Fascinating Videos Reveal How Geishas Apply Their Makeup

Maiko in Japan in front of a tree with colorful foliage

Photo: cowardlion/Depositphotos

Japan's geisha tradition has long captured the world's imagination. Many of us have read or watched Memoirs of a Geisha; some have even traveled to Japan to experience geisha culture. These consummate hosts and incredible artists are known for many things, but perhaps their striking makeup stands out the most. Thanks to the TikTok account Facts_About_Asia, we can see for ourselves the preparations that geisha undergo to transform themselves.

In a video played over 36 million times, a young woman carefully applies makeup to her face. She appears to be a maiko or apprentice. The white foundation, known as oshiroi, is also used by kabuki actors and is applied using a brush to the entire face, even covering the lips and the eyebrows. Though it's not shown, she would have first primed her face with a special wax that helps achieve the final look. After using powder to set the makeup, she's on to the next phase.

She then uses a small brush to apply red makeup to the corners of her eyes and to paint on thin eyebrows before filling in her red lips. Black eyeliner is also used to emphasize her eyes. At that point, she moves to the next step, making sure to apply enough of the white foundation to cover anything that will be seen once she puts on her kimono.

Lastly, she slips on a wig with the ornate hairstyle geisha are known for, completing the look. The video, as well as several others, are fascinating looks at the world of geishas. In one, we see another maiko having her makeup applied, but this time, the eyes are different, with red dots rather than the winged look of the first video. This allows us to see firsthand that there is great meaning even in the makeup, as there are not only regional differences but also differences depending on whether the geisha is a maiko or has become a full-fledged geisha.

Scroll down to see the videos and then follow Facts_About_Asia on TikTok to see even more about geisha.

A TikTok account has been publishing a fascinating look at how geishas apply their makeup.

@facts_about_asiaGeisha white makeup♬ Celtic Music/Fantastic/Fantasy(1324312) – Akihiro Kasuga

@facts_about_asiaGeisha makeup ❤️♬ Celtic Music/Fantastic/Fantasy(1324312) – Akihiro Kasuga

The videos often show maiko—apprentices learning the art of geisha.

@facts_about_asiaMaiko (an apprentice Geisha) white makeup♬ In the Forest – Lesfm & Olexy

@facts_about_asiaMaiko (Geisha) back neck makeup♬ Celtic Music/Fantastic/Fantasy(1324312) – Akihiro Kasuga

Fact_About_Asia is filled with incredible videos demonstrating this important part of Japanese culture.

@facts_about_asiaOiran ❤️♬ Celtic Music/Fantastic/Fantasy(1324312) – Akihiro Kasuga

@facts_about_asiaGeisha dance full video♬ original sound – Facts about Asia

h/t: [Reddit]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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