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Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Kyoto’s Kimono Culture

Until my trip to Kyoto and Osaka, my only visits to Japan had been to Tokyo. During my many visits over the years, I had seen women wearing Japanese kimonos but really had no idea about the traditional garment, other than how beautiful it is. I saw so many people wearing a kimono in Kyoto, it was such a visual delight everywhere we went!

Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Kimonos in Nishiki Market
Kimonos in Nishiki Market, photo credit: Mr. Misadventures

While researching for my trip to Kyoto I learned that the city was the ancient capital of Japan. Also, Kyoto has hundreds of temples and shrines, which served as Japan's main seat of government from the 8th to 17th centuries.

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People with social status such as the emperor and his family, shoguns, priests, and politicians required beautiful clothing, and Kyoto, therefore, became a major center for the textile industry, and by default the center for kimonos.

Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Kimonos on the Street in Kyoto
Kimonos on the Street in Kyoto, photo credit: Mr. Misadventures

Currently, in most of Japan, kimonos are mainly worn for special occasions such as official holidays, however, Kyoto remains one of the few cities where people wearing a kimono can still be seen frequently.

After discussing the topic with Gavin (our docent from our Context Travel Kennin-ji Temple tour) it seems that kimono-wearing is very much in decline in Kyoto. The world is changing, with Starbucks and anime; and Kyoto's own “millennials” see fewer opportunities to wear kimonos and wear western clothing for the most part.

So what to do?

Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Girl in Kimono at a Temple in Kyoto
Girl in Kimono at a Temple in Kyoto, photo credit: Mr. Misadventures

In order to safeguard the traditional industries and retain the artistry involved in this cultural icon as well as to promote Kyoto's heritage, the city officials developed programs that encourage people to wear kimonos more often. Many temples, museums, and transportation methods such as the subway, now offer discounts to [men] and women wearing kimonos.

Restaurants are now doing the same. And for not only residents as well. Tourists are encouraged to rent (or buy) kimonos to wear and receive the same discounts.

Kimono Rental Kyoto: What You Need to Know

Renting a kimono in Kyoto is pretty easy to do and is a great cultural experience, here is a listing of a few spots that rent them. Above and beyond the discounts you'll get while wearing one, they make beautiful photos, so make sure you do some fun photo shoots! It's the ultimate kimono experience!

Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Girls in Kimono at a Temple in Kyoto
Girls in Kimono at a Temple in Kyoto, photo credit: Mr. Misadventures

Every time I saw people wearing kimonos, I could not help but stop and stare (and photograph). These are truly mobile works of art. For a little more reading on the art of it all, here is a great slideshow from the New York Times and an article on one of the master artists from the Washington Post, I encourage you to check them out.

Kimonos come in a wide variety of styles. Even the very “simplistic” kimonos worn by the priests were beautiful in their austerity.

Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Priest in Kimono at a Temple in Kyoto

Of course, as with anything, the higher up the food chain (even the religious one) the “uniform” becomes a little fancier.

Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Priest in Kimono at a Temple in Kyoto

But one thing is for sure, the “selfie” is a global phenomenon, especially when you are wearing a kimono!

Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Couple in Kimonos at a Temple in Kyoto

What is a kimono?

The kimono is a traditional Japanese garment and the national dress of Japan. It looks like a dress or a robe. It wraps around the body and has voluminous sleeves.

How to wear a kimono?

Wear a base layer. Put the kimono on by sliding your arms through the sleeves. Wrap the fabric pieces over your hips with the left on top of the right. Tie the belt in a bow on your right hip. Always wear the left side over the right side. (Only dead people have their kimonos worn right over left!)

How much does a kimono cost in Kyoto?

The basic prices for a kimono (or yukata) typically range from 4000 to 5000 yen, which covers the obi belt, sandals, and accessories. If you prefer a more formal or intricate style, such as dressing like a geisha or samurai, prepare to pay around 10,000-13,000 yen.

Do people in Kyoto still wear kimonos?

In most of Japan, kimonos are mainly worn for special occasions such as official holidays, but in Kyoto people wear kimonos more frequently.

