Geishas have always been mysterious, yet extremely pretty. What they really do is always quite misunderstood, but there is no doubt about the trail of awe and enticement that they leave behind them. Let’s take a look at all there is to know about the Geisha makeup.
A certain theory suggests that the origins of the pale face makeup are routed through China. The Japanese courtesans are said to have adopted this look from the Chinese. It was between 794 A.D. to 1185 A.D. during the Heian rule, when this look was first used. Considering the influence the Chinese had on the Japanese at that time, it is safe to say that they would have adapted it from them. The women from the Heian era would mix rice powder with water, and smear it on their faces like a foundation. They would shave off their eyebrows, and paint thick, but straight, eyebrows in black. These eyebrows were drawn slightly higher than the usual placement. Their lips were then painted red. Originally, women finished off this theater look by staining their teeth black. To do this, they used a mixture of oxidized iron and an acidic solution. The blackening of the teeth was done only until the Meiji era, but the Kabuki actors and the training Geishas (Maiko) still use it.
This charismatic look of the Heian era was taken on by the courtesans in an attempt to revisit the poise and elegance of the golden era.
The Geishas set themselves apart from the courtesans in the pleasure quarters. They wore less vibrant colors and more decorated clothes. They also wore simpler makeup and less elaborate hairstyles compared to their colleagues. This was because of a law that was enforced to make sure there wasn’t any competition between the Geishas and the other courtesans. But surprisingly, this law worked in the favor of the Geishas, who looked smarter than the rest. Over the years, their makeup got bolder and so did their hairstyles and kimonos.
Typically, at the start of the career, it is a must for the newbies or the Maikos to wear the white makeup every day. It is the Geisha, who takes the new Maikos under her protective wing, or the Okasan (the owner of the home that the Maikos are a part of) and teaches them how to do this. Once the Geisha is three years into her profession, her makeup gets lighter, and her bun gets simpler. In three years, she matures beautifully and then she is known by her talent, and not her appearance. For events that are more formal in nature or for dances, she wears heavier makeup and a katsura or an elaborate wig.
Getting that perfect Geisha look is quite a tedious process. First, a waxy oil-like substance called bintsuke-aburais applied to the face, using a brush on the face, neck and chest. This substance works like an adhesive to the white foundation that follows. Next, the white foundation is applied all over the face, neck and chest, leaving a “V” shape naked, at the nape. The nape is considered the focal point in Japanese eroticism. Therefore, leaving that “V” bare enhances the sensuality. The day when the Maiko turns Geisha, a “W” is left bare on her nape. These bare “W” and “V” are always veiled, and usually symbolize what men long to discover in them.
Once the foundation is set, the eyes and the eyebrows are painted. This is a tedious job and needs a steady hand. A single mistake could lead to starting the process all over again. The eyebrows are primarily painted black, with a tinge of red. Traditional makeup used charcoal as the blackening agent, but today, many cosmetics are available specifically for this purpose. Then come the eyes. These are painted black, with a touch of red too. As the new Geisha matures, the amount of red in her makeup decreases. To finish the look, the center of the lips is painted bright red with the help of a small brush. Traditionally, the color was extracted from safflower that was infused with water. Once the color was added to the lips, it was covered with crystallized sugar, to get that lustrous look.
Now that you know how to go about this look, it is time for you to create your own “Memoirs Of A Geisha”.