11 Thoughts I Had During My Geisha Experience in Kyoto

#1. My dad didn't recognize me.

When I sent the following text to my parents while in Japan, I thought they'd recognize me immediately as the woman in the long, silk kimono. They thought she looked like me, but decided that her nose was a little different than mine.

My parents have memorized my face over these 30 years, so I was confident they'd recognize me.

Like many, I am fascinated with geisha culture.

I have seen her mysterious gaze in art history class. I have heard how she captivated royalty. I have been stunned that she used a wooden takamakura pillow to protect her hair at night. I have witnessed her in real life, floating across Kyoto's cobblestones on tall sandals. And I have heard unsavory misconceptions of her profession, which I won't perpetuate here. ​

Geishas are embodied Mona Lisas.

While visiting Kyoto, I discovered the AYA, a machiya teahouse from the 1900s that introduces tourists like me to this storied chapter of Japanese culture. The women at AYA are experts in geisha and maiko makeover transformations.

Before this experience, I had no clue who a maiko was. These young apprentice geishas train intensively for 5-6 years to become