It was 5:30pm and a surge of brightly patterned kimono wearing travellers poured through the rental shop doors. Myself and two friends had arrived a little earlier and were now sat on a bench by the shop entrance. Enjoying the breeze by the open door, we shared being pleased about our last minute mad dash decision to tick off a kimono experience from our to do list.
A kimono experience in Japan is a must do activity for anyone visiting. Shuffling along the streets in a tightly wrapped kimono, wearing wedged sandals and uncomfortable thong like socks is honestly worth the effort. These beautiful traditional outfits make even camera-shy people ooze with confidence, stand elegantly taller and feel like a Disney princess. Pair your kimono experience with a good photo spot and expect to have a small portfolio of images, like we did by the end of the day.
There’s plenty of opportunities in Japan to have a kimono experience. For us a day trip to Kamakura seemed like the perfect place. Unfortunately, the day of playing dress up was a hot one. It was also Golden week which is a national holiday in Japan. The streets of Kamakura were cram packed with travellers and locals enjoying their holidays. The morning sun shone harshly down making it uncomfortable to walk, talk and even thinking was a struggle. There was no shade in sight to hide in. Browsing in gift shops was our only option to escape the burning sun. Weather is one thing you can’t plan for whilst travelling and it was an on-going struggle throughout our Japan trip. After a vote to postpone hiring kimonos we carried on with the other plans we had for the day.
On returning to the centre of Kamakura on our route back home to Shibuya, a 3.30pm decision was made, three hot girls (temperature wise) walked into a Vasara kimono rental shop. Although feeling hot, sweaty and gross from a day of exploring Kamakura nothing was going to stop us having our kimono experience. The temperature outside was cooler, clouds now covered the harsh sun and it now seemed the perfect time to do it.
There’s one fee for Kimono hire, a day fee. We only had until 5:30pm which at that time all kimonos are due back. Paying a day fee for only 2 hours was a bit ridiculous. Plus, annoyingly the more expensive kimonos were our only options of hire but this was a ‘what the heck’ moment, so out came our purses. The total price for each was 5,900 yen which is about £40. This included everything from the outfit, accessories and hair styling.
After being given big blue Ikea like bags for our belongings, we were hurried upstairs to select our outfits. There was quite the range of colours and patterns but luckily the staff helped us in our kimono selection. Each of us chose unique designs and one by one we were shown into the fitting rooms. Curtains separated each of us as we all stood waiting for instructions. I could hear garments being prepared. Then an elbow began to knock my dividing curtain and a few giggles could be heard as my next-door neighbour started to be dressed. I was last to be assisted and I didn’t really know what was going on nor what to expect.
My curtain opened, and a lady popped her head in and gave me some items to change into. A night gown style slip which tied up like a dressing gown was the first piece to this kimono puzzle. After I had wrapped it around my underwear and checked I didn’t look completely ridiculous in the mirror I called out that I was ready. The kind lady then helped with putting on the white Tabi socks which were extremely tight around the big toe area and a bit of a struggle to pull on. Next went on a short kimono under slip and then the tightening of the waist started as pink ribbons were tide around me. I felt like Pocahontas in Journey to a New Word, the second film where she travels to London. The scene I was imagining was when Pocahontas is getting dressed in a corset by Mrs Jenkins (the house maid). A Mulan reference didn’t even cross my mind! I guess, like Pocahontas, I too was in a complete foreign situation. On went the kimono and the brightly coloured sash, a few more tight pulls around my waist and job done. The whole thing was over in just a few minutes.
I was then brought over to the styling stations; the girls hair had already begun getting styled when I was given a folder with over 10 hairstyles to choose from. I opted for a half up half down style. We went on to select some hair accessories took a few selfies and headed downstairs for the finishing touches of selecting sandals and a bag.
Feeling slightly dubious in our gorgeous yet foreign attire we exited the shop. I had only seen two other white women wearing kimonos during our time in Japan. Kimono hire seemed to be very popular with Asian travellers. A stunning South African, A blonde hair, blue eyed Canadian and a very fair skinned Brit was sure to get some attention. I wasn’t ready for all the staring. However, due to all the laughing from how we struggled to walk and our immediacy to find a quiet photo spot I didn’t take notice of the sneaky photo taking that was happening around us. As we turned a corner just across the road we spotted stairs leading to a Torii gate and what looked like a garden beyond that. ‘That’ll do!’ I happily announced and off we tip toed across the road.
Kimono Experience In Japan
If you’re renting kimonos in Kamakura here’s some location suggestions for great photo backdrops. Unfortunately, lack of time meant we couldn’t visit these places ourselves, but if you do be sure to tag me on Instagram using the hashtag #scheduledescape.
Daikoji Temple was the perfect photo spot for us. The grounds were fairly quiet, and we had a number of photo backdrops. A generous gardener of the grounds offered to take some photos and before we knew it she was directing us in what felt like popular group photo poses, it was great. A relative quick experience ended up being the perfect amount of time to have a kimono experience. I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have lasted much longer let alone a full day. I question how you can eat whilst wearing a kimono, I could hardly bend down to capture our photos let along consume a meal.
Happy with all our photos we headed back a little earlier as to avoid a queue. After removing our sandals by the door we were ushered upstairs with our belongings and shown to our shared fitting room. We shuffled in to de-kimono-fi ourselves from our very tightly wrapped garments. A basket lay waiting for our dirty clothes and we took it in turns stripping off and placing beautiful traditional somewhat sweaty garments into the basket.
The first item which I staggered on one foot to remove were, you guessed it, the thick white Tabi socks. Famously identified by the separation between the big toe and the other toes, they are super uncomfortable. The Obi was the next item that needed to come off. Being the last part of the Kimono outfit to go on while I was being dressed, it now needed to be unravelled first. An Obi is the sash which is wrapped around the waist a few times and then tied behind the back in a beautiful fashion. Sash ribbons were used to define the waist and stiffen the sash. I was surprised at how many ribbons were tied around me. I resembled a magician doing the colourful endless handkerchief trick as I untied each one. My friends didn’t seem to undo as many around their waists. After a slight panic with the seemingly endless number of ribbons I went on to remove the kimono itself which was a heavy, long piece of material. This was possibly the reason why I had so many ribbons as I was the shortest of the group. Undergarments were the last thing to be removed. The girls were finishing up and left me to continue. I went on to remove the kimono slip and balanced it on the mountain of clothing the girls had left in the basket. The amount of material we had been wearing is not recommended for 28-degree heat. Wearily I continued to remove the last few pieces. To my surprise I was met with more ribbon before finally taking off the last undergarment. One deep breath of accomplishment and feeling like I could breathe again I got dressed in my own clothes and headed downstairs to meet the girls.
My friends were sat on a bench by the front door putting their shoes on. As I sat down to join them the surge of brightly patterned kimono wearing travellers entered the shop. ‘Well, we timed that well’ I replied.
Have you had a kimono experience in Japan? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this post, please give it a share & PIN for later!