Kyoto in a Kimono

When I visited Japan for the first time last Fall, I knew that apart from having my fill of sashimi, there was one other thing I absolutely had to do – don a kimono. Call it #FOMO or vanity, but having already done Hanguk in a Hanbok, Kyoto in a Kimono seemed like a natural follow-up. (Alas, given that it was only the beginning of fall and that Summer had not quite ended yet, we weren’t wearing actual traditional Kimonos, but their more-casual counterpart, a Yukata. But alliteration’s sake, we’ll refer them to Kimonos henceforth.)

Most people I know who have been to Kyoto would recommended getting a Kimono from Yumeyakata, but I chanced upon Jemmawei’s entry on Kyoto Kimono Rental 41 whilst doing some pre-trip planning and was pretty much sold on it.

My friend Kyu and I had a solid day of sight-seeing planned ahead of us, so we wanted to have our Kimonos bright and early. The store opened at 9am, which was way too early by Kyu’s holiday standards, so we went there around 9.30am instead. Being the first ones in the store, we had the luxury of choice. I must have picked out at least a dozen different Kimonos and stared at them for the longest time before deciding on one. Thereafter you also have to choose your matching obi belt and your obi tie. Thankfully the ladies at the store were extremely patient with us. Whenever we frowned or hesitated at a certain design or colour combination, they were quick to offer alternatives.

Wearing a Kimono is tough work. The store ladies spent almost 20 minutes on each of us, putting on the various layers. I was expecting the obi belt to be worn tightly corset-style, but thankfully it was just snug. Nonetheless having something stiff wrapped around my core also meant that I had to maintain a good posture the moment I wore the Kimono. (No wonder them Japanese ladies look so poised!) Having now tried both a Kimono and a Hanbok, I’d say wearing a Hanbok is easier, more relaxing, and forgiving too. Lesser knots too.

Since we were already forking out so much money for a Kimono rental, we figured we might as well do our hair to look the part. You get to choose from a catalogue of hairstyles you’d like, though they will adapt it accordingly depending on your hair length. I think we were allowed the choice of one complimentary hair accessory along with our hair styling.

Once we had donned our Kimonos, it was time to hit the streets of Kyoto. Walking in our wooden clogs took some getting used to, and our strides were also restricted by the attire itself. Our first stop was the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

We made it a point to spot as many Shiba Inus as we could during our time there.

Photo opportunities are aplenty at the shrine, but it was also filled with hoards of people, so it’s pretty much a waiting game of letting the crowds thin out and then getting the shots you want. We thought going further up would lead to thinner crowds and better photos, but we learnt the hard way when we realised that the gates pretty much looked the same and in fact, the higher up we went, the less photogenic the gates looked. We later realised that the gates that most people often take photos at were actually much closer to ground-level. By then I believe that Kyu wanted to pummel me with her wooden clogs for making her climb that many steps.

Next up was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It is a considerable distance away, so be prepared for the train transfers. Like the shrine, it was also jam-packed with tourist crowds. We very much wanted to take a rickshaw ride to the Togetsukyo Bridge, but the prices exceeded our budget.

Besides walking through the Bamboo Grove itself, we also made a pit stop at the Okochi Sanso Villa. This place was a lot less crowded and many people seemed to not know about it (the entrance is pretty discreet). The entrance fee of 1,000 yen might have also deterred some people. But I daresay the Villa was probably my favourite part of the day. The Okochi Sanso Villa belonged to a Japanese film actor Okochi Denjiro. It is, of course, no longer inhabited, but the place remains well-maintained. When inside the Villa, you can opt to follow the arrows which will guide you in an orderly manner around the place, and lead you to some good look-out points which offer you a picturesque view of the Arashiyama area.

At the end of it all, your 1,000yen entry fee also gets you a nice hot matcha drink and a snack at the tea house, where you are welcome to sit outside on a platform to soak in the sun, or stay inside. We opted for the indoor option and spent quite a bit of time sipping our drinks while resting our sore feet.

At the end of our day, it was time to head back to return our Kimonos. We made our way back via the Arashiyama station that was on the Keifuku Arashiyama (Randen) line. The station was uniquely adorned with textile cylinders, which made for yet another good photo opportunity. They also call this the Kimono forest. Be sure to snap a few shots when you are at this station before you hop off on your train back to central Tokyo!

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