Is there any better way to totally immerse yourself in the Japan travel experience, than by dressing up in a kimono rental in Kyoto? We wore the layers (and layers) and walked the streets to find out.
One thing that was top of my list of things to do in Japan was to dress up in a kimono. It’s the classic, cliched Japanese image – the kimono-clad woman with a parasol, in front of a branch of cherry blossom or a temple/shrine. But recreating cliches is fun…and I wanted a bit of that kimono action.
The word kimono in Japanese literally translates to ‘things to wear’ – in other words, clothes. And up until the early 20th century, various forms of kimono and its close relation, the yukata, were what Japanese people wore day-to-day. Nowadays, there are very few Japanese people who need to wear kimono for anything but special occasions (such as weddings, some concerts, tea ceremonies, festivals, traditional celebrations etc.). Exceptions include professional sumo wrestlers, geisha, or people who work in ryokan, restaurants or hotels which have a ‘traditional’ uniform.
However, there is a real revival in people hiring kimono (particularly in Kyoto) and then spending the day seeing the sights, or visiting restaurants. So, there is a proliferation of places in Kyoto where you can rent a kimono (or even have a complete maiko (apprentice geisha) make-over with the white makeup, distinctive hairstyle and super-glamorous kimono).
With so many options to choose from, it was hard to know which place to go to. However, we had organised to do a tea ceremony workshop at Ju-An (I’ll be posting about this experience next edited: here’s the post), and as I booked it, I noticed a link on the website that said: “Kyoto’s affordable kimono rental, Yumeyakata. Join our tea ceremony workshop wearing a kimono”.
Sold! Particularly when I clicked through and discovered that the prices at Yumeyakata were considerably cheaper than most other kimono rental places I had been checking out.
Yumeyakata kimono rentals in Kyoto
Yumeyakata was offering a half-price kimono rental deal (JPY 2,500 per person rather than JPY 5,000) as long as it was reserved in advance. This package included the day-long rental of the kimono of our choice from their regular selection (a ‘premium’ kimono usually starts at JPY 10,000), an obi (the wide belt which goes around the middle), all the required undergarments, setta or zouri (thong-like sandals) and a new pair of tabi (socks with a separation between the big toe and the rest), plus a traditional bag to carry our wallets, phones, cameras etc. If it had been one of the cooler months, a haori coat is included for men and a shawl for women.
That’s the basic package, then there’s a whole lot of add-ons you can choose (or not) depending on preference, such as having your hair done in a traditional style (JPY 1,500 each – reserved in advance), a tie to go around the obi (JPY 200), decorative hairpieces (various prices), haori coats for women (you’d only use one in cooler weather), parasols (JPY 1,000) etc. etc.
And then, if you want your glory captured forever, there are a number of photography packages ranging from a single photograph taken in the on-site studio (JPY1,500) through to the services of a photographer to accompany you to Arashiyama for 3.5 hours to take over 200 shots “overlooking the panoramic scenery from Togetsukyo Bridge, roaming around Tenryuji Temple, Nonomiya Shrine, and strolling in the refined bamboo forests” (JPY 33,000).
We passed on the photography options, choosing instead to head out on the nearby streets armed with our own camera and three iPhones. By choosing some select Japanese buildings en-route to the tea ceremony workshop location, we were able to take some excellent photos of each other. And a passer-by even offered to take one of all four of us together, so we managed to get the full group shot.
But back to the kimono-dressing experience…
We had a 5.00pm booking for our tea ceremony workshop, so we arrived at Yumeyakata at 3.00pm. We had a hunch that a couple of hours in kimono would do us just fine. (Although if we’d wanted to go further afield we could have booked as early as 9.00am, and spent the whole day in kimono, and for an extra JPY1,000 per person, even kept them overnight so we could have worn them out to dinner.)
As it was so warm in Kyoto, I had asked Yumeyakata via email whether I should be booking kimono or yukata, as at that stage I didn’t understand the difference between them. The reply said that because we were going to a tea ceremony, kimono was the appropriate choice. Yukata are cotton and more informal than the heavier silk kimono. They are, however, very popular in and around Kyoto at that time of year, as they are much cooler and easier to wear.
