Being fitted and dressed in a kimono was one of the experiences I didn’t want to miss in Japan. I’ve always adored the elegant flowing silhouette of the traditional Japanese attire and by the way, I really loved that Yuna from Final Fantasy X had elements of the kimono designed in her game outfit. It was top of my checklist of things to experience and I made sure that The F Man was aware of my intention to totter around, wrapped in layer after layer of patterned fabric.
Bustling street of Higashiyama
Maikos sighted in a back alley of Higashiyama
Tying a bad prediction of omikuji (fortune paper) to prevent it from following the recipient of the fortune
Okay, so it happened and like many Japanese women who were in Kyoto, admiring the scenic sights in their finest traditional threads, I experience Kyoto in a kimono. (Oh yeah!) I rented a kimono and went visiting shrines and temples in the “city of a thousand shrines” and I have to say, it was entirely WORTH IT. It totally added to the feel of being in this ancient preserved city that used to be the imperial capital of old Japan for over a thousand years.
I thought I’d share how you can too go about renting a kimono and my route from my itinerary. Hope this helps you with your planning of your visit to Kyoto.
Where to Rent
You can rent your kimono from one of the many kimono rental shops around Kyoto. There are plenty of such rental places near areas of interest and especially at Gion. At Gion, for instance, there are lots of signs that will draw attention to the shops and you definitely won’t miss them. You can walk in to rent, but it is advisable, especially if you’re renting on a busy weekend or Japanese public holiday period, to make an appointment and book a time slot for your kimono dressing.
I personally rented from Okamoto Kimono which caters to kimono rentals for tourists. It has an English speaking staff member (which can truly be a lifesaver when you’re rushing to get lots packed into a day of sightseeing) and also a detailed English website.
Okamoto Kimonos Kiyomizuzaka Store
Okamoto Kimono’s Kiyomizuzaka Store is near Kiyomizu-dera which is a fantastic spot to start exploring Kyoto from. Its near quite a number of popular temples and shrines and isn’t difficult to locate at all.
At Okamoto Kimonos, you can opt for a number of rental plans to best suit your budget. All plans include kimono dressing service.
- Set Plan ( ¥3,000)
Includes limited selection of kimonos to choose from, obi (belt), bag and tabi (toe socks)
- Select Plan ( ¥4,000)
Includes 300 kimonos to choose from in a variety of designs, obi (belt), choice of bag and white stretching tabi (toe socks)
- Full-Scale Attire Plan ( ¥5,000)
Includes 600 kimonos to choose from even designer kimonos and intricately embroidered designs, obi (belt), obi accessories choice of bag and white stretching tabi (toe socks)
For reference, I opted for the full-scale attire plan and the hair styling service at an additional ¥500. The hair styling service is super worth the money. The staff at Okamoto Kimonos will style your hair (there are three options for cute up-dos with curls, curls to the side and kabuse which is a formal looking updo) and you also get a hair accessory of your choice to place in your hair.
Do note that all prices stated here are not inclusive of 8% consumption tax.
THE KIMONO DRESSING PROCESS
As I went with the Full-Scale Attire Plan, I got the whole works. I was given the freedom to pick ANY kimono I wanted from the racks and racks of beautiful fabric filled with gorgeous prints. On top of that I could match it with any obi belt I preferred. The obi belt cinches around the waist in an elaborate almost origami-like folding process. It comes in so many designs and typically is two sided with two different colours. I even got to choose my obi accessories called the obi-jime (looks like a cord to tie around your waist on top of the obi belt) which also comes in so many colours. Then finally I had to pick a small traditional bag to carry my essential belongings in.
The thing is, I had so much to choose from, I was lost. Thankfully, the manager sensed this and came over to help me pick out a stunning kimono and obi belt that completely suited me, plus an inner piece called the juban. She would pull items out from the shelves and racks and ask if I liked the combination, and if I didn’t, she would offer an alternative. That was really a relief. I’d think I’d be stuck in the store for hours in a state of indecision if not for her.
Kimono selection area of Okamoto Kimonos (Photo credit to Okamoto Kimonos)
Once I selected all aspects of my kimono rental plan, I was ushered to a room where up to three ladies could be dressed. Yes, I needed to strip in a room with other ladies as the professionals dressed me up.
One of the most eye-opening experiences for me in Japan was the whole process of kitsuke – the art of kimono dressing. It’s not as simple as it looks. You don’t just put on the kimono, wrap yourself with the obi belt, and hey you’re done. It actually takes a series of deft folds and wraps for both the kimono (to get it to fit the height of the wearer) and then the obi. There are so many sashes that are tied around the waist to secure the kimono and its many folds before the obi belt goes on as well. By the way, for ladies considering taking up this kimono rental service, there are many ways for the obi to be wrapped and if you have a particular style you prefer, you might want to let the lady who is dressing you know.
