Transforming the Ordinary

8 Aug

This weekend we had a long(ish) holiday from classes. I never realized how much I treasured my weekends until they were cut in half!  So, like the crazy person I am, I squished everything I could in two action-packed days that wore me completely out. One of those immensely fun activities was going to Studio Katsura, a specialty photo studio in Harajuku- with my friend and fellow CIEE participant, Amber. Once there, we got to choose from a wide variety of costumes- geiko, maiko, ouran, samurai, etc. I chose to be dressed as a maiko, or apprentice geiko, while Amber decided to be transformed into a samurai.  In a word, it was this: AMAZING!

The members of Studio Katsura are immensely welcoming and charming. Don’t think you have to be a fluent Japanese speaker to truly appreciate the experience, either. Amber and I used a wide variety of simply words, sentence fragments, and gestures. Also, a couple of the members speak English, or enough to get their point or directions across.

We arrived at the studio around three in the afternoon, were given soft cotton robes and ushered into a dressing room. Once we were properly dressed, we entered the main studio to begin the process. For me, this involved washing my face several times and pinning my hair up and under a cap. Afterwards, I was ushered to a comfortable chair to have my makeup applied.

I won’t bore you with the minute details, but I will say that although it took about an hour, it didn’t feel like it took that long. They started with a wax base on my face, neck, and shoulders, which felt odd, but not terribly so. After that, came an intensive makeup session that included a thick layer of white paint. After it was done, you could hardly recognize me!

After makeup, I was ushered to a soft tatami mat in the center of the room and dressed. First came the initial obi (belt) to keep my cotton robe in place, followed by padding, another obi, more padding, and so on. After about two layers that got increasingly tighter (but not unbearable), I was helped into a surprisingly heavy silk kimono. It was gorgeous, and that alone made me feel like royalty. I don’t think I’d ever been so close to something so exquisite before.

Once the kimono was in place, another obi was tied to keep it from going out-of-place, some more padding, and another obi in rich red silk. Several decorative ropes and sashes were also added. By the time I was finished being dressed, I was squeezed so tightly that it felt, for a moment, that I could hardly breathe! It didn’t hurt, but it surprised me at how snug everything was. I joked and said that “for once in my life, I would have perfect posture!” It was absolutely impossible to slouch!

Finally, the finishing touch: the wig. Once it was in place, I was almost afraid to move my head too much, lest it fall off. It, too, was surprisingly heavy. But finally, a little over an hour later, my transformation was complete! I truly looked unrecognizable. When I posted these pictures on Facebook that evening, my own mother didn’t recognize me until she looked several times.

This experience was absolutely amazing. I felt like a princess the entire time.  I loved absolutely everything about the experience the studio, the people, the props, and even the makeup. When we were taking photos, I felt like I was modeling for a magazine. I didn’t even mind that I was carrying significantly more weight than I was used to, with the clothes being so heavy. There was also so much laughter shared between all that were there.  I would recommend this experience to anyone and everyone who visits the Tokyo area. It’s an experience of a lifetime, and an amazing memory & souvenir to bring back home!

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