The Fairy Godmother of Higashisuna
Published: December 28, 2017
There’s something to be said for the transformative power of getting dressed up.
The right clothes, make-up and hairstyle can be inspiring on many different levels. Hence, a popular service in Japan is yukata and kimono-wearing, which allows you to get a taste for Japanese culture by enshrouding yourself in traditional clothes.
But take that one step further, and you’ll find an experience more unique than you could imagine.
Meet Ms. Yukie Mashiko, who runs Hair Submarine Beauty Salon with her elder sister in Higashisuna, Koto City.
Ms. Mashiko is a hair and kimono expert, who has won awards for her precision and skill in the art of kimono-wearing. Back during the summer, I visited her in order to put on my yukata for the very first time.
She fixed me up with impressive speed and ease, and I had a wonderful time!
Today, however, I am here on a different errand. With New Year’s looming just around the corner, I am here to put Ms. Mashiko’s skills to the test, with a full “maiko” transformation.
“Maiko” and “geisha” are professional entertainers who specialize in music, poetry, dance, art, and conversation. A maiko is a geisha in training, and their dress codes observe a strict set of rules meant to distinguish their rank and ability, as well as express the changing seasons. Ms. Mashiko has been studying maiko and geisha customs for years, even making frequent trips to Kyoto to learn more.
“I recently helped a seven-year-old girl dress up maiko-style for her “shichi-go-san” (seven-five-three) ceremony,” Ms. Mashiko says, and showed me a photo on her phone. The little girl looked absolutely adorable, and I was very excited for my own experience!
Just for the records, this is what I look like normally:
Then, without further ado, Ms. Mashiko got to work.
After I changed out of my normal clothes and into a special robe, she started on my makeup and hair. The makeup used is specifically for “shiro-nuri”, which turns the skin pure white.
“Don’t worry, it washes off with water,” she said to me as I became as pale as a ghost. At this stage, I looked more like a monster than anything…
But then we soon got started on the hair. True to traditional methods, Ms. Mashiko refuses to use any modern contraptions to achieve the desired results. Hence, strips of old paper and string were used to tie the hair in place, rather than rubber bands.
She added an extension to the back of my head to help achieve more length, then combed through my hair with special oil. This is the same kind of oil used by sumo wrestlers to achieve their top knots, and gives hair a lovely, shiny sheen.
“You’ll want to wash this out carefully later,” she instructed me. “It’s pretty stubborn stuff. Back in the days, maiko and geisha would go for weeks without washing their hair because of how difficult the process is.”
Creating the voluminous, rounded shape of the hairstyle requires patience and skill. Ms. Mashiko adjusted and re-adjusted my hair multiple times, until she was satisfied.
“It’s ideal to achieve a look that is both sweet and sentimental,” she said with all due gravity. Like any professional, she takes pride in her creations.
Lastly, she lends me her antique “kanzashi” (hair ornaments). Once those were placed…
The hair styling was complete!
We’re getting there! (*＾＾*)
The final step was putting on the kimono. She lent me a kimono with soft, black fabric and beautiful embroidery featuring “mari” (playing balls) and rabbits. She even added the extra beadwork herself, making the kimono more luxurious than it was originally.
And not for nothing has Ms. Mashiko been doing this for years—her speed at helping me into the kimono was astounding!
“We’ll create a hanging obi,” she said, pulling out an impossibly long piece of fabric.
She wrapped me up in it, and with a few twists and turns, had the obi shaped and under control in no time.
“Wow, is this really me?”
Not only did I look like a completely different person, I also felt completely transformed. What an experience!
I was also able to learn a lot about geisha culture by talking to Ms. Mashiko throughout my time at Hair Submarine Beauty Salon. She had a wealth of knowledge to share, and I was able to appreciate the time and energy that these women put into their profession.
Thank you, Ms. Mashiko!
While Hair Submarine Beauty Salon is also a great place for haircuts, perms, getting your nails done, and other beauty touch-ups, I would definitely recommend going there for any yukata or kimono needs. Even if you don’t plan on going full maiko, it would be nice to attend functions like “hatsumode” (first shrine visit of the year) dressed to the nines in traditional clothing. And of course, the yukata is a must for fireworks viewing in the summer.
So drop by Higashisuna when you find yourself with the need, where a veteran Fairy Godmother will transform you with a wave of her magic wand♪
Story by Xianru Shen（Koto City Office Coordinator for International Relations）