on wearing a kimono

kimonoA day wearing kimono!

During our week in Tokyo I met up with Yoshimi, and together with my daughter Cassie and my son’s girlfriend Kelly the four of us were dressed properly in traditional kimono by professional kimono dressers.  We even had our hair done and everything!  Such a fantastic day out! and I’m so grateful to my dear friend Yoshimi for thinking of such a fun activity and booking us all in.  Wearing a kimono is of course intrinsically Japanese, and a huge treat for someone like myself who is, let’s face it, already obsessed with clothes and all things clothing related in the first place.  It was an enormously interesting procedure to me, and I was amazed at how very involved it all was…

We rented our kimono from Rental Kosode Kimono Asakusa and you can also see us pictured here on the store website.  We all started out with shawls over our shoulders, because the day was COLD!!

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But after a while you realise you really are quite nicely snug and warm in your kimono, not to mention the yards and yards of padding… so before too long before we ditched our shawls, because they were covering up our gorgeous kimono…  and that would not do!

So, wearing a kimono… what is involved?  Yoshimi recommended us to bring leggings and a long sleeved Tshirt, and also a shawl just because well, it was the middle of winter.  The very first thing you do is to choose your kimono and obi.  Kimono fashion is very colourful and pattern-embracing; and all colours and all patterns are considered mix and matchable, in fact the more the better!  So, while in Western fashion we tend to restrict the amount of colour and pattern we use in a particular outfit, in Japanese kimono all colours and all patterns can go together and be a part of a harmonious colourful whole.

So, throwing your pre-conceived Western colour restrictions to the wind, you select a pattern-tastic kimono and obi.  There were no sizes.. just “adult”, and you just pick the one you like.  No sizes you ask?  NO!   More on this later…I chose a maroon/pink shaded kimono with pink, white, sage green and dark green flowers, and an obi of deep teal with abstract sea green/turquoise splashes and touches of red across it.  I loved it all on first sight, however if you’re undecided the girls will make suggestions to help you, picking out colours and combinations that they think will look nice on you.

28january copyOnce the choice is made, it’s time to strip off down to your leggings and thermal top/Tshirt.  You’re all in the one same room so be sure you are comfortable with all your kimono-wearing companions for the day!  You are given* some Japanese socks; small white socks with a separate bits for your big toe and the other toes, so they can be worn with your Japanese slippers.  These are thick, white, ankle socks and have a stiff vinyl non-slip sole.  I found them to be quite adequately warm, even in the near-zero temperatures that day.    (*I say “given”, but actually they are added to your bill in the end.  It’s not very expensive, 600Y at time of writing)

The next thing to go on is the white under-kimono.  This is a plain white, roughly shin-length wrap-around kimono; very simple and unadorned in style like a regular Western summer bathrobe might be.  This goes on and wraps and ties around your waist.  This kimono is like the Japanese version of a slip, and it can be seen in your final ensemble as that neat white “collar” at your throat.

The next stage is quite an unexpected thing for the average Australian who is accustomed to garments that are shaped to show off a waist; your dresser takes; well, basically it is a thick, cotton bath towel, made of real towelling; and folds and wraps it around your waist, and ties it firmly in place with several lengths of cotton tape.  This of course immediately transforms your shapely self into a padded rectangular woman, with no waist at all!

Why the padding? well the aim is to create a straight line from shoulder down to hip, which will enable the obi to sit flat and straight on your body, without curving into the waist at all.  Yes, as strange as it may seem to our Western sensibilities, the waistless shapeless figure is the key to successfully wearing a kimono!  Interesting, no? so very different to what we are used to!  The kimono is an almost totally unfitted garment, and then it is tucked and folded to fit you.  And the length; kimonos are made extra long and and the extra length is tucked up under the obi to make the kimono the correct length, hitting at about ankle length on the wearer.  More length is tucked up for a shorter woman than for a taller woman. Hence, the one-size-fits-all sensibility.

So, we’re putting on the kimono; it hasn’t got any closures.  More lengths of cotton tape and rope are tied around your padded waist to hold it closed, and the kimono is pulled up and “bloused” over these makeshift belts to bring it up to ankle length.  The blousing too is also tied down with another length of cotton tape.  The sleeves of the white kimono are pulled through and arranged to sit smoothly just inside the sleeves of your outer kimono.

Then for the obi.  Tying the obi is considered an art form; and the type of knot used is dependent on many things; the obi’s width, length, “formality” and whether or not it is reversible.  Factors to consider when tying a woman’s obi appropriately also include the age and marital status of the woman… though I’m not sure how those came into play for us tourists!  Apparently there are ten different ways to tie an obi..

