My first (and only) time wearing a Kimono in Japan – as a Foreigner

Even though I live in Japan, I've only worn a kimono once. And it was a really fantastic experience~

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).

kimono furisode seijinshiki foreigner gaijin japan tokyo 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.”

kimono furisode seijinshiki foreigner gaijin japan tokyo engagement

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).

makeup selfie

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.

trying to put on a kimono

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.

kimono furisode seijinshiki foreigner gaijin japan tokyo engagement

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.

kimono furisode seijinshiki foreigner gaijin japan tokyo engagement

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.”

kimono furisode seijinshiki foreigner gaijin japan tokyo engagement

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.

album kimono furisode seijinshiki foreigner gaijin japan tokyo engagement

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.

kimono furisode seijinshiki foreigner gaijin japan tokyo engagement

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?

Having a staring contest with some flowers~

Having a staring contest with some flowers~

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

31 Comments on My first (and only) time wearing a Kimono in Japan – as a Foreigner

  1. I love wear Kimono. I am lucky I have a friend that imports them from Japan. I think they are amazing to wear to Cons. I like them better then my Civil War reenacting clothes

  2. Anonymous // 7 October, 2015 at 11:40 am //

    You don’t like it when someone says your husband is good-looking for an Asian guy but you refer to your mother-in-law as Japanese mom.

    • “For an Asian guy” is used as a qualifier and implies surprise and the belief that Asians are generally lesser. “Japanese mom” is in contrast to “American mom” and is qualifying only for the purposes of differentiating in a silly manner. There are no negative implications or connotations behind it.

  3. I really love it!! Hope I can wear a furisode on my seijinshiki next year. I’ll be turning 20 on Saturday!!

  4. That’s so happy! It makes ME happy! I hope I can participate in something like this one day. My mom took me and my sisters to a pro photographer when we were tiny, and we were wearing some traditional Lao dresses. I wish I could fit into them now.

  5. I actually wear kimono often enough that it no longer feels awkward (for koto concerts a houmongi kimono is a must). However I have never won furisode… probably for the best, those sleeves look tough to manage!

  6. Great photos! I wore a kimono (not sure what kind) for a koto concert that I was in. What an ordeal putting it on! My curves weren’t really made for wearing a kimono.

  7. Hi Grace and Ryosuke! I wore one of my grandmother’s kimonos for my wedding pictures. My mother wore the same kimono for her wedding 22 years before. I’m not sure how old it it but I’m willing to bet that its at least 60 years old. My grandma and her friend took almost an hour to get it on me. I had so much difference between the size of my waist and my hips they ended up using my sweater and a towel to even me out. The bow on the obi was pretty massive which made it so hard to drive to the place we took pictures. It was really awesome to know that the kimono had so much tradition in our family when I wore it.

  8. thanks for sharing this. i’m glad your inlaws were great.

  9. Ah! Beautiful! You guys looks simply amazing and you look fantastic. I’ve worn 3 kimono’s all in the same month. It was summer time during my study abroad and they all wanted us to be fancy for certain events even though it was boiling hot out under all those layers it was definitely an experience! the one you are wearing reminds me of the first one I’ve ever put on, luckily I had knowledgable people there to help! I can only imagine figuring it out all on my own.

  10. zoomingjapan // 1 April, 2015 at 6:52 pm //

    Absolutely gorgeous photos, Grace!

    I’m surprised that red suits you so well. I don’t know, personally I don’t like red, but it looks GREAT on you! ^__^
    What a lovely kimono and the photos look awesome.

    I only wore a kimono once and it was so tight I could barely breathe. XD
    I know it has to be like that, but it’s not something I would like to wear for a long period of time. *g*

    The kimono I wore was lightblue-ish.
    I have a photo of it in my avatar, but it’s black and white and probably too tiny to recognize anything. Maybe I should post my kimono photos as well some day. :)

  11. rayarts // 1 April, 2015 at 6:48 pm //

    I think kimonos are very pretty, pieces of art, really. However, I will never wear one. I am too big and curvy (in a good way ;) ), not shaped for Kimonos.

  12. I own two furisode and wear them for the Japanese festivals around the DFW area. It’s definitely a struggle, esp. trying to put them on myself! I’ve made a rule for myself that I will only wear them when the temperatures are below 70 or 60F, because layer silk is so very stifling. I also have iromuju kimono, but again, the temps have to be practically winter before I can wear these comfortably. I do have yukata, which is much easier to put on, but the obi can also make my torso too warm depending on how bad it is outside. Anyhow, you look gorgeous~

  13. I love how Grace, a westerner, wears Japanese clothing, and Ryosuke, a Japanese, wears Western clothing.

  14. moodypanda130 // 1 April, 2015 at 2:52 pm //

    Grace you are so beautiful in a kimono! I have always wished to wear a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) but never have.

  15. I wore kimono on my recent trip to Japan. There is a place in Nihonbashi which will let you try on a kimono (they will help you put it on and everything), and then you can take a few photos in the nice tatami room they have, and after you can keep the kimono on for a few hours (depending on what time you set your appointment for). I booked mine with my friend for early morning, and we decided to go to Asakusa for the day. It was a really nice experience, but also a bit awkward for me as I already feel slightly uncomfortable with people looking at me in normal everyday clothing- in the kimono though it increased more than tenfold (Once at Asakusa though, it was not as awkward feeling as it was just taking the train in kimono- it felt slightly less weird haha)! We had people come up to us frequently asking to take pictures with us, and soo many comments from elderly men and women about how “kawaii” we looked.

