Watching a geisha dress: more exercise than elegance

KYOTO (Reuters) - “It’s a bit like a war,” says Komomo, a geisha in Japan’s ancient capital, describing how she dresses for work.

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That’s the last word that comes to mind when watching one of the elegant female entertainers of Kyoto’s Miyagawa-cho geisha district drift down the stone-paved streets in colorful silk kimono, white make-up and gleaming, upswept black hair.

But it’s true.

The 23-year-old Komomo has less than 30 minutes turnaround time from the end of a traditional dance performance until she must leave for one of the evening parties that are the mainstay of her work. By the time the dressing begins in her house at the centre of Miyagawa-cho district, only 10 minutes are left.

She stands on a tatami straw-mat floor in a red and white kimono under-robe, her wig and make-up already on as her dresser, a spiky-haired young man called “Kichi”, unfolds a pink kimono patterned with cherry blossoms.

Staring into a full-length mirror as the kimono is wrapped around her, Komomo -- who is barely 150 cm (4 ft 11 in) tall -- hands thin silk cords to the dresser and ties some around her middle herself.

“Is it okay?” the dresser asks. She nods.

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Kichi holds the shoulders of the kimono to line them up properly, then pulls down the collar to reveal the nape of her neck, traditionally thought sexy in Japan. A dark red sash follows, then a pad tied in place over her stomach.

A final kimono, this one cream and light blue, is draped over her shoulders and tucked in place. Kichi deftly unfurls a long, navy-blue obi and wraps it around Komomo’s waist, then folds it to make a flat knot at the back.

Ordinary Japanese women often find the tight obi constricting and uncomfortable, but Komomo moves around with ease.

The whole process, which has used three kimonos, seven ties and two sashes, is over in roughly five minutes. A formal kimono ensemble can weigh 6 to 7 kg (13 to 15 lb).

“Thank you,” Komomo tells her dresser in the Kyoto dialect before heading to a taxi waiting to whisk her to an evening party. She won’t be back until midnight.

Editing by Megan Goldin