My chosen teal obi was very wide.  Before putting it on me, and I’m not sure why, but my dresser first selected a smaller, narrower, mustard coloured obi and wrapped and tied this one around my waist, before starting on my teal obi.  She tied it in a way so it just peeped out over the top, I think it does look really nice.  The wide teal obi was then folded and wrapped around me several times, with a stiff piece of fabric-covered board inserted in between the folds, over my tummy.  Yes, yet another piece of armour/padding!!  This was to really keep the obi stiff and with zero danger of wrinkling or folding while I was walking around and sitting in it… although tbh I didn’t think there was much risk of that, what with the bath towel in place and all.  While tying the obi knot, a small foam pillow about the size of an adult foot, was inserted and incorporated into the knot at the back somehow, I guess to keep it stiff and puffy, to help hold the shape of the knot.

backkimonoAlso while tying the knot, my dresser took a couple of lengths of decorative satin rope, a little like the sort of rope we use for curtain ties here, and tied these around my obi and joined together at the front.

Honestly, by this point I’d lost count of the number of things tied around my waist.  To say you end up feeling like a trussed chicken is not far from the mark!

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I think it does look really lovely though, doesn’t it?  🙂

The dressers feared that we would be a little cold, so we were urged to take an overcoat.  This is really a thin brocade coat, a bit like a Western style “opera”coat.  It goes over your obi, hiding it; which was a little bit of a shame we thought.  No matter, at lunch we could take off our overcoats and carry them over our arms, and then we could admire each others obis!

those beautiful obi knots…. sigh

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The overcoat is tied in the front with a little knot, and tied just so, so that the ends of the string hang pointing down.  Very important.  One of our party tied it themselves, saving time; and did it so that one end was pointing up, by mistake.  Just as we were all ready to go and leaving, a dresser noticed the errant knot and rushed over, tut-tutting with distress and untied and re-tied it correctly.  Thank goodness!  Close call!

The very last step was to choose a little cloth bag or purse, with which to carry a small number of your belongings.  Obviously, we were all full-on floral on floral on floral by now, like a riotous colourful springtime garden.  It was utterly fabulous.

OH!  No, I’m wrong, the very last step was to put on your slippers!  which are not much different from elevated Australian thongs.  This is when you appreciate the non-slip sole on the socks.  Being an Aussie, I’m very happy and right at home wearing thongs of course! although wearing them with socks was a new experience for me.  Anyway, I found them to be very comforable footwear for the day.

feet selfie!!!

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It’s a wonderful style of dressing, and I think it all ends up looking very beautiful.  SO very feminine and formal, discreet and comfortable  And, I have to say there’s something about all the padding and the way you’re all NOT showing your figure in any way that felt very free-ing and reassuring.  I also felt very proper, like I was wearing something real, as in not a fad or a fashion; and totally acceptable, that anyone who looked at me would think it was both a wonderful and a beautiful outfit.  To be honest, in modern western dress I rarely experience this kind of confidence in how I am dressed.  I could get all mystic and suggest it was a feeling of being backed up by a thousand years of tradition, or something.  Obviously in my own European roots there are traditional styles of dress too, but it is pretty much totally unacceptable in our modern society for even us Europeans to dress in any of our own traditional styles, apart from when going to a costume party.  This makes me a little sad, how European traditions of dressing have been completely lost.   It is almost tragic, when you come to think of it.  Although of course European traditional dress often involves corsets, and truthfully I have very little desire to wear a corset.

yoshimiAnyway!  We headed out into Asakusa.  I was a little nervous of this part, being obviously not Japanese, dressed conspicuously in a kimono, and we were accompanied by a beautiful Japanese lady, Yoshimi, who clearly belonged in her kimono and looked absolutely perfect! however I was amazed and secretly very relieved! at the general reaction.  It was very very positive! and lots and lots of people made complimentary remarks to us.  I wondered if it was because of being obviously a tourist, and so people felt more comfortable approaching and speaking to the three foreigners, whereas people maybe wouldn’t feel so comfortable bothering a real Japanese lady to ask her about her kimono, or to disturb her by noticeably taking her picture.  Tonnes of people were snapping away, a few were even polite enough to ask first! I think when you’re a tourist people just assume you’re totally up for posing with a complete stranger for a picture.

this lovely lady was very polite and asked.

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We visited the temple in Asakusa and Yoshimi patiently explained and demonstrated the process of obtaining a fortune.  This one pictured below is mine; Cassie’s was not good! so luckily you have the option of tying a bad fortune to those stands in the last picture and leaving it behind!  The rest of us kept ours.  We also stood around a kind of pit of smouldering coals and wafted smoke of good fortune over ourselves.

