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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
Of course, as with anything, the higher up the food chain (even the religious one) the “uniform” becomes a little fancier.
But one thing is for sure, the “selfie” is a global phenomenon, especially when you are wearing a kimono!
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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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!