in Tokyo. Here are 5 things to do in Asakusa, Tokyo:
Looking for other unique travel experiences? How about staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam, Netherlands?