Visitors from all around Japan and all around the globe are drawn to Kyoto to immerse themselves in everything the twelve-hundred-year-old capital has to offer: temples, shrines, gardens, geisha, and kimono. ‘This is all a bit historical,’ the contemporary fashionista might say, but these days, hanging out in the old capital wearing kimono and other traditional Japanese clothes has become the height of urban style and cool for the young and stylish.
The cost of elegance
For hundreds of years, Kyoto was the centre of the Japanese silk weaving industry based in the Nishijin district on the west side of the city. Nowadays, you may think a kimono is not exactly an outfit to wear to the office or go out with your friends to an izakaya bar. A new silk kimono will cost you an arm and a leg—and that’s only the beginning! For women, there are layers of undergarments, an ‘obi’ sash, which might cost more than the kimono, accessories, zori sandals and much more to go with your outfit. Men’s kimonos are more sober in colour, but no less expensive.In earlier days, a sheaf of carefully folded and wrapped kimonos would have formed part of a typical trousseau and still, today, a wedding kimono is so costly that it is usually hired.
But all is not lost! In recent years, a kimono revolution has taken place in Kyoto and you can see thrifty Japanese students in kimono—and \sometimes even attending classes. Also visiting gaijin (foreigners) stroll along Pontocho in the evening, not wearing the garish silks of the maiko-san but simple, subtle colours in cotton or linen. You can hire them to wear for the day, or just the evening, and the shop will help you put them on correctly, as tying an obi is no mean feat—in fact, to make everyone’s life a bit easier, there are even ready tied obi too.To encourage you a bit more, there is a Kimono Passport, a little booklet that gives you all kinds of discounts if you are wearing a kimono, not to mention reduced taxi fares with some companies.
Vintage is the new modern
If you get smitten by the kimono bug, you can easily buy vintage Japanese clothing at the monthly flea markets at Kyoto’s Kitano Shrine and Toji Temple. You can also wander into the increasing number of vintage kimono stores springing up, where you can get good advice and not make any terrible faux pas. Not only will you look great but it’s good to know you are thinking of the environment by recycling.
And whatever you do in your kimono, don’t forget to walk with small steps!
To get a kimono passport: http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/visitkyoto/en/theme/activities/cultural/culture/Kimono%20Passport/
To buy vintage kimono: http://www.chicago.co.jp/store_kyt.html
For short term rental: https://www.govoyagin.com/things_to_do/japan/kyoto/50-kimono_experience
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About the Author
Mary spent twenty-two years in Japan and still finds it endlessly fascinating. A university teacher and occasional tour guide in Kyoto, she now works from a tiny hamlet in the French Alps as a freelance writer/editor.