If you are visiting Kyoto and want to learn more about the history of the kimono, visit the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts where you learn about the different types of kimonos, the dyeing techniques, and the painting styles. You can also try your hand at dying one yourself at Marumasu Nishimuraya (I didn't get to do this and want to next time!).

Also, if you visit and are interested in buying a kimono, I found this great post from a local Kyoto blogger on where to go.

Looking for some spots to wear your kimono in Kyoto? How about Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, or the Nishiki Market? Not only in Kyoto but in Osaka or Tokyo as well. In spots like Osaka’s Kuromon-Ichiba Market, you'd fit right in!

How about you? Have you ever seen a kimono in person? 

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Wearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Kyoto's Kimono CultureWearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Kyoto's Kimono CultureWearing a Kimono in Kyoto: Kyoto's Kimono Culture

Author Bio: Andi Fisher

Yes, I am a francophile, but after that, I love Japan, especially the food! I have been to Tokyo many times, and spent 2 weeks in Kyoto and a week in Osaka exploring and eating!

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  1. Michelle Salais says:

    I have never seen a kimono in person or anyone wearing one. I think they are so beautiful.

  2. April Farley says:

    Many moons ago my Uncle was in the Air Force and stationed in Okinawa Japan. One year for Christmas he sent my Mother & I a kimono. I just loved it. I felt so dainty & exotic while wearing it.
    I want to tell you that your pictures are absolutely wonderful ! Thank you for sharing your adventures with us.

  3. I have never seen a kimono in person. I think they are beautiful.

  4. I love this, Andi! Fantastic photos and fascinating history. I hope they can preserve this patrimony!

  5. Kyoto just got bumped up a few notches on my Bucket List. Thank you for this piece.

  6. I have not seen kimono in person. They are so beautiful. I don’t know if I would be able to pick just one. Thank you for sharing this post with us.

  7. I love the kimonos in Japan. They have different kimonos for the different seasons as well. We saw the most kimono wearers during festival season (many of the festivals take place in August). Also, the yukatas (lightweight summer kimonos) were super popular. I bought baby yukatas for my nephew and goddaughter and luckily those are a lot cheaper than kimonos!

  8. Love the pictures and the culture

  9. Dorothy Boucher says:

    OMG take me away, I so want to go there its like a forever dream of mine.. thanks so much for share and wonderful pictures

  10. I had the pleasure of visiting Kyoto last summer and it was my favorite city in Japan. It’s hard to explain in words, but Kyoto was the exact cultural hub I imagined Japan to be- very different from Tokyo (which I am so sad to say I was disappointed in!). I happened to go the weekend it was a festival/holiday and I’d say at least 20% of people were wearing kimonos. You would have loved it. 🙂

  11. Thank you for such a lovely post. I learned so much. And got to see so many colorful and pretty kimonos. For example, I didn’t know that there were kimonos for men. I thought only women wore them! I would love to travel to Japan some day. You are so lucky!

  12. Suzanne C says:

    So interesting! I have a passion for textiles and your photos are magnificent. I want one of each! Even the priests’ relatively plain kimonos- that shade of purple is so lush. Thank you for a look into another way of life.

  13. OMG This is soooo cool! I’ve always wanted to wear a kimono in Japan. But I didn’t know that it was offered as a Gov’t incentive to keep the tradition alive. That is really cool. What a clever idea. They are so so beautiful!

  14. I love seeing all the kimono in Kyoto and Nara. If you ever have the chance, if you visit Japan in January, on Seijin-no-hi (Coming of Age Day, this year January 13th) Everyone that turned 20 within the previous year dresses up in beeeautiful kimono. I have never seen so many stunning works of art on one day. I think you would love it. <3

  15. Francesca says:

    Kimonos are so beautiful and it looks like such a special honour to wear one!

  16. I love kimonos and yukukas. Although I have never worn a kimono, I have worn yukatas several times. I love the patterns and texture of the kimono. I particularly love the wedding kimonos: the white version simple yet elegant and the red and vibrant ones.

  17. Sarah | Travel for a Living says:

    Kimonos look so beautiful. I’ve never been to Japan, but I’d love to visit.

  18. I saw a lady dressed in a kimono in Chicago, IL, years ago.