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We then toddled, literally! kimonos are not designed for energetic, Western-style striding!… over to Tokyo Skytower and had a delicious and just exquisitely presented traditional Japanese lunch.  So typically Japanese to serve so many varied and intricate little morsels… !  the Japanese truly have presentation and attention to detail down to the finest of arts.  In food and in everything!

Oishikattadesu!  i.e. it was delicious

And I must confess now; we did round off our day with something a little less traditional… cake! In Nippori.  Of course  🙂

Arigatogozaimashita Yoshimi!

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46 Thoughts on “on wearing a kimono

  1. Oh, your story sounds so wonderful! Thank you for sharing it with us! How interesting is this procedure of being dreSsed. You were indeed a group of beautiful women in such exquisit clothing, no wonder a lot of people were pleased by your presence.

  2. what a great post. Enthralling!. I love kimono they are so beautiful. the whole variety of textiles in Japan is fascinating (well tell me a country that doesn’t have fascinating textiles 🙂 anyway – l loved seeing you all and the details are so interesting. Beautiful choices. Question for you – what does wearing the kimono and obi with all that inner stuff around your waist do to your posture?. I wonder if it acts a bit like a support and helps you stand up straight, giving your back a rest. like a corset but more comfortable. Your color choices are so nice but I imagine anything they had would have been lovely.

    • Carolyn on 24/02/2016 at 5:29 pm said:

      thank you, Beth! I think the padding does not provide much back support, it’s much softer and not as restricting as a corset but yes it’s true, I have to say you do find yourself sitting up straighter! all the padding around your waist makes it more difficult to slouch and so you just don’t 🙂

  3. MayravB on 23/02/2016 at 1:24 am said:

    Wow, thanks for taking us through it! Kimono are so beautiful.

  4. I loved reading this post! The process, the lunch and Yoshimi as guide – what a treat. Thanks for remembering all of the details and sharing them.

  5. Thanks for sharing your adventures! You ladies all look lovely!

  6. That is utterly ‘floral on floral’ magic. I really enjoyed reading the whole experience. I did giggle at the sheeps feet picture! Jo x

  7. So very interesting to read about the rituals surrounding the Japanese Kimono. All of you look beautiful in your chosen outfits. I think I would be in heaven….being able to pull so many colours and patterns into a single outfit! I’m not sure how long I would last wearing one though. I’m not a big fan of wearing a lot of layers.

  8. Anne in Melbourne on 23/02/2016 at 3:59 am said:

    Hi Carolyn
    What a wonderful post! Thank-you, thank-you. I am unlikely to ever wear a kimino, but now I have some understanding about what goes into making kimino-wearers so graceful and beautiful. How beautiful you all look. The picture with the stranger made me smile. Somehow she seems the tourist to some wonderful place.

  9. What beautiful kimonos you all were wearing! Thank you for sharing your experience. I had no idea kimonos were so involved.

  10. Thank you for describing the intricacies of the dressing process — it sounds almost like a ceremony. That’s the difficulty with clothes — it seems like such a small thing, to dress in completely different and foreign attire for a day — but it really must have been an extraordinary experience.

  11. Jessie on 23/02/2016 at 5:46 am said:

    Wow, fascinating! And so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this!

  12. What a very special experience you had! I had no idea that the dressing process is so involved and was completely fascinated by your description of it – thank you for sharing.

  13. I’m wondering how these kimono wearing ladies keep cool in summer Carolyn? Is there a summery alternative? I’ve seen older ladies dressed traditionally like this, teetering through the snow, it’s always confounded me that they don’t look cold. They do however, look so very poised. Now we know why!! Thanks for sharing.

    • Carolyn on 24/02/2016 at 5:24 pm said:

      the summer version is a much simpler and more casual outfit and is called a yukata. I do not know if padding is always worn, however the video I have linked to below shows people putting on their own obi/yukata, and in the yukata video you can see the lady IS wearing a small amount of padding around her waist underneath the yukata.
      kimono/yukata video

  14. I loved reading this story! You all look so beautiful, and what a great idea by Yoshimi. I am clearly missing Japanese food, as I cannot stop drooling over that last picture, yum!

  15. What a truly fascinating post. I had no idea that it was this ritualised. I am amused at the waist padding – perhaps I am a natural kimono wearer as I don’t have a waist??

  16. What a fascinating post. I love all the details of how you were dressed in your kimonos, especially the part about the knot being the wrong way up. What a memorable and wonderful way to spend a day.

