When people think of Japan, they invariably think of its traditional garment: the kimono. Worn by men, women and children alike through the ages, kimono literally means a “thing to wear” (ki, “to wear,” and mono, “thing”), it has come to signify something of a national costume—one that conjures up visions of feminine geisha and vivid patterns.
These colorful, T-shaped robes are still worn today, though mostly by women for special occasions such as seijin no hi (Coming of Age Day)—when they turn 20-years-old and officially become adults—graduation ceremonies and weddings. While some older women still wear kimono on a daily basis, men don it most often at weddings and other very formal occasions. If you’re lucky enough to attend a sumo basho (tournament) or encounter sumo wrestlers out in the city, you will see them dressed in this manner as they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress whenever appearing in public.
Kimono are traditionally crafted from a single bolt of silk fabric and sewn by hand—which adds to their cost. While they are often rented on special occasions, this alone can cost between ¥100,000 to ¥300,000. To purchase one, the price can easily start at ¥1,000,000 and go up from there.
Because of the associated cost, many foreigners don’t get the chance to wear a kimono when they visit Japan. These days, there are companies that can teach non-Japanese people how to wear kimono and also provide dressing and rental services as well as photo shoots and city walks so visitors can experience of wearing them in Tokyo.
Inspire Space Hiroo
If you have never seen a kimono before, or are just interested in learning more about them, Inspire Space Hiroo is the place to start. Located only a 1-minute walk from Hiroo station, the licensed and experienced English-speaking staff (Chinese-speaking staff can be arranged with advance notice) offer kimono rental and dressing services starting from ¥12,000 that can even be combined with a professional photo shoot in the streets of Tokyo.
If you have an afternoon or two to spare, the group has an absolute beginner’s course in the art of wearing kimono that teaches basic knowledge of the kimono and its wear, plus how to tie an obi (sash) by yourself. Inspire Space Hiroo also offers complete instruction on how to dress yourself, and if you have purchased or borrowed a kimono, their kitsuke-shi (professional dresser) can dress you in the style appropriate for your garment—either at the company’s house in Hiroo or your hotel. 5-3-7 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku. Open daily, 10am-10pm. Tel: 03-6450-4736. www.ishiroo.com
Sakura Photo Studio
Located in the bustling tourist hub of Akasaka, Sakura Photo Studio provides kimono dressing and photo sessions as well as a walking guide through the streets of shitamachi (old downtown) Tokyo. Close to Asakusa station on the Ginza line, Sakura Photo Studio provides services in Chinese, English and Korean, with the outdoor walking plan starting from ¥10,000 per person.
Their after 5 p.m. studio photo shoots are available from ¥15,000 with a discounted rate (¥25,000) for couples. For the ladies, suitable hair styling is included in the prices, but traditional makeup costs an additional ¥5,000. 4F Suzuki Bldg., 1-12-12 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku. Open daily, 9:30am-5pm. Tel: 070-5465-6904. www.sakuraphotokimono.com