One way to learn more about Japanese culture while in Japan is to wear traditional costumes, be it kimono or yukata while strolling historical and picturesque streets. Kyoto would be the perfect place to do it. The kimono rental business is so popular and big here, the whole street is full of kimono rental shops. Just pop into anyone and ask them to transform you into Japanese doll.
Who wears a kimono?
In Japan, Kimono is often worn by a woman for special occasions, such as graduation ceremony, wedding dinner party or during the Seijin Shiki/coming of age day (turns 20 years old.) If you are traveling in January, you may encounter many young Japanese girls wearing the traditional kimono which cost thousands of dollars walking on the streets during their coming of age day which falls on the second Monday of January, also a public holiday.
Difference between Yukata & Kimono
Kimono and Yukata are different in their fabric. Yukata comes in cotton and Kimono comes in silk fabric. Yukata is worn during the summer season but kimono is more for a formal occasion and cost very expensive.
Japanese tradition to own at least one kimono in their life
Some of my Japanese girlfriends I met during my University year has at least one kimono which their parents have started to loan and paying for them since they were born. Why loan? Because Kimono can cost up to 100,000 yen (USD 9036) above or lower. It is a tradition for Japanese parent to present their daughter at least one good set of kimono to wear during their coming of age at 20 years old. After that, the daughter will keep it for wedding occasion, graduation ceremony or other formal occasions. However, the trend has changed recently and many prefer to rent a kimono instead. Buying cost too much and it is a burden to pay loan since the baby girl was born.
Kimono rental shops are everywhere in Kyoto, especially near Kyomizu dera and Gion area. You can also book online from Klook. My experience with kimono rental is a little shop near Kyomizu dera without any booking, it is an impromptu decision. If you did not book online, just walk into any rental shops and tell them you want a kimono experience. My advice is to go early when the shops just open, that way you have many choices to choose from before other customers make their choice.
How to choose kimono?
When you come to choosing Kimono, do not be afraid of bright colors. Bright colors show best from the kimono style and look very good in photos. There are hundreds of style and patterns, few iconic prints are with cherry blossom print or cranes.
What does it include?
The wearing of kimono is not an easy task, in fact, it is impossible to wear kimono on your own. Usually, you need an assistant to help you to wear the kimono and most women can’t even wear kimono by themselves. This is because there are many steps and few layers of wrapping (just like a mummy wrap). Do remember to go to the toilet first before you start to wear the kimono. It took about 30 mins to wear the kimono and hairdo. After that, you are free to roam to the places you wanted to go and return by the promised time.
Kimono for men
There are also kimonos rental for men, price start at around 3000 yen. The color choices aren’t too many, usually come with blue, grey, maroon and minimal print.
Understanding Furisode Kimono
There are several plans to choose from. The standard plan cost around 3,000 yen (USD 27.11) and the Furisode Plan cost around 10,000 yen (USD 90.35). Standard plan kimono is the usual kimono, not from silk and with short sleeves. Furisode is silk kimono with long sleeves. The long sleeves are the key here. Furisode is formal kimono worn by young unmarried women in Japan, usually worn by girls in the Coming of Age Day when they turn 20.
My kimono is not furisode as you can see the sleeves do not touch the ground. Furisode has sleeves that is long and almost touches the ground.
Kimono Hairdo & Matching Bag
All plan include hairdo. When you wear kimono it is better to have your hair up. It is because kimono is formal wear and the hair should be neat at all time and most importantly, it matches well when your hair is up. There are a number of hairstyles to go with your kimono. You can choose the colorful clips, flowers, and tassels to go with the color of your kimono. If you have a short hairstyle, it can leave it down but still need to tuck a pin with some flowers in your hair to make you look more “kawaii”/cute.
You are free to choose the matching bags. My advice is to choose the brighter color kimono bags.
Japanese Geta 下駄 or Zori
This is the traditional Japanese footwear that looks like clogs and flip-flops. You are given a free pair of socks to go with the geta. You can keep the socks after you return the rental kimono. The special socks have a split between the big toe.
Kimono is secured by a belt or sash called obi.
Obi is the key in Kimono, it is a sash or belt. There are many types of obi and many ways of tidying the obi. If you see the obi that are narrower and shorter, there are not for formal. Formal obi are thicker and wider and fancier.
How to walk in kimono?
The key is to walk in mini steps as it will minimize stretching of the fabric and become out of shape. You need to experience it yourself with the mini step, can be very annoying if you wanted to rush to somewhere. You won’t be able to run with kimono for sure.
There are other kimono etiquettes to watch out for when wearing a kimono. It has plenty of restriction I have to admit.
Do and Don’t
- Do not rub the obi belt against the back of the seat and cause the mess when you are sitting down. You can only sit straight and closer to the edge of the chair but not touching.
- Do not raise your arm high up as it will show the bare arms. Instead, raise your hand up to the wrist and no further.
- Do not open your mouth wide and laugh loudly, instead smile with lip closed.
- Do not have too big of action, every action and movement has to be demure and subtle.
- Do store your handkerchief or tissue in the sleeves of kimono. These are the hidden storage space for small and light items.
My experience of walking on the Kyoto streets in kimono was a memorable and fun one. I can totally understand why the Japanese behave in a certain way. I felt a lot of restriction in kimono wearing experience and lack of freedom. It is so tight and I could hardly drink, eat and breathe. Having said that, renting a kimono is still highly recommended.