Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

There’s no denying that a Japanese kimono is a thing of beauty.

It’s elegant, traditional and more than just a little bit cool. But there’s one thing that a kimono is not.

A kimono is absolutely not easy to put on, as I learned when I visited Kitsuki Castle Town in Japan’s Oita Prefecture.

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

This town, an old samurai village that’s also home to Japan’s smallest castle, is one of the best places in the country to get dressed up in traditional Japanese attire and go for a stroll.

There’s a rich cultural history to be explored, and part of that is learning how to wear a kimono like a local.

After arriving in Kitsuki, I was taken to Warakuan, a kimono rental shop where you can be dressed by locals who are experts in this ancient skill.

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

I was completely blown away by the process of getting dressed in a kimono, and I was in awe of the women who dressed me, who are able to dress themselves in a kimono in just ten minutes.

Trust me, that’s mind-blowingly impressive!

So if you’ve ever wondered how to wear a kimono, here’s the step-by-step process I experienced in Japan.

Step 1: pick your kimono

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Warakuan has so many kimonos to choose from, it’s almost impossible to make a decision.

I went with pink, and then had to choose my waistband from another huge selection. I balanced out the delicate pink kimono with a bolder, navy blue waistband and was then ushered into the changing room.

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Step 2: undress

You don’t want any unnecessary layers, so strip down to your underwear – trust me, you’ll understand why when you’re through.

 

Step 3: wear thermals, because it’s snowing outside

Okay, maybe this was just me.

After donning the traditional Japanese socks – you know, the ones where your big toe is separated from the rest of your toes so you can wear the wooden flip flops – I was given some thin thermals so I wouldn’t freeze to death in the snow outside.

You might also like: What to do at a Japanese Onsen – a Guide for Beginners

 

Step 4: pad out that waist

I do not have the figure of a Japanese woman.

My shape – best described as hourglass – was something of a challenge to the woman dressing me. To combat this, she wrapped what can only be described as a hand towel around my waist before adding any other layers.

 

Step 5: start with a simple cotton kimono

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Underneath the main kimono is a simple white cotton version, which helps with warmth as well as shape.

 

Step 6: add cords and pins to secure cotton kimono

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Nothing stays in place on its own in this process.

The white base layer was secured with pins and cords, and it was then that things began to feel…snug.

 

Step 7: secure waist with velcro strap

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Things went from snug to rigid after a thick velcro-bound strap was wrapped around my waist.

My posture magically began to improve and my belly lost a few inches, which was making me feel pretty smug. And we had so many layers to go!

 

Step 8: add outer kimono

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Time for the look to start taking shape.

All those inner layers are there so that the real kimono hangs just as it should. But the work’s not over yet.

 

Step 9: hold kimono in place with clamps

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

As with the cotton version, the outer kimono will be held in place with clamps so it doesn’t slip around as the length is being adjusted and the waist nipped and tucked.

 

Step 10: shorten kimono using endless straps and cords

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

I am short.

My kimono was long.

With some expert nipping and strapping and tucking, the extra length magically disappeared and my kimono just brushed my feet.

 

Step 11: lose track of the number of cords tied tightly around your waist

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

I think, in the end, there were about fifteen different pieces of fabric wrapped around my waist at various stages of this process.

But honestly, I lost count.

I don’t even know what they all did, or why they were necessary, but the end result was stunning, so I’m not about to question it.

 

Step 12: add pretty waistband

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

The navy blue waistband I selected at the start was finally wrapped around my midsection, with some fancy tying-up happening at the back.

And no, I have no idea what that expression on my face is about.

Now you’ll really start to feel like you’re wearing a traditional Japanese outfit, and the whole effect is just breathtaking. It’s even more unbelievable to know how much work has gone into creating the look.

 

Step 13: be interviewed for local news channel

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Pretty sure this was a unique experience to me, but within seconds of the waistband being attached, a local news camera appeared and I was interviewed about what it felt like to wear a traditional Japanese kimono.

I just couldn’t stop gushing about how complicated the process was and how talented the ladies dressing me were. It really was amazing!

 

Step 14: add a few more cords, just for good measure

Just one more, in fact. A braided cord that went around my middle, over the waistband.

Now my look was complete. Almost.

 

Step 15: get your hair done

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

My hair was expertly pulled and rolled and pinned into place with a gorgeous floral comb.

 

Step 16: pose for photos. Bring faux fur.

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Still fearing the snow outside, I was given a faux fur wrap just for good measure.

It was then time to pose, together with the journalist I was travelling with, complete with a samurai sword.

 

Step 17: walk around Kitsuki Castle Town in the snow

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Kitsuki Castle Town is full of old samurai homes, and visitors can look around these houses, complete with stunning gardens, to learn what life was like back in the Edo period.

You may or may not be there when it’s snowing. I have to admit, the absence of shoes (I just had thin socks and sandals) made for a very chilly stroll, but the layers I was wearing meant I was warm everywhere except my hands and feet.

 

Step 18: play a harp in a samurai home

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

While you’re in a kimono, you might as well try some traditional Japanese activities.

I sipped hot green tea, and then tried a traditional harp-like instrument. The most difficult part was sitting down, and the second most difficult part was getting up again. Kimonos aren’t exactly conducive to movement.

 

Step 19: undress, admiring the imprints left on your skin by the cords

Getting dressed probably took half an hour.

Removing all of those layers and cords was a five-minute exercise, at the end of which I had some pretty deep imprints in my stomach. Kimonos are not for the faint of heart.

 

Step 20: remember what it’s like to move again.

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Changing back into my jeans and jumper felt like slipping into pyjamas. My clothes have never felt more loose and casual than after taking off my kimono.

Still, even after knowing how restrictive these traditional Japanese garments are, I’d do it again in a second.

Dressing in a kimono is an incredible way to understand a tiny slice of Japanese culture, and it’ll give you an appreciation for this item of clothing like you’ve never had before.

Learning How to Wear a Kimono in Japan

Plus, if you’re going to dress in a kimono anywhere, do it in Kitsuki. The setting is unbelievably beautiful, and so perfectly preserved that after a few minutes you might actually believe you’ve stepped back in time…

Thanks to Tokyo Metropolitan Government for inviting me to visit and experience what it’s like to dress in a traditional Japanese kimono. It’s an afternoon I’ll truly never forget!

Elle Croft

Elle Croft is a London-based travel blogger who is equally happy exploring the city she lives in as venturing to far-flung destinations. She's a firm believer in stylish travel, and will always look for a twist on the traditional. Luckily for her, London offers unusual experiences in abundance. When Elle's not travelling or blogging over at A Bird in the Hand you can usually find her, coffee in one hand and camera in another, strolling the beautiful streets of the city she calls home.

SHOWHIDE Comment (1)
  1. I love this post, you look amazing in the kimono! I recently stayed in Asakusa and almost hired a kimono, the only thing putting me off was that I wouldn’t look as good as the Japanese in it haha! They are truly beautiful pieces of artwork!
    X Izzy http://www.izzywears.com

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