Japan is a contradiction of old and new. Kawaii and traditional. Walking through a shop on one of Kyoto’s main streets, music blares that sounds like a child’s toy, played in fast forward. Steps away at the crosswalk, a quiet hum of polite conversation is heard as people line up in an orderly fashion to cross the street or board public transport. While I absolutely love the kawaii elements of the country, the old-fashioned kimono culture fascinates me, too. Wearing a kimono in Kyoto was on my bucket list, so I teamed up with the best kimono rental in Kyoto, Yumeyakata Oike Bettei, to make it happen!
I worried a little about being accused of cultural appropriation and quizzed one of the English-speaking staff members on what locals think of foreigners wearing kimonos. She told me that the art of making kimonos is dying, since locals don’t wear these beautiful outfits on a daily basis. And she said they’re glad tourists playing dress up is keeping the art alive. This was confirmed when an elderly Japanese woman walking by our outdoor photoshoot stopped to tell us that we looked “very nice, very beautiful.”
Want to experience your very own kimono rental in Kyoto?
Yumeyakata has been around for 20 years. Foreign tourists and locals rely on them for an intimate kimono experience and other traditional activities such as tea ceremonies and wedding photo shoots.
Yumeyakata has two different locations where you can rent a kimono in Kyoto- the Gojo shop and the Oike Bettei shop. The Oike shop, opened just two years ago, is located in a 100-year-old machiya (wooden townhouse), renovated specifically for kimono dressing and photo shoots. Its tatami mats and Japanese gardens will make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
Choosing a kimono
The yukata is a summer kimono, available to wear only during the summer months. If you want to wear your kimono through town, this is the best choice! It’s only two layers and pairs (sock-free) with a pair of cute wooden sandals.
This summertime experience including rental, dressing and shoes will cost ¥3,500 at the Oike shop.
The Japanese furisode is a formal outfit reserved for young, unmarried girls. (I fit at least one of those qualifications!) It’s worn to coming of age ceremonies, weddings, graduation and parties. It’s said that the long sleeves of the furisode are a bit flirtatious. This is why you’ll never see an older, married woman in a furisode.
If you want the full, traditional furisode during summer months, it’s best to stay inside for a photoshoot. Traditional kimonos are comprised of 3-4 layers and include a pair of segmented socks (your big toe goes in one section and the other toes go in the other).
I loved looking through the brightly colored furisodes to choose one made of Barbie doll colors! After you choose the robe, the talented team will help you choose the layers to go under the robe as well as the belt and ropes that will tie the whole outfit together. I felt a little overwhelmed by all the colors and patterns, but love the look we came up with!
Wearing the furisode is a premium experience. Rental, dressing and shoes cost ¥15,000.
Let’s play dress up!
Until around 1912, the kimono was the daily outfit for men and women. Fashion of the day called straight lines a thing of beauty. To combat curves, padding under the colorful outer layer removes any sort of hourglass physique.
It was a little strange for me to see my body transformed from having a waist to bulking up my midsection in order to remove any feminine curves.
Hair and makeup
I have a LOT of hair. And when I’ve tried updos in the past, I leave feeling like a housewife from the 50s who lost her personality in a puff of hairspray. But the talented team at the Yumeyakata Kyoto kimono rental shop in Oike made me look oh-so-kawaii (while still being fancy enough to wear the furisode).
Hop into the styling chair and select one of the nine hairstyles on offer, ranging from traditional to kawaii. Each hairstyle is ¥1,500.
Have a photo you’d like the hairstylist to recreate? Want the full geisha look? Additional styles incur an additional fee.
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be Kim Kardashian, this is it. While the hairstylist is working on your updo, a makeup artist sets to work on your face. The ¥3,000 makeup session includes a full face of makeup. Again – I’ve had my makeup done for dozens of events in the past. This makeup artist made me feel like myself… only a little more polished and ready for photos!
I am all kinds of awkward. And yet, Allan managed to find a side of me that was ready for my close up. The ¥11,000 photo package includes a 30 minute photo session with a professional photographer and 50 edited photos, delivered by email within a week of your session.
Don’t want to commit to a photo session up front? A photographer is always on site in case you change your mind once you see just how good you look in a kimono. (And trust me, you’ll look GOOD in that kimono!)
Here are some of my favorite shots from my kimono photoshoot!
Getting dressed takes nearly half an hour. Getting undressed… well that only takes a minute or two. Before you know it, you’re standing in a pile of beautiful fabric. Sure, you’ll feel a bit more free and yet, you’re sure to be missing the beautiful kimono as you transform back into a 21st century tourist.
You can book your own experience kimono experience here!
Note: Yumeyakata hosted me for my kimono rental in Kyoto. All opinions are my own and I’ll never recommend anything to you that’s not awesome!