On arrival, we removed our shoes and were shown to a large room where we checked in and paid, then were shown the range of kimonos we could choose from according to our heights. Queenie and I were initially disappointed at the ones in our size as the colours weren’t what we had in mind, however we chose from what there was…and in the end, we were more than happy with our choices. The Impossible Princess, on the other hand, being that bit shorter, had a much wider range of colours and designs. The Poolboy had a choice of several plain colours in the men’s kimono – including black, pale blue, red and the grey/blue that he chose.
Then we had to choose an obi (the wide sash belt) during which time, the ladies assisting us skillfully up-sold us to an extra silk cord tie to go around the obi (additional JPY200 each).
From that point, we were shunted from room to room and floor to floor of the building as each stage of the process was completed. (No cameras or photos were permitted…which is understandable given the various states of undress people are in at various points.) We were given large bags to put our own bags and clothing into, and they went with us through all the stages until finally we checked them in to a cloakroom before the hair salon and leaving the premises in our kimono. The Poolboy went off in a separate direction to the girls and me, and we only met up again when we were completely finished.
In the dressing room, we removed our own clothing down to our underwear, and an expert dresser took charge of each of us. Dressing in a kimono is truly an art, but it’s a skill which has generally died out as modern women don’t have the daily need to wear kimono. Plus, while many Japanese own the cheaper and less formal yukata, not so many own a kimono which can be very expensive (from US$1000+, and we even heard stories of some of the geisha’s kimono costing about $100,000).
So, in order to learn kitsuke (dressing in a kimono) people can go to ‘kimono schools’, where they learn all about dressing for different body types, how to create a balanced silhouette, what kind of padding works and where, how to tie all the bits, how to do all the folds of the pieces. My head was spinning as I watched my dresser deftly wrap, fold and tie about 10 or 12 (I lost count…) separate items around and onto my body, including a curved board that (once tied into place) ensured I had the posture of a 1950s deportment school graduate.
We selected our traditional handbags from the range on offer, filled them with our phones, cameras and wallets, then checked our big carry bags into the cloakroom before going into the hair salon for our traditional hairdos.
Queenie and I were shown a page with six hairstyles on it and told to choose one – which was then re-created with curlers, hot irons, clips and a cloud of hairspray. (The Impossible Princess was given more options due to her longer hair.) Again, we added optional items and selected some floral hairpieces (various prices).
Then we were all set to hit the streets, around an hour after we first arrived. But first we had to choose a pair of sandals (or thongs, as Australians call them) immediately before we exited the building.
Wandering the streets of downtown Kyoto
Yumeyakata is about one kilometre from the Ju-an teahouse for our tea ceremony workshop. So we wandered at a leisurely pace through the side streets, stopping at appropriate niches and backdrops to take a few photos.
We were somewhat of an attraction on the streets of downtown Kyoto. Lots of passers-by smiled, laughed, or commented to us. Older people seemed to like the idea of a family of kimono-clad, mad Australians at large. Twice people asked to have their photo taken with us.
We had a bit of time to spare, so we swung by Starbucks for a quick drink (by this point we were starting to feel the effects of wearing all those layers on a hot, humid Kyoto afternoon) where we proved to be the afternoon’s live entertainment. While Japanese tourists walking the streets in kimono or yukata is quite normal, I suspect it’s not quite so common to see blonde Australians doing it.
After the tea ceremony (I’ll post about that next), we walked back to Yumeyakata where the process of disrobing was considerably faster than robing! And we all breathed (both a sigh of relief as we cooled down…and just plain breathed once the restrictive layers were removed).
It was an experience we’ll never forget. One of our all-time most memorable moments.
Yumeyakata Kimono Rental, Kyoto
Hosai Bldg, 353 Gojo-dori
Rental Hours: 10:00-18:00 (dressing starts from 9:00am)
Return: by 19:30 (or by 17:00 the next day (for extra JPY 1,000)
Dressing up time required: about 60 minutes without a hair do, up to 90 minutes with
Website in English: www.yumeyakata.com/english/
Japanese address: 〒600-8103 京都市下京区五条通り堺町西入塩竈(しおがま)町353
Would you dress up in a kimono and walk through the streets?
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