On our recent trip to Japan, I wanted to experience every aspect of Japanese culture that I possibly could. This included the Kimono Experience. In this article I’m going to share a few things including how to do the Kimono Experience and what to expect from the experience as well as the best places to take photographs in Kyoto and Tokyo while dressed up!
There are a number of cities in Japan that offer this experience, but the most well-rated for the sake of its historic significance was Kyoto. I chose Kyoto because it felt the most authentically ‘traditional’ in the sense of its architecture and overall vibe. We took photos in the Gion area which is where Geishas traditionally lived. You may be lucky enough to see a real live Geisha there, too!
What to Expect From The Japanese Kimono Experience
Want to watch the entire process and learn more about the experience? Check out my video here:
Looking to learn all of the details of the Kimono Experience?
The Kimono Experience is a bit of a process! It can take a bit of planning to make sure you get the most out of this experience and that it fits into your trip itinerary.
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- A Detailed Guide to The Kimono Experience + Dressing Process
- Information on How to Rent a Kimono For a Day
- 5 Things To Consider When Doing The Kimono Experience
- What to Know to Fit It Into Your Trip Itinerary
- 10 Best Places for Kimono Photographs (5 in Kyoto, 5 in Tokyo)
- Tips For The Most Instagrammable Kimono Photos
The Kimono Experience Dressing Process
#1: Choose Your Kimono: There are 2 kinds of kimonos to choose from – a traditional print (which I chose) or a more modern print that features vibrant patterns and colors. You’ll often see younger Japanese women wear the more modern prints in every day life.
#2: Choose Your Obi: The ‘obi’ is the sash that is tied around your waist. The shop owners are all about helping you color coordinate and will help you find a combination that you love!
#3: The Dressing Process: This experience isn’t as simple as wrapping yourself in a kimono and heading out the door – it is an entire process. There are specific undergarments worn under the kimono that they will dress you in. There are also a number of fabric strips that get wrapped around you as a form of belting to define your figure, all before the kimono is worn. Once you’ve got all the appropriate garments on, it is time for the kimono itself, followed by the obi, which takes some time to wrap and get right. Next come the toe socks and the wooden sandals!
#4: Hair & Makeup: Once I was all dressed, they styled my hair in a traditional Geisha style and finished it off with a detailed hair clip that matched my kimono. I opted out of having my makeup done because it just wasn’t for me. Note that having your makeup done as well comes at an extra charge.
#5: Accessories: If you’d like a matching silk bag to carry your items around with for the day, the shop will be happy to provide one (sometimes at an additional cost, sometimes not).
*Samurai Dress Up Experience: This isn’t just an experience for women and girls! Men and boys, and in some cases women and girls, are able to dress up like Samurais to participate in this fun experience, too! We saw tons of couples and families where everyone was dressed up.
5 Things to Consider When Doing the Kimono Experience
Thinking about the Kimono or Samurai Experience to your trip to Japan? Here are five things to consider for adding this to your itinerary:
#1: Location: Which city are you going to rent your kimono in? What backdrops do you want for your photos? See 10 of our favorite spots below!
#2: Temperature: Wearing a traditional kimono is a number of layers and it’s hot in there! Consider this when choosing the time of day and season to do this. I recommend morning or late afternoon.
#3: Timing: How long do you want to rent the kimono for? The entire day? Just a few hours? Kimono rental shops are very flexible on this and they securely store your clothing while you’re all dressed up and out on the town. Consider that mid-day there could be a line at certain shops as this experience is quite popular. I would budget up to 30 minutes for time spent at the shop dressing, etc.
#4: Walking Distance: The traditional experience includes the toe socks and the wooden sandals, which aren’t the easiest to walk in. The kimono also doesn’t allow you to take long strides when you’re walking! Note: Some of the most beautiful sites in Kyoto require you to walk up a steep hill.
#5: Photoshoot: Because this is such a memorable experience, of course you’ll want to photograph it! (You will see groups of girls all dressed up in kimonos all holding selfie sticks!). There are a number of kimono shops that offer an entire ‘experience’ that includes not only the traditional outfit, but a professional photographer as well.
Best Places to Photograph Your Kimono Experience:
Top 5 Places in Kyoto For Kimono Photos:
#1: Gion + Hanami Koji
#4: Traditional Tea Ceremony
#5: Fushimi Inari
Top 5 Places in Tokyo (Asakusa Neighbourhood) For Kimono Photos:
#1: Sensoji Temple + Surrounding Gardens
#2: Kaminarimon Gate
#3: Nakimse Shopping Street
#4: Dempoin Street
#5: Kappabashi Street
My Personal Kimono Experience + Photoshoot
To photograph this experience we looked for quiet streets with traditional architecture, small shrines and zen gardens.
My experience was honestly fantastic. The people at the kimono shop were more than happy to dress me up in the kimono of my choice, style my hair and send me out the door for photos. They didn’t care about my race – they were just excited that I was excited to get dressed up and experience this part of their culture (more on this later!).
After I left the Kimono shop, I walked the nearby streets snapping all sorts of photos! Here are some of my favorites from the experience:
Is The Kimono Experience Culturally Insensitive? When travelling, especially abroad, I like to be as sensitive to the local culture as possible. After all, I’m on their turf and “When in Rome…”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit hesitant about this before I did it. I was of course worried about being insensitive to Japanese culture and I didn’t want it to seem like yet another form of cultural appropriation by a white person. I did a lot of research and I even asked locals of a few different demographics what they thought before taking the plunge into this.
The Takeaway: The Japanese want tourists to experience every aspect of their culture while you’re visiting their country, and this extends past sightseeing, tea ceremonies and of course all of their delicious food. The Kimono Experience also makes for some great souvenir photos and are Instagram-worthy as hell!
What I Saw: Tourists of all ages, races and genders participating in this experience! In some cases, entire families of parents and children would get dressed up. I will say that I saw very few caucasian tourists doing this experience, if any, really. I also got quite a few ‘interesting’ looks from other caucasians; looks that were clearly judgemental towards what they deemed to be cultural appropriation or insensitivity.
Free Kimono Show