  17. What an interesting experience! Thank you for sharing all those details!

  18. Shams on 23/02/2016 at 12:33 pm said:

    What an interesting experience! Yay to Yoshimi for arranging such a fun outing. 🙂

  19. Fascinating! You really suit kimonos!!!

  20. Belinda Stafford on 23/02/2016 at 5:12 pm said:

    What fun! How extraordinary to experience the proper way of wearing kimono!!!
    Thank you. And Yoshimi for leading the way

  21. Thanks so much for sharing this, so interesting and so beautiful.

  22. Thank you for a wonderful insight into the kimono and its wearing! The rope that you tied around the obi has a very extensive history and is a highly skilled craft called kumihimo. These traditional braids are very beautiful and have many patterns. All interesting for us textile and sewing passionistas! Love your very inspiring blog

  23. That was fascinating to read, I had no idea there were so many layers involved! I saw tourists in kimonos when I was in Japan a couple of years ago and was quite tempted but sadly a little budget restricted at the time. I’ll definitely do it next time though!

  24. You all look so lovely in your kimonos! And what a wonderful experience — I did this when I turned 20 (I happened to be in Japan then) and it was great fun going through the whole ceremonial feel of wearing a kimono. Thanks for sharing this!

  25. What an intriguing and interesting day. Thank you for sharing and for all the wonderful pics you managed. And what a lovely friend you have in Japan.

  26. Thanks for the informative and beautiful post!

  27. When I was in Kyoto last March, my japanese friend and I went to the Shibori Museum. I had the wonderful opportunity to be fitted into an antique shibori kimono. The experience was not as elaborate as yours but still mesmerizing. You are correct; I also felt ‘dressed’.

  28. It sounds like a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. What an amazing insight into Japanese culture! You all look lovely, and I absolutely love that all prints are mix and match!

  29. you’ve brightened my otherwise gray day with this post.. how colorful and beautiful that experience was..

  30. Amanda S. on 24/02/2016 at 1:31 am said:

    What an awesome experience! If I ever get to Japan I will have to remember to do this with my daughter! You all looked beautiful.

  31. Feistylady on 24/02/2016 at 3:11 am said:

    How fun! And interesting. Your description of getting “dressed” is great.

  32. How exciting! Thanks for letting us be part of your day, it was a pleasure to read and to take a look at those beautiful kimonos. You all look stunning! I’m a little sad too that garment traditions got lost in Europe but you’re totally right about those corsets! 😀

  33. Kimonos are so beautiful! I wonder why the colours and patterns work so well whereas we’d never be able to do that with our clothes. Maybe, we should start to change things?

  34. Wow!! Sounds like an amazing experience – I’ll try to come back and leave a better developed comment!

  35. Thanks for this lovely and interesting post. You all look so beautiful in your kimonos. I want to wear one!

  36. This was a fascinating read (and your photo of your lunch made me drool). I had no idea about all the layers of padding wearing a kimono entails! You all look lovely.

  37. Ohh, you are all look beautiful in the kimono and an awesome story behind. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  38. Rianna on 24/02/2016 at 3:45 pm said:

    So enjoyed reading this – very informative! What happens in summer? Do they stick to all the padding and layers?

    • Carolyn on 24/02/2016 at 5:17 pm said:

      thank you Rianna! the summer version is a much simpler and more casual outfit and is called a yukata. I do not know if padding is always worn, however the video I have linked to below shows people putting on their own obi/yukata, and in the yukata video you can see the lady IS wearing a small amount of padding around her waist underneath the yukata.
      yukata/kimono video

  39. Such a lovely way to spend the day together and actually experiencing the Japanese culture. So interesting…thanks for sharing.

  40. Thanks for sharing this, it was so interesting to read, and what an amazing experience it must have been!
    I found it really interesting how you felt a freedom and confidence in the way you were dressed, despite having all that stuff tied around your waist!

  41. Wow what an interesting experience! Thank you for sharing. I was aware of many of the practices of dressing in kimono but only because I had read about it in books, your personal experience makes it a lot more real.

    One thought about dressing traditions in Europe though: Our traditional dress shapes haven’t lasted as long as the kimono but here in the Netherlands, there are still some villages where traditional folk costume is still worn for special occasions. Most of these styles developed from normal fashion in the 18th and 19th century based on the local needs and the availability of materials (mostly in working class communities) and although they evolved over time, they did not change with the normal fashion and became very distinct local styles. Originally, there were men’s as well as children’s and women’s clothes. And details also showed age and marital status. Nowadays only the womenswear is worn for special occasions and styles tend to be specific to one village. This Pinterest board shows some nice examples: https://nl.pinterest.com/Nirostis/klederdracht/

    And coming to think of it, if you have ever been to Bavaria, Austria or the northern, Alpine edge of Italy, you may have seen women wearing dirndl outfits. Often for the sake of tourism but also just for local special occasions.

  42. Totally fascinating! Can’t imagine how you would dress yourself in a kimono, but it is certainly beautiful.

  43. Yoshimi is so generous to organise such a special day for you all. Thank you for sharing the details so different to our garments and you all looked so amazing.

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