Most everyone knows that the kimono (きもの) (着物) is traditional Japanese clothing worn for special occasions and festivals. Although it is worn by both men and women, one rarely sees men in kimono except perhaps at weddings, tea ceremonies, or other formal or religious ceremonies. Often, even then, men are more apt to wear a black or charcoal western style suit. The word kimono simply means a “thing you wear.”
A kimono is distinct from a yukata (ゆかた) (浴衣). A yukata, sometimes called a “summer kimono” is a lighter garment made of cotton or synthetic fiber and tied with a single belt or obi. It is commonly worn after a bath but also sometimes during hot weather. Men and women both often wear yukata. In contrast, a kimono typically has heavier and more layers of fabric, and is festooned with much more elaborate obi.
My mother owns a kimono, but I haven’t seen her put it on in decades. Even back then, she wore it, at most, once a year, and it was so complicated with its many layers and several obi (belts), that she had to pull out an instruction book with pictures to remember how it all went together. Indeed, a friend visiting from Japan told me that it is common to hire a professional kimono dresser for special occasions. Her family hired at least one recently to assist during the wedding of her sister.
I love seeing kimono, and I saw quite a few while I was in Japan. I saw the most in Kyoto, and although I’m shy about taking pictures of people unknown to me without asking permission, I did sneak a few photos now and then. Here is a sampling:
When strolling through the botanical gardens in Kyoto, and surrounded by trees bursting with cherry blossoms, I was very taken by two young women, both in white kimono. Despite the heat and humidity, which kept me in a pretty constant state of saturation, none of the women I saw wearing the multiple layers of heavy cloth seemed to shed a drop of perspiration.
I really wanted their picture, so I asked our friend and tour guide if she would ask them if they would allow me take their picture. She did, but she asked them if I could take a picture with them. I really wasn’t keen to spoil the picture of these two beautiful women in their perfect white kimono, with me, a tall, heavily perspiring Westerner towering between them, but that appeared to be the terms of the deal. So we took a couple with the three of us, and then I took a few of just the two of them. I think most would agree the latter pictures are much more pleasing.
I recently spoke with our guide and translator. She told me that the women were both very pleased to have their picture taken. When asked if we could take their picture, their response was an example of typical Japanese humility. They answered, “oh, are we good enough for a picture?”
Our hostess at our ryokan in Takayama would don a kimono when she served us our meals. Because of the long drape of her sleeves, she would affix straps of cloth over her shoulders and under her sleeves to help prevent them from getting in her way when she passed us dishes and poured our tea.
Kimono are quite expensive, and for Westerners who tend to be taller and larger, finding a ready-to-wear kimono may be out of the question. However, for smaller women looking for a bargain, I saw several second-hand stores (called “recycle stores”) that specialized in kimono. You might be lucky enough to find one that fits both your size and your budget.