Experience Japanese culture with traditional kimono in Kyoto

Experience Japanese culture with traditional kimono in Kyoto

by Nano Betts

Wearing local attire is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself into the local culture of your host country, and I did just that on my last visit to Kyoto. I’ve often seen tourists (and locals) dressing up in gorgeous kimono or summer yukata and trotting around the atmospheric parts of the city. Even though it seemed incredibly touristy, I think certain things are trendy for a reason. So, on my last visit to Kyoto my friend and I yielded the temptation and transformed into geishas for a day. Naomi booked us a slot in a rental spot called Yumeyakata which provides everything you might need for the epic transformation. We picked this particular spot purely based on proximity to our hotel. There are tons of kimono rental places in Kyoto, so do your research and pick the one that suits your needs.

First thing first, what is the difference between kimono and yukata? Yukata is a kind of Kimono that is worn during the summer and made mostly of cotton, but sometimes cotton mixed with linen or silk. In the old days, yukatas were worn after onsen to cool off or as nightwear (that’s why they give it to you in all the minshukus and ryokans). In modern days, however, yukata has substituted kimono as a more casual and lighter garment suited for hot summer days. Just like kimono, yukatas come in many different colors and patterns.

The rules for kimono are much stricter as they are considered formalwear, while rules for wearing yukata are more relaxed. For example, I learned that you must wear undergarment nagajuban or hanjuban (the collar often seen as an extra layer), as well as the white socks and special shoes geta with a kimono.

Yukata is definitely more relaxed (no socks required and you can wear your own shoes) and that’s what we opted for. It was supposed to be lighter, but with a few layers around your waist I was still quite hot.

Most importantly, both yukata and kimono come in seasonal motifs so pay attention to what you pick depending on the season. For example, my yukata had gold fish whose image, according to Japanese philosophy, is supposed to cool you down in hot summer days.

Meanwhile, Naomi’s yukata depicted colorful chrysanthemum-shaped fireworks – another quintessential summer image in Japan. In spring I’d pick cherry blossoms, and there were quite a few gorgeous options with autumnal theme as well. When in doubt, ask the consultant, especially while picking the sash obi! An old Japanese lady lovingly helped me pick a beautiful orange sash that would contrast with my pink yukata. She also added a lovely floral ribbon in the back to compliment the overall look.

The rental place provides you with everything you will need: variety of beautiful yukata and kimono, accessories (sashes, ribbons, matching mags and shoes), hair styling and even photography session. The basic package costs around ¥3000 but the price can increase if you want to upgrade or add accessories or get your hair done. Naomi’s hair looked beautiful and lasted all day. I did my own messy bun but did get a hair accessory to echo the ribbon in the back.

You can rent an outfit for a day or keep it overnight. Honestly, putting the entire look together was so complicated I would never be able to recreate it on my own the next day. I think renting it for a full day worked out perfectly for us.

Another truly epic thing to do is “henshin,” or the professional makeover into a Maiko or Geisha complete with full-on traditional make-up, real traditional wigs, kimonos, obis, shoes and accessories. I found this agency in Gion which offers the service. The experience, which lasts around 3 hours, is quite pricey and you have very limited “free walking time” when you can take photos at your own leisure and in your preferred locations. Couple of my friends did it and they loved it though, so you might want to opt for this instead.

Overall, we had a lot of fun walking all over Kyoto and imagining what life would be in the Kyoto of yesteryear. I truly felt like I was on a set of Memoires of a Geisha with so much beauty surrounding me.

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