A 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…
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.
Once 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.
Also 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!
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
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.
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.
Anyway! 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.
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.
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 🙂