So, you’re in Japan and everyone keeps asking, have you worn a kimono yet? Why not? You’re getting a little sick of the questioning and therefore decide to bite the bullet and find somewhere to wear a kimono. Finding somewhere turns out to be fairly easy because during your wanders in Kyoto, every second shop seemed to be a kimono rental place. However, a new problem is raised, you don’t want to be the only white girl wearing kimono, because you already get enough looks for being white without going for the whole “Memoires of a Geisha” vibe. When your friend comes to visit from Australia, you therefore tell her we’re going to wear Kimono together, because it’s something everyone does in Japan.
Does this sound like a familiar problem to you? Well, probably not because you’re likely reading this because you think Japan is cool or because I titled this something really awesome and it piqued your interest but then you realised I click-baited you (I didn’t mean to, I swear). Or maybe you’re more like my friend, where you were interested in wearing a kimono but don’t know how to go about it without local help. Well you’re in luck, because this is:
Melissa’s super helpful guide to hiring (and wearing) a kimono in Japan.
Step 1: Choose a location
There are a million places to hire kimono in Japan. Most of these places are centred around areas of historical importance, because obviously, they make the coolest photo backdrops. Most likely, if you’re a tourist, you’ll be sticking to the main tourist centres of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. All these places have kimono rental shops, but if you’re worried about standing out, I would go to Kyoto to experience kimono. Every second man, woman or child will also be dressed in kimono, so you won’t be stopped quite so often for photoshoots (trust me, it happens).
Step 2: Choose a location within a location
Yes, I’ve already told you to choose a location, but now you need to get specific. All the major tourist areas are huge places, and can be a pain to traverse (I’m looking at you Kyoto). If you’re planning an epic photoshoot with a pro photographer, (read: a let’s stop and take pictures now because there’s no one around, and my best friend has ace picture taking skills), you really should think about where you want to shoot in advance.
When we hired out kimono, we decided we wanted to go to Arashiyama bamboo forest to take pictures. The only problem was, we hired our kimono in Kiyomizudera. This was deliberate as we wanted to take pictures there too, but to get to Arashiyama, we had to take a taxi which cost quite a bit of money and time.
If you’re on a bit of a budget or a schedule, I would suggest hiring your kimono in a central location, close to the areas you want to see, and go from there. However, if you’re a bit more gung-ho and are hiring a kimono on a whim, definitely just go to the first shop you see and hope for the best (this is my usual way of doing things).
Step 3: Choose a shop
You have two options when it comes to choosing a shop. If you’re in an area like Kiyomizudera, you’ll be overwhelmed by choice. You could theoretically just throw a ninja star* or 1 yen coin+, and choose the shop it lands closest too. The only problem with this method is you become a few yen poorer, and maybe a murderer, but the shop you chose might also require reservations or not cater to westerners.
The other option is to do a quick google search, just type in your location and kimono rental, and select your favourite result. If you don’t speak much Japanese, I highly recommend looking for a rental shop that has a website in English. I also recommend looking at the fine print, and seeing if they cater to women taller than 170cm. This might not seem like an issue, but Japanese women are tiny, and therefore kimono are tiny. If you have boobs or are tall, you’re going to need a specially sized kimono. Most shops will likely carry one or two larger sized kimono, but if you want a range to choose from, that disclaimer will lead you in the right direction. Oh, and also look to see if they need a reservation. If the website is in English, you can normally find an online form to fill in. If not, make friends with the reception staff at your hotel because they can make reservations for you (this goes for everything, not just kimono rental).
*DO NOT throw ninja stars in crowded areas, Uncrowded places are ok…
+ Throw 1 yen coins wherever you like, they’re useless and aren’t worth the metal they’re made from.
Step 4: Select a plan
I’m sure you’re like, just get me into this kimono already, but we still have a few more steps. Once you’ve selected a shop, you’ll need to select a plan. Basically, most shops will have two different plans. One will be a photoshoot or quick plan, and the other will be a walk around plan.
The quick plan simply involves choosing a kimono, putting it on and just taking pictures in the shops photography studio. If you’re by yourself, I would be choosing this plan. Generally, it’s somewhat cheaper and you have a photographer to take your picture, rather than just having a million selfies and odd looks (the eternal struggle of a solo traveller). However, you then have the problem that the pictures could be bad and there’s nothing you can really do about it.
The walk around plan is pretty literal. You get a kimono wrapped around your body, if you pay a little extra or it comes with the plan, you can get your hair done fancily and sprayed with enough hairspray to make a new Hairspray musical, and then you’re sent on your way. You can then walk around, in your kimono, until the set return time, which will be about 6 to 8pm at night (depending on the shop).
