Kyoto is the center of Kimono culture in Japan. Everywhere you look, both Japanese and international tourists can be seen parading proudly around the former ancient capitol in a variety of colourful Kimonos on a daily basis. But what is a Kimono, why is the traditional dress so popular in Kyoto, and where can you get one from?
WHAT IS A KIMONO?
A Kimono is a loose, ankle length, T shaped robe made from one bolt of fabric, cut into 6 rectangular panels. Traditionally worn for formal occasions in Japan, the word Kimono directly translates into “Thing to Wear” in Japanese language.
Kimono is normally worn together with juban (Kimono underwear), a koshi himo belt, datejime sash and a broad decorative belt called a Obi, as this prevents to kimono from opening up and trailing on the floor.
Wearing a Kimono properly can be a complicated task and often requires assistance, especially for a beginners or if you are wearing a ceremonial kimono for a special event. The final look is then completed with white tabi socks and geta shoes. Watch the video below to see what this process looks like in super speed.
In Japanese culture various aspects of Kimono attire can also be worn to communicate ones level of social status, maturity and wealth.
A BRIEF INSIGHT INTO THE HISTORY OF KIMONO IN KYOTO
Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for nearly 1000 years. From 794 to 1868 this once small fishing village transformed into home of the emperors, government, geisha, shoguns and Japans political elite. Such company commanded luxurious materials, decadent designs and exquisitely made clothes, so by default Kyoto became the capital for Japans textile and kimono industry.
During the Edo period (1603-1868) Kimono design almost became like a competitive sport as the fashionable attire was one to the few ways the middle classes were permitted to express their wealth.
TODAY’S CONTEMPORARY KIMONO CULTURE
Mother’, daughters, husbands, wives, and gangs of giggling girls look like walking works of art set against Kyoto’s cultural backdrop of ancient temples, shinto shrines and gorgeous gardens. For me Kyoto was one of the most interesting, if not my favorite destination for cultural fashion in Asia this year. Why? Because Kyoto is the first city outside of Sa Pa in Vietnam where a large populous of people routinely wear traditional dress.
Classic or contrasting, modern or vintage, elaborate or minimalist, anything goes, and every kimono is worn with a sense of pride and appreciation. I couldn’t believe how popular the Kimono was in Kyoto was and felt so giddy observing and photographing the wide and beautiful diversity of designs on display everyday.
Despite the seemingly thriving kimono industry in Kyoto, the amount of Kimono wearing Japanese are actually on the decline. Since the Americans defeated the Japanese at the end of the Second World War western clothing has been fully adopted into daily Japanese life.
Today the traditional Kimono is very expensive, and due to complicated and slightly restrictive silhouette, is primarily saved for formal occasions or for people who are working in the traditional industries such as maiko and geisha.
In a bid to promote the dying tradition with today’s millennials, the Japanese National Tourism Office in Kyoto created a incentive call the Kimono Passport. Working together with temples, restaurants, shops and tour operators throughout the city, the Kyoto Kimono Passport offers privileges and discounts to both Japanese and foreigners for wearing a Kimono during sight seeing.
The project has been a raging success making Kyoto one of the fashionable destinations to visit in Japan. Woop Woop!!
WHERE TO BUY A KIMONO IN KYOTO?
- Street stalls and flea markets are dotted around Kyoto, this one was outside the Kyoto Costume Institute during the week. Check out monthly flea markets a Tō-ji temple on the 21st, Kitano Tenmangū on the 25th and Chion-ji on the 15th of every month.
2. Akahime Boutique. Heading to see Arashiyama Bamboo Grove or Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine? Most likely! Why not stop of at this cute Kimono store on route from the train station for a rental Kimono ($34), tailor made or vintage with matching accessories.
3. Kikuya Antique Kimono is perfect for those who love to rummage and find a one off unique designs dating back to decades past. Prices start at just $20 for an informal Kimono and $10 for a obi. This was my favorite place!
4. Mimuro is a Kimono store spread over four floors catering for all budgets. From discounted cotton yukata, to hand painted and platinum dusted ceremonial Kimono, Mimuro is a great one stop shop in Muromachi area for all things Kimono orientated. Silk Kimono start at as little as $100.