    The only thing that slightly bothered me was when we were on the train heading to Asakusa from Nihonbashi. The car was a little bit empty, and there was an old man sitting across from us. He kept looking at us (like everyone else sitting on the train at the time, although they were more subtle about it) and I felt awkward, but okay with it. Until he took out his cell phone, and took two, entirely noticeable photos of us! There is absolutely no way it could have been anything but a photo, as Japanese phones make the loud “camera noise”, and on top of that, he was using an older flip phone, which had a big circle on the front, that lights up bright orange as he took the photos! I was so utterly surprised hahaha. After he had gotten his photos, he then moved himself down to the other end of the car, thus making the situation even weirder.

    I told my boyfriend (Japanese) about the situation later, and he was really angry that that man had taken a picture like that and he told me I should have said something to him about it. I felt too awkward about it though, and even though I can speak okay Japanese, I didn’t want to cause any trouble so I just left it alone.

    Anyway, other than this situation, it was quite a lot of fun, I really had a great time, it was a good conversation starter and we came out of it with some really great pictures and a lot of nice memories! (Sorry this is so long! haha)

  16. I wore a beautiful kimono for my birthday not last year the year before. It was pink and I had my relaxed hair done the day before. I really enjoyed it. I wanted to wear it again to celebrate my 10 years in Japan but I am on a diet and don’t think my large hips will fit in a kimono this time XD

  17. Raechael // 1 April, 2015 at 12:39 pm //

    The photos look good! You look so pretty!

  18. Bren Shuler // 1 April, 2015 at 12:33 pm //

    Lovely pictures, Grace! My wedding photos are the reverse of yours. I wore the formal black male kimono with a gray hakama while my Japanese wife wore a white traditional western wedding gown.

    After our wedding we took a kimono wearing class for her benefit but with the plan I would learn as well in order to assist with her getting dressed. Wow, the amount of under garments and pinnings and obis borders on the ridiculous. But it ended up being mostly for naught as my wife was pregnant at the time, I spoke virtually no Japanese then making instruction difficult to understand, and had to drop out due to a work commitment.

    My mother-in-law bestowed upon me a man’s kimono that I suppose one could call semi-formal. It’s more formal than a summer weight yukata–heavier and with an outer layer as well–but probably not formal enough to wear to a family member’s wedding. I think I’ve worn it all of two times–the last time being over 20 years ago in the U.S. at an informal social mixer. I could wear it today but would be extremely hard pressed to come close to even tying the obi correctly.

  19. Yes, I wore one the first time I was in Japan. The person I stayed with his grandmother was a historian of Kimono and designed them so she wanted me to try one on. I remember a lot of tugging, pulling and her saying stand up straighter. I honestly don’t think I could have possibly stood any straighter. We took pictures and I am happy I had the opportunity to do it. It wasn’t for anything special. Only the grandmother wanting to see me in it. The kimono was so beautiful.

  20. Believe it or not, I actually own two qipaos [a white and a blue one] and I have only worn them around the time I got married!

    You look great in red!!

  21. You look beautiful!!!
    I think red is the most popular color to wear for Seijinshiki in Japan?
    I wore a pink one for mine and though I went into central Tokyo it stood out a lot…

  22. The first time I wore a kimono was for the Japanese Traditional Dance club at AIU. The old ladies who dressed me strapped me in so tightly I couldn’t breathe properly! I don’t know how they expected me to dance properly when I could barely bend over or breathe! I learned after that to suck in a lot of air and stick my stomach out the next times they strapped me into kimono so that it would have some slack when I let the air out. XD

  23. In-laws also got us engagement photos, in the traditional wedding kimono. I wore only for an hour or so but brides who do the Shinto wedding wear it the whole day and I couldn’t imagine! I was jealous of my husbands kimono which he said was “comfortable like pajamas!”

  24. Anonymous // 1 April, 2015 at 8:31 am //

    Wow Grace. You look absolutely stunning! All I can say is WOW!

  25. Your pictures are gorgeous! And you look so happy. How expensive is it to try on a kimono? I would love to go to Japan sometime and that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I find them to be so beautiful…

    I just recently subscribed to your blog and love it so far. I’m looking forward to seeing what you post next. Best of wishes to both of you!

    • Anonymouse // 1 April, 2015 at 9:45 am //

      The services I’ve seen around Kyoto and Osaka that rent kimono for the day tend to run about 10,000 yen (100 USD) and above. Getting your hair and/or makeup done (which is good for the pictures the shops generally offer as part of the package) is extra.

  26. You look so good! The red really suits you!

  27. Love these photos. I’m trying to count all the layers.

    Are there different color kimonos for different events? Or are they traditionally red, like some of the celebratory Chinese outfits?

    • Anonymouse // 1 April, 2015 at 9:41 am //

      There are all sorts of colors and designs for kimonos. In most cases, people wear whaterver color/style they like best.

  28. Erni D. // 1 April, 2015 at 8:09 am //

    I like that cousin as well. Thank you for sharing that experience with us. I never knew so much was involved.

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