I always say that you can never truly understand kimono until you experience what it feels like to wear one. The way it’s tied and clipped and padded, and forces a more conservative stride. It may sound like a rather restrictive dress, but for me it’s rooted in a great comfort. The accumulated layers around my middle that are secured in a multitude of ways don’t budge, creating this formidable armor and more confident persona, while my gait simply becomes more deliberate and thoughtful. It’s as if the kimono is taking me out for a walk and saying, “Slow down, look around you, and embrace the adventure I’m about to take you on.”
It’s relatively easy for visitors to find rental kimono services in Japan and experience what it feels like to wear one. Services that target a foreign clientele, however, are largely centered around “traditional” spots on the typical tourist trail – like Arashiyama in Kyoto or Asakusa in Tokyo, where visitors are often keen to pair the traditional look with a similarly traditional background.
That’s why when I had the chance to have a “Kimono Experience” in the heart of Ginza, an area of Tokyo that is typically associated with luxury designer fashion labels and high-end restaurants, rather than temples and shrines or bamboo forests, my interest was piqued.
In many ways, Ginza as a modern shopping district creates the perfect juxtaposition for a kimono photoshoot, or perhaps it is this kind of well put-together fashion that complements it so effortlessly. And surprisingly, you’re not going to be among many other visitors doing it.
The kimono rental process starts at The Kimono Gallery, where you get to take your pick of kimono, obi and accessories. I was instantly drawn to a cobalt blue kimono with striking flower print. On the advice of the staff, I went with a plain, light-colored obi that wouldn’t compete with the bold design.
The kimono is fitted in a private tatami-floored space out the back. Here your chosen kimono will be expertly cinched and tied and readjusted in a way that only learned hands can perfect, until the one-size-fits-all garment appears as if it were custom made for you. I was brought to the styling area to have my look completed with an up-do and final hair accessory. The whole process takes about an hour – allowing you to take your time choosing a combination of colors, styles and designs that speak to you, and seeing every step that goes into the process.
With a little matching bag large enough to hold a few personal items, I was ready to explore Ginza in my kimono glow, and to experience the neighborhood in a whole new way. Ginza’s upmarketness often makes me feel out of place, but in a kimono I suddenly felt at home, while at the same time standing out in the best of ways.
Doing your own walking tour in kimono creates the opportunity to mold your adventure into anything you like. You can channel your stylish look and peruse all the luxury brands along Chuo-dori, pose in front of Ginza’s iconic department stores or sip on something fancy at any one of the sophisticated cafés.
Or you can mix the highbrow vibe with more of a classic backdrop at Kabukiza Theater, within walking distance of the rental location and a recommended stop for its gorgeous architecture alone. You can freely stroll the theater’s Kobikicho Square with its traditional souvenir stores and head to the rooftop for photos in its lovely garden space.
During my walk, there were several head turns and enthusiastic comments from local shoppers: “So beautiful!” “Lovely!” “Wonderful!” It was a reaction that felt rather different to the kind received when in the usual “kimono hot spots.” And indeed Ginza had not been the first place that came to mind when I thought of kimono rental in Tokyo, but that’s exactly what made it so interesting.
Find out more about The Kimono Gallery at www.chushikokuandtokyo.org/spot_107/
This experience was supported by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Photos by Samantha Firth