I was done in about 30 minutes, which is super fast if you consider that there was so much for her to work on and my hair was done in another 10 minutes. Hot rollers first, some magical combing, hair spray, and before I knew it, my hair was already set in a side-swept ‘do with gorgeous curls (which lasted all day). I picked my hair accessory (no additional charge since I paid for hair styling) and was on my way.
Before leaving the store, I was given the last task to choose my preferred zōri (slippers) to complete my look.
I have to say, putting on a kimono forced me to walk straight (no hunching as it was not really possible) and take smaller steps – usually the exact opposite happens. I was a little worried that I’d look like a bak zhang (Hokkien Meat Rice Dumpling) with so many layers on and was wondering if I was too big to look good in a kimono. Oh how wrong I was. The beauty of the kimono is in its ability to create such a lovely streamlined silhouette. It hides the bulges, inculcates a sense of elegance through good posture, and elongates the frame.
Also, I was intimidated by the print that I selected and thought I might look strange in such a light colour, plus large floral motifs, but the result was jaw-dropping. While not colours or prints I would wear on most occasions, it looked pretty darn amazing and flattered my skintone. When I look at the pictures I took, I really appreciate Japanese aesthetic sensibilities. It’s amazing how every fabric, print and accessory just goes together to create this artistic masterpiece.
Okamoto Kimonos Kiyomizuzaka Shop (着物 岡本 清水坂店)
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0862
Okamoto Kimonos is open daily from 9:00am to 8:00pm (Last kimono return by 7:30pm).
Appointments highly recommended. Visit website for more details.
Where you can go while in your rented kimono
Here are some attractions that are within reasonable walking distance from the Kiyomizuzaka Okamoto Kimonos store that you may want to consider exploring.
Many people ask me if it’s okay to take public transport in a kimono and if it’s weird. Actually, during my trip, I did see several women taking the subway or buses in kimonos (especially near places of attraction). Movement may be restricted but you can still take public transport if you want in kimonos. However, my experience was, there was so much to explore in the vicinity of the store and by foot I was able to really take in much of what that area in Eastern Kyoto had to offer and truth be told, I enjoyed it immensely.
Streets of Higashiyama
Streets of Higashiyama
Streets of Higashiyama
Restaurants and Eateries at Higashiyama
Outside as restaurant specialising in tofu
Narrow streets of Higashiyama lined with shops and eateries
Preserved fruits sold at the roadside
The Higashiyama district is a preserved historic district brimming with heritage and character. Taking a stroll on the streets of Higashiyama is a must when in Kyoto as you get to experience the old capital city of Kyoto before modernization of Japan. Plus it’s a great place to grab a bite with rows and rows of cafes, shops selling traditional snacks, and anything from expensive restaurants (¥3,000 and up), casual diners (¥1,500 and up) to affordable eateries (around ¥600 and under).
You’ll probably find yourself passing through Higashiyama if you’re doing a “shrine hop”. Do allow yourself enough time to wander the streets and interesting back alleys in between shrine and temple visits as the stores start to close around 5pm when the skies darken and night falls.
Kodai-ji and Kodai-ji Sho Museum
Entrance of Kodai-ji up from Nene’s Path
Admission office for Kodai-ji
Tickets and brochures for Kodai-ji
Manikuruma Containing Heart Sutra (use your right hand to turn them as you wish for health and longevity)
Temmangu Ox – The ox that bears the sufferings for man (Touch the area of the ox that you have an ailment at with your right hand)
Sheltered Walkways to the Main Hall of Kodai-ji
Bamboo Grove Returning from Temple
Dragon sculptures in landscaped gardens
Nene’s Path or Nene no michi
Entrance to Kodai-ji Sho Museum
The temple was established in 1606 in memory of historical figure and General to warlord and powerful samurai Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Built by his Hideyoshi’s wife, Kodai-ji is a stunning and outstanding temple that features breathtaking landscaping, zen gardens, bamboo groves and lavish buildings. It is a Zen Buddhist temple of the Rinzai sect. Photography is restricted in the main hall of Kodai-ji but you’ll be able to take incredible photos of the surrounding gardens with its man-made ponds and hillscapes.
Admission to Kodai-ji is and Kodai-ji Sho Museum, which showcases some treasures belonging to Hideyoshi and his wife, is ¥600. If you wish to enter the Entokuin Temple, which is a smaller temple within Kodai-ji’s grounds, it is ¥500 or you can take the package for Kodai-ji, Kodai-ji Sho Museum and Entokuin admission at ¥900.
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0825
Kodai-ji is open from 9:00am to 5:30pm (Last entry at 5:00pm)
Entokuin Temple opens from 10:00am to 5:30pm (Last entry at 5:00pm)
Kodai-ji Sho Museum opens 9:30am to 6:00pm.
