23rd July 2017: Kyoto: plans long made and plans unexpectedly changed – Maiko Henshin and Gyosha Meguri {Japan, summer 2017}

It was an early and cloudy Kyoto [京都] morning when I woke up to walk to Heian Jingu [平安神宮], a shrine built in 1895 to celebrate that Kyoto had existed for 1100 years already. It was supposed to be an innocent visit, but then I came across something…

Heian shrine - main building and secondary buildings that stand on the sides, symmetrically to the left and right. The buildings are vermillion and white with a green-grey roof, and the ground leading to them is sand.

When I was snooping around the shrine shop I saw something – a stamp rally, shrine version. You had to go to five shrines in Kyoto and get their stamps in order to complete a tablet with the shrine stamps on the sides and centre of the four sacred beast of the town. It is the Kyoto Gosha Meguri ~Shi shin Sou Ou No Miyako~ [京都五社めぐり~四神四神相応の京~], and it unexpectedly trumped all my Kyoto visiting plans. This is how it looks like after the peregrination was completed:

A cardboard card with the drawings of the four mysticals guardians of Kyoto, the white tiger, the black tortoise, the blue dragon, and the red firebird. They are aligned with their cardinal points, east, north, west, south. Between the animals and in the centre, five stamps in red ink.

Afterwards I walked alongside the Kamo river towards Gion [祇園], stopping to get the second stamp at Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社].

The vermillion entrance to a shinto shrine on top of stone stairs. There are rows of lanterns hanging from the gate.

I was to meet D****e at 10.15 as she was coming from Osaka, where she was for a concert. She wanted to tag along to what I was going to do next, basically to… share the pictures with everyone. I had an appointment at 11am to do something that my sister and brother in law had ‘given’ me for my birthday. It is something I had always wanted to do, but the price had put me off – a maiko transformation photo shoot, in this case I chose a place called Maiko-Henshin Studio Shiki because B**** had recommended it.

This was a 98% great experience. 1% fell because I had a coughing fit (yeah, I’ve been neglecting to tell you about my almost-pneumonia, but remember, we’re only talking about the good things here) and the other 1% due to a communication failure with the studio upon reservation. However, that 2% is negligible and it was all in all amazing. D****e had a blast and decided that she needed to share the pictures with everyone she knew who knew me.

In this kind of experience you have a photo shoot in maiko clothes – maiko being young geisha-in-training. I honestly don’t know what got into me for wanting to do this, but the thought crept upon me until I actually asked for the money for this as a birthday present. The whole experience was booked online, and what you get is make-up (and wig), dress-up and photos, both in digital and printed-out form. The only problem that I found is that the photos are “staged”, in the way that they are the same for everyone, whether it is “your angle” or not. The main problem I found was having to take out glasses / contacts in order to do this, because I felt super-blind, which was a problem going down the stairs and choosing the kimono.

The problem was having to negotiate the extra picture I wanted, because that was not part of the pre-packaged photos, and it was apparently difficult to process that I wanted the samurai sword kind photo with the pretty maiko set-up. After the shooting, you get to go outside and play around with your phone and take selfies and stuff.

Person dressed as a maiko, with a long robe in black with pink cherry flowers

The whole thing took about two hours and afterwards I walked D****e to her station and headed off towards the third shrine of the , which I thought at the time would be the furthest-away shrine, Kamigamo Jinja [上賀茂神社], in the outskirts. There was some kind of art / craft fair there by university students, so it was very lively. Unfortunately too, a lot of it was under renovation.

A vermillion torii gate

After this I headed off back to the hotel to retrieve my luggage and undid my way to the station by subway. I had a while at the station, so I took a few fun pictures.

The stairs and wavy roof of Kyoto station

Finally I jumped on a train to backtrack to Himeji [姫路], which is south of Kyoto. I timed the visit to Maiko Henshin so D****e could come after all. I found my Himeji hotel and then went to walk around the castle. Actually, I should have been having some dinner but apparently I’m castle-distracted. I walked around the park and took a lot of pictures (and damn those fish in the pond are authentic sharks).

A Japanese clastle lit up white at night.