Cool time in Japan with a rented Kimono

by Jerome Baquilar
Stripes Japan

On an early Spring Sunday, after a visit to Tokyo Skytree with a friend, the afternoon was still a bit young so we decided to visit nearby Asakusa.

It wasn’t my first time in the touristy-but-charming part of Tokyo, but it had been a few years since I’d last been there.  One thing that caught my eye in the Nakamise Mosh Pit, which I didn’t notice before, was a few people walking amongst the tourists, vendors, and the like… they were wearing kimonos.

I didn’t notice kimonos years ago, before.  Perhaps it was the bright colors set against the mostly dark colored pants and jackets in the background, or was it an inner cry to experience more “Japan” while I’m in Japan.  The (mostly) ladies and gentlemen in their traditional wear certainly caught my eye, and perhaps more.

My friend noticed.  “Oh, there are places where you can rent kimono here”, she said to me with a grin.  She was more in the know, as she’s a true Tokyo-ite while I’m only a temp, been in Japan for just a few years.
I smiled to her, and said “they look really cool.”  My mind, though, made a note; “look into it, man”.  We continued to walk that day through Asakusa and enjoyed the rest of the day of course, but in the days and weeks that followed, I would find out more on my own.  I was fascinated by the thought.  Though I’m not Japanese myself (I’m Filipino), she was definitely Japanese, and perhaps we could pull off a good kimono look as a mixed duo?

Looking online, I saw that there were several shops in Asakusa that rent kimonos (duh, I know, that’s what she said) and thankfully for me, they were in English and also accepted reservations online.  One shop, called Kyoto Kimono, seemed pretty conveniently located, decent priced (8000 yen for a couple, “high end” quality and the rental would be for the day, until
5:00 pm).  And on top of that, paying by credit in advance would result in about 1000 yen discount.

I was sold.  But would I need to “sell” it to someone else as well?
“Cool!” she said without much hesitation when I presented the idea.  So, a mouse click confirmed our reservation and my discounted payment for the rentals.  So we were set to give kimono rentals a try, on a Sunday afternoon no less.

A short walk from the Tsukuba Express Asakusa train station, we arrived at the shop.  Kyoto Kimono had our reservation info ready when we arrived.  We were separated for a bit, as I was directed to choose a male kimono while the staff showed her what she had to choose from.  I picked out a purple kimono for myself, with a grey “haori” to complement the look.  One I choose my outfit, the ladies of the staff directed me to a room where one of them would dress me up.  Cool, I thought, though I wondered if Japan’s males of yesteryear were dressed in similar routine.

Once it was done, though, looking at myself in the mirror I looked like a different person.  “You look very nice”, the staff member told me with a smile, “almost like a Japanese”.  Though I don’t think it made me look local, the reflection in the mirror did tell me that I did look nice, though I think the kimono had more to do with it than anything I provided.  Anyway, my part of the dress-up was done, and, as I was to discover, hers was still a step away.

Stepping out from the dressing area and seeing her in a kimono was like looking at a different person as well.  She looked more refined, like a “textbook” Japanese lady, in her flowery-designed kimono.  And it was very much appreciated by me.  She definitely appreciated my look as well.  We took a quick selfie before she was taken to an extra step that was unofficially required for the ladies: the hair styling.  It cost another 900 yen but it was an extra expense well worth it.  The hair fixing process didn’t take too long for her, but the result of it was she looked like a completely different person now, but in a good way.  The hair styling, which by no means am I an expert of, complemented the rest of her look perfectly.
A few studio photo shots later, and we were on our way out to old Asakusa town in our new, old, looks.

It felt nice, sublime even.  To walk around in modern Japan while wearing traditional clothing against the backdrop of Asakusa, Sensoji-temple, Nakamise Street… it felt even more perfect than pajamas at home.  Except that at home we typically don’t have paparazzi taking photos of us… but that was cool as well, it felt good that other appreciated our look as well, enough to take pictures of.  We laughed and smiled and enjoyed being there in that moment, a lot.  Of course, there were others dressed similarly to us, and we would kind of smile and nod at them as we would pass by each other.
We’re all in this fun experience together, aren’t we?

While walking, we saw the rickshaws.  The idea came to mind immediately.
Though it would cost us a little more, of course, we thought, why not complement the old style look with an old style ride around the town?  She nodded enthusiastically when I suggested the rickshaw ride, so we found the nearest one and went off on a joy ride.
The rickshaw driver, a friendly guy named Nobu, took us all around Asakusa on a lovely 30 minute tour.  He showed us various points of interest, and even stopped and took some photos for us in the rickshaw at some scenic spots.
Just sitting in the rickshaw and feeling the breeze and seeing the rush of Tokyo’s tourists and life pass by was a great experience.  And of course, kimono clad people in a rickshaw was even more of a target for the tourist paparazzi… not that there was anything wrong with it, though.  We took more than enough photos of ourselves after all, so we could understand why they would as well.  Why not?

Then, after some more walking and enjoying some of Asakusa’s delights (uh, gelato?), eventually it was time to return the kimonos to the shop and, thus, return to “normal” life?  The process of return at the shop was quick and effortless, and after about 10 minutes we were out in our normal clothes.  We smiled at each other as we saw more familiar people in each other again, but, the many photos we had from that day showed that for a relatively short time in the Asakusa day, we left the familiar and found something new, in an "older" look.

An experience for the personal history books.

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