Niomon Gate leading to Kiyomizu-dera
Hondo (Main Hall) of Kiyomizu-dera
Admission office of Kiyomizu-dera
Lifting of the Shoshakujo, a heavy 14kg priest staff
Statue of the Deity of Success, Shusse Daikokuten
Selling of Lucky Charms at Kiyomizu-dera
Selling of Lucky Charms at Kiyomizu-dera
Omikuji (Fortune Papers) for ¥100
Shaking the Omikuji Container for a Fortune Stick
One of the lantern designs at Kiyomizu-dera
Otowa No Taki Waterfall with three stream which each bears a different blessing
Kiyomizu-dera means Temple of Pure Water and was named such due to the Otowa No Taki waterfall site that the temple was built on. This is the temple of the Goddess of Mercy. Established even before Kyoto became the capital of Japan, Kiyomizu-dera was established in 778 and is the most popular temple in Kyoto. Highlights of this temple include the Amitabha Hall, Otowa No Taki (Otowa Waterfall) and the main hall or Hondo which is a much treasured Japanese property.
When I was in the main hall, I took in the scent of burning incense, the sight of fervent believers praying, and enjoyed the amazing architecture. From a distance on a path near Otowa No Taki, when I looked out at the Hondo from a distance, I suddenly realised how deeply spiritual and astounding it was.
I passed by Otowa No Taki but did not drink from the three streams of “pure water” as there was a crazy queue. It is said that each stream blesses the drinker. One stream for wisdom, one stream for longevity and one stream for love – but its only advisable to drink from two of the three as it would be greedy to go for them all. Makes sense! “He who is greedy is always in want.”
As the temple is built halfway up Otowa mountain and the main hall is in fact built over a precipice, the Kiyomizu-dera offers a resplendent view of Kyoto and the surrounding forested areas. Due to its monumental value, Kiyomizu-dera was also registered as an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994.
Adults pay ¥300 and Children pay ¥200 to enter Kiyomizu-dera.
Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto, 605-0862
294 Kiyomizu 1-chōme,
Kiyomizu-dera is open from 6:00am and the closing time varies based on season.
Entrance and steps to Jishu-jinja, an Enmusubi (Shrine dedicated to Love and Relationships)
Ema or prayer plaques
The Love Stone
Checking out what Jishu-jinja has in store for us
A Miko Girl at Omikuji Counter retrieving the English Omikuji for us
English versions of the readings for Omikuji
Picked our Omikuji
The Japanese are fixated with enmusubi. Enmusubi are Shinto shrines dedicated to love and friendships where many Japanese pray for success in their love lives. Jishu-jinja, just a short walk and in the immediate vicinity of Kiyomizu-dera, is one of the most famous enmusubi shrine in Kyoto and a popular spot for pilgrimages.
This being my first trip to Japan and the first enmusubi shrine I’ve visited, the novelty did indeed leave me captivated. There is no shortage of things to do at Jishu-jina and may I add, it’s jam-freaking-packed!
You can purchase an “ena” (prayer plaque) and write a sincere letter to the gods filled with your earnest wishes. In fact, every first Sunday of the month, the chief priest actually prays so that the wishes hung up can be fulfilled. You can also get your fortune at the omikuji counter manned by Miko girls. They offer English translated omikuji at ¥200 as well if you just ask for it.
One of the must dos at Jishu-jinja is to try walking between two rock coined the love stones. It is said that those who are able to make that journey from one rock to the other and do so with their eyes closed, your wish will be granted.
You’ll also be glad to hear that admission is absolutely free. (More money to spend on the lucky charms, ena and omikuji perhaps?)
Higashiyama, Kyoto, 605-0862
Jishu-Jinja is open daily from 9:00am – 5:00pm.
View of the Iconic Yasaka Pagoda from the streets of Higashiyama
Yasaka Pagoda up close
This five-storey landmark, Yasaka Shrine, is visible from the streets of Higashiyama and the last of what remains of Honkaji. You can choose to climb up all five-storeys at the price of ¥400. Most pagodas can only be viewed and not entered, so that probably justifies the steep admission fee.
The pagoda closes pretty early, so be sure to work this in your itinerary in the earlier part of the day.
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0827
388 Yasaka Kamimachi, Shimogawara-dori
Yasaka Pagoda is open daily from 10:00am to 4:00pm.
OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST
Shrine overlooking Gion district where the Susanoo, the God of sea and storm is enshrined
The famed Geisha district for Geisha sightings
Maruyama Park (円山公園)
Sprawling park behind Yasaka-Jinja known for its brilliant cherry blossoms during Sakura season
Beautiful silver pavilion from 15th century
A big zen temple and headquarters of the Nanzen-ji sect of Rinzai Buddhism
Head temple of Jodo-sect of Buddhism