I’ve been living in Japan for almost four years now. And in those four years, I’ve only worn a kimono once – for my seijinshiki (and engagement).
[Ok, so actually, I wore a “sort of” kimono at Narita Airport, while waiting for a flight back to the States (getting ready to tell my parents that my long-time boyfriend and best friend was planning on proposing – with their permission, of course). It was only after the fact that I learned that what I put on wasn’t a “real kimono.”
It was a cultural attraction aimed at foreigners, where they dressed you up in a sort of “fake kimono” (looks like a real one, but all the layers were fake and it was made to get on/off in less than five minutes) at the airport. You can read all about that here. I’m choosing not to count that time. Moving on.]
The first and only time I’ve worn a “real kimono” was for seijinshiki (Japanese coming of age day) / Ryosuke and my engagement photos. There are a couple different types of kimono – the type I wore was a “furisode” (kimono typically worn by young, unmarried women – distinguished by the long arm flaps on the kimono). From here on out, when I say “kimono,” I really mean “furisode.” But for the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to write “kimono.”
This gorgeous red kimono cost several grand – and was a present from Ryosuke’s cousin. She wore it during her own seijinshiki many years earlier and had no use for it now. When she found out that her younger cousin’s fiance was planning on participating in the local seijinshiki, she let us borrow hers. And, apparently I looked “so good in it that I might as well keep it” (her words).
I like her.
Figuring out how to put on a kimono was… difficult. We had a reservation to take seijinshiki / engagement photos at a photography studio run by one of Ryosuke’s friends. The guy loved us, so he gave us a nice discount. Even with the discount, getting my hair, makeup, and kimono put on at the studio would have been an extra 25,000yen ($250).
As broke students, neither Ryosuke nor I had that in our budget.
I did my hair and makeup at home (with accessories I bought from a 100yen shop).
I extensively Google-ed proper kimono hairstyles and ended up with something passable. Or at least Japanese mom thought it was passable. While I was messing with my hair in the mirror, she told me “Grace, you can do everything. That’s impressive.”
To date, that’s one of my favorite compliments I’ve received from my Japanese family.
Japanese mom, Ryosuke, and I tried to do the kimono ourselves, but after thirty minutes of trying to follow YouTube tutorials, we gave up and headed off to the studio.
I tried to get Ryosuke to wear a men’s kimono but he’s always thought those looked a bit dorky.
Instead, he wore a suit. He looked very dashing in that suit, though, so I was happy.
Once we got to the photography studio, getting the kimono on only took about fifteen minutes. One thing I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the sheer amount of layers. I was sweating bullets by the time the kimono was properly fitted.
The only other problem was with the traditional socks and shoes. The studio let me borrow their largest size (XL) for both – but my size 8.5 American feet just wouldn’t fit in them.
I managed to stuff my feet into the zip-up fabric socks, but in between photos, I had to let them out to breath. After the first ten minutes, I had lost all feeling in my feet.
They took photos of just me for about 45 minutes, with all sorts of poses and props. Rysouke and I got quite a few photos together, too. He also got some photos of him alone, in just a suit.
After they finished snapping photos, we went into a back room to choose which photos we wanted to keep. They had a couple different price points, depending on what sized photos I wanted (and whether or not I wanted to keep digital copies of them). As someone who literally carries my camera everywhere I go, I was like “YES! I need the digital copies!!!”
Then we got to choose the layout and photos for the “book.”
In Japan, when you get professional photos taken, they will print a professional, leather-bound album for you. I’ve gotten professional photos taken here in Japan five times now (Ryosuke’s siblings keep having babies!) – each time Japanese mom and dad will send us a small album weeks later.
My seijinshiki album had two large photos and three small ones. Ryosuke didn’t want any photos of “just him” because he was wearing a suit and thought that it was a bit of a waste. I also got the digital copies for five of the photos.
The total was about $400. Japanese dad surprised us at the end by paying for the entire thing.
“It’s an engagement present,” he told us.
The album arrived about a month and a half later.
Rysouke and I still have it. We keep it on our bookshelf and sometimes pull it out at parties. I also printed off and framed several of the pictures for my grandmother and parents (in Ghana and the US).
I tried to give the beautiful red kimono back to Ryosuke’s cousin, but she wouldn’t let me. “Your future children can wear it,” she told us.
And that’s the story of the first (and only) time I’ve worn a traditional Japanese kimono!
Have you ever worn one? What was it like?