Almost forgot to mention, depending on the season you might also be able to rent a yukata. A yukata is a summer version of a kimono, which is lighter weight so you don’t die of heat exhaustion. You can also do both plans with a yukata, and if you’re lucky, some places include a special summer plan, where you can keep the yukata after renting it for the day. I haven’t tried this out yet, but I might update this plan once it’s summer and let you know how it goes.
Step 5: Kimono selection
You’re almost there and you’ve finally gotten to the truly fun part, selecting a kimono. Kimono consist of the kimono, undergarment shirt, under undergarment and obi (belt). If you’re at a fancier place it might also include an obi accessory, bag, tabi socks (wicked two toe sock things) and awesome kimono sandals. If it’s really cold, you might also get to wear a coat or fake fur stole. Obviously, all these things have cool Japanese names, but I’m too lazy to google them for you.
We hired our kimono from Okamoto Kimono, and we were allowed to select our kimono, undergarment, obi, obi accessory, bag and, hair ornament. Even though we were limited to choosing from the “plus size” collection, we still had a lot of choice and we spent a long time antagonizing over our decision. However, the good thing about Okamoto Kimono was that they had pictures on their website, showing potential kimono combinations, so we had some idea in advance what we wanted to wear. We also got some help from the staff working who were great at making sure we clashed like a real kimono should, but didn’t look like a train wreck.
I have to admit the selection process was probably my favourite part and although I love my choice, I could definitely go back and wear a million different styles. This is probably the best thing about renting a kimono rather than buying. To buy a kimono (unless you go the second-hand route) costs a lot of money and you’re stuck with the same kimono for a very long time. If you’re renting, you could wear a different kimono each day of the week, though I’m not sure what reason you would have to do this.
Step 6: Let’s get naked, and then un-naked again (kimono dressing)
It’s time to wear your kimono. This is the most labour intensive process but all you’ll have to do is stand there and occasionally nod your head when they ask you if you’re ok (daijoubu?). That’s because you now get to be a giant dress up doll while you get wrapped in three or so layers of cloth and cinched in tighter than a Victorian era corset.
I don’t know enough about the dressing process to describe it in detail, I kinda blanked out at this point in my own experience due to lack of oxygen from all the cinching mentioned earlier haha. But I can tell you, you’ll likely have to get down to your undies, before you get dressed. However, because it was freezing the day we wore our kimono, they suggested wearing leggings underneath, so I did keep my thermals on.
Kimono layering involved a base silk dressing gown, if you’re a westerner with boobs or hips, padding to give you a column figure (desirable in a kimono), a silk wrap skirt and undergarment shirt thing. Then it’s your kimono, all kept nice and secure with your obi and obi accessory. Also, if you got a plan which included getting your hair done, they did that during the dressing process. I did my hair myself, because I hate the kimono hairstyles for short hair, so I don’t know what occurs in this secret, magic step.
Step 7: Walk around, take a million pictures, but none of them on your camera, return to where you started
You made it! This is the last step in this guide, which shall soon be published as a bestseller because it has turned into a short novel, sorry about that!
If you got the walk around plan, you can now walk around to your hearts content. Most shops will allow you to leave your bags with them, so just take your camera, a few yen and train tickets, and go have a great day. If you really wanted you could probably even leave the few yen with your stuff and start charging for people to take your picture. If I had have done that, I would probably be rich by now.
I should mention, walking in a kimono is actually really easy, especially if you’re an Aussie and are used to walking in thongs, because kimono sandals are basically like platform thongs. The difficulty in wearing a kimono actually comes from not being able to breathe to deeply, nor sit down that easily, because you’re tied in well. However, the sheer ridiculousness of wearing a kimono will likely have your forgetting that pretty quickly.
Once you’ve enjoyed the novelty of wearing kimono, become famous and, if you take my suggestions of collecting photo payments, very rich, take your kimono back to where you rented it from. Getting out of the kimono only takes a few minutes, and once you do, you’ll always have the memories of a fun day. You should also have some awesome pictures, but if you’re like me and are a really sucky person, they’ll all be on your friends fancy camera, not yours! If you want to see some truly amazing kimono pictures, follow my friends blog. She should be posting them someday soon.
Details about the kimono rental shop we visited can be found below:
〒605-0862 2-237-1-1 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi
From the Kiyomuzudera bus stop, walk straight up toward Kiyomizudera, taking the left-hand street. The shop will be on your right marked by a dummy dressed in Kimono out the front. However, in this area Okamoto has 4 different stores, so feel free to visit any of them.
9 am to 8pm. Open every day of the year.
Kimono rental return time in 6.30pm.
No, but you can make one if you want to streamline the process.
Varies according to plan but we had to choose the full plan to accommodate for the larger size kimono.
Kimono rental: 5000 yen
Hair make (getting your hair done): 500 yen
Hair ornament rental (if you didn’t already get your hair made): 310 yen
Memories to last a lifetime: priceless.
Until next time!