In  Travel

Dressing up in Japan

By Susan | Comments: 14 | July 14, 2014

dressing up in Japan fan

Yesterday I shared some photos on Instagram of some of my favourite holiday memories.

Dressing up in Japan.

It should be ultra cheesy and horribly touristy but it’s not. It’s fun and you get to choose your kimono from an entire roomful of gorgeous colours.

Japan lilac

I’ve had photos done on 2 different trips to Japan, each done at the same place Maiko Henshin in Kyoto. I originally discovered it, as one of my best friends lived in Japan for many years and on a visit he suggested it as something fun to do.

You need to book in advance but unless you are there in peak holiday time you can normally book only a day or so in advance, other times it can be over a week before there is space. The staff have limited English so the first time my friends booked for me and the second time I asked my hotel to help me with the booking.

dressing up in Japan

When you arrive you are shown into a locker room and given a chemise to change in to. Take off everything but your underwear and pop on the chemise. All of your belongings put into a secure locker and you get a key on a stretchy cord to wear around your wrist. If you want to take your camera with you, you may have to ask permission as normally they ask even your phones to be locked up. Photos are not allowed until after you are fully dressed and finished with the professional photographer.

From there you go up a few floors to get your makeup done. The makeup feels weird. It’s a thick white paint and just a little cold when being applied. The staff are all lovely and each time they have gone to great lengths to tell me to take out my contacts. After awhile I managed to convince them that my blue eyes were not contact lenses but just my eye colour.

After make up you go down a floor and led into the most amazing room absolutely bursting at the seams with kimonos of all colours and patterns. You are asked to choose a kimono and an obi. It is overwhelming and you want to steal them all (well I certainly did, want to that is, I didn’t actually steal them).

In the next room a small army of women dress you. You lift your arms when told and they swarm around you. The idea is create a square silhouette so extra padding is applied. You feel like a couch!

All too soon you are dressed and they are tying up your kimono with a decorative belt. Then it’s time for a wig. Each time I have been very blonde (the first time was actually blonde and pink) so I get a full wig. In some of the photos I can just spy little bits of blonde at the back. Seeing myself in dark hair is always a little bit of a shock.


The photography room is adjacent to the dressing room. Here is a tip my friends gave me on the first trip and it’s so good I just have to tell everyone. Don’t smile with your teeth in the photos. Closed lip smiles only. Why? The white make up is so astoundingly white, you look as if you have terrible yellowed teeth even if you have fabulous teeth. So practice a closed smile. Oh and go with a neutral nail polish or none at all. It really shows up in photos and can clash with the traditional look.

The photographer poses you with a variety of props. Fans, umbrellas, bags and a Temari (embroidered ball). They pose you, tell you where to look at the wall (there are numbers on the wall for you to follow) and all too soon you are done.

kimono and temari

You can pay for an extra package which allows you time to walk around outside. I’ve done this both times. First time was fantastic as it was beautifully sunny and wonderful to pose outdoors amongst the traditional buildings. The second time it was raining and well lets just say that photos in the foyer are not very spectacular.

Japan outside

All up it takes a couple of hours and is a really wonderful experience. It’s not exactly cheap and be warned they don’t take credit cards only cash so come prepared. After you are done with the photos you get undressed (with help) and then back to the locker room. Using many many many wipes and a hefty dose of baby oil you can get the white make up off.

Oh and it’s not just for the ladies, the men can also get dressed up too, with The Englishman choosing to dress as a Ronin.

dressing up in japan couple


  • Melanie
    July 14, 2014

    This is FANTASTIC (though do you have to take our your contacts – I’m blind without mine)! You look great, and the The Englishman looks awesome. I like that the guys can get dressed up too…FUN!

    • Susan Goodwin
      July 14, 2014

      Thank you! He was pretty happy that it looked so cool. He got to pose with swords and a parasol.

      When they were asking about the contacts they were about to do my eye make up. You can see on the underside of my eye there is red makeup, so perhaps it irritates? I’ll ask my friend who lived there as his wife wears glasses or contacts and she got her photos done.

  • Amanda
    July 14, 2014

    Suzy, these are freaking RAD! You look all kinds of amaze balls 😀
    Thank you so much for the info/gentle push when El Husbando and I hit Kyoto. It is seriously one of the best memories I have of Japan- it was so much fun 😀

    • Susan Goodwin
      July 14, 2014

      Thanks! I think it may be a little OTT as an everyday look though?

      Isn’t it totally cheesy and yet utterly wonderful? So glad you could fit it into your schedule. The photos I have are some of my favourite souvenirs.

  • katie
    July 14, 2014

    That’s amazing! I wouldn’t even double-take thinking you were Japanese if I saw you on the streets of Kyoto. I tried on just a heavy embroidered kimono when I was in Japan and even that was very heavy, so it much feel really weird with all the padding.

    • Susan Goodwin
      July 14, 2014

      Before I have the wig on it always looks so funny with such blonde hair against the white face paint but once that wig is on it changes the look entirely.
      The embroidered kimonos are so gorgeous, next trip I’m going to make sure I get to a kimono atelier and watch them doing the embroidery.

  • Mary
    July 14, 2014

    Gorgeous photos!

    How does a blond wear a dark wig with their natural hairline showing? I’m amazed at the transformation!

    • Susan Goodwin
      July 14, 2014

      Thank you! the photos are beautiful.

      The wigs come down a few cm below my actual hairline and then at the back neck they shove it up behind. Each time I’ve had quite short hair, am not sure if that was a help or a hindrance?

      Most people don’t realise it’s me as it is a complete transformation.

  • Velosewer
    July 15, 2014

    What an amazing transformation. That really is you.
    #gobsmacked #awesome

    • Susan Goodwin
      July 15, 2014

      It’s kind of mindblowing as it doesn’t feel like me (I know that sounds crazy). I wonder if it’s like being an actor and you prepare yourself mentally while getting all the hair, make up and wardrobe done?

  • Gabrielle
    July 15, 2014

    That sounds so much fun – and you really look so different! I’m going to have to add a Japan trip to my wish list…

    • Susan Goodwin
      July 16, 2014

      Thank you! Totally add Japan to your MUST SEE list. It’s really beautiful and embraces old and new so well. Plus it’s not that far a plane trip (relatively speaking).

  • Catherine
    July 25, 2014

    Oh my! That’s looks like such fun!!! And you look so perfect! And my boyfriend would love th dress up to. He loves anything Samurai related! I’ll have to show him this post later. I wonder how they would deal with my height though…
    I also dressed up once at the Chinese Gardens in Sydney, and we got to walk around taking photos. I think they charge for that priveledge now whereas they didn’t before.

    • Susan Goodwin
      July 28, 2014

      it really is so much fun, am sure your height will be no problems as my friends who lived there always took visitors and they were tall too.

      What a pity the Chinese Gardens makes you pay now? it would’ve been a fun place to go for blog pics one day.

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Hi, I'm Susan. A designer living in Sydney, Australia.

Here I share tales of my sewing, my pattern collection and insights into what it's like to work as a professional fashion designer.

Other recurring themes include cat photos and an ever changing hair style.



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