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Those Kimonos in Kyoto...

Anmona Handique- Mahanta



Kyoto, October, 2019. The weather was mild the day we visited this ever-enchanting, beautiful cultural capital of Japan. Although, at times it was abruptly rainy however most of the times, it was bright and sunny accompanied by the beautiful autumn breeze and fresh aura. Unfortunately, due to the off-season period, the autumn fall foliage was not yet on their way to shower their love over the city but surprisingly, in lieu of that, we got to explore with something more overwhelming.


It was in Kyoto that I experienced one of the exquisite elegance of Japanese traditions and culture, known as ‘Kimono’. I wonder, this term is not unfamiliar when it comes to Japan right after their marvelous sushi dishes. As such, much before I came to Japan, I have always heard about the famous Kimono and had a fascination to see the Japanese wearing Kimono. But incredibly, I never imagined myself putting it on, and walking in the streets of Japan where, today, I feel really blessed and lucky that I got to experience that one special moment wearing the gorgeous kimono along with the Japanese and other tourists who visited Japan during that time. Please mind it, Kimono differ from Yukata (a traditional Japanese attire much similar to Kimono).


Photo: Tathagat Mahanta


The word Kimono stands for a traditional Japanese garment where ‘Ki’ means ‘to wear’ and Mono means ‘a thing’, i.e., a thing to wear. They are made from a single length of cloth called tanmono which is 36-42 centimetres in width and around 12 meters long (Source-Internet). It is mainly silk which is used as a common fabric in the traditional Kimonos and depending upon the silk there comes the price range. But it is known that the modern Kimonos use various kind of other fabrics such as cotton, linen, polyester etc. Although Kimonos are for both men and women, they are popularly seen as a fascination among the Japanese women. Typically, men’s kimono is designed with solid patterns that are usually available in single colors, whereas, women's kimono is very attractive with different colorful designs aligning to different seasons of the year.


What I have noticed is young girls are often seen wearing a Kimono mainly during particular events or occasions and not like a daily attire which earlier used to be. It is said that, it was only after 20th century, the Kimono culture have slowly started to fade out among the Japanese. It is all about the style and unique designs of the kimonos that symbolize its glory and based on the availability of different silks in different regions of the country these Kimonos are made. I feel, much like our traditional Assamese Mekhela Chadar of Assam, the beauty of Kimono is also symbolized mainly by the different styles and patterns, color, motifs and the materials used in making it. It is indeed, something noteworthy, that our very own prestigious Assamese Muga silk has also been in demand among the Japanese designers to use it as a fabric in their aesthetic Kimonos and other traditional attires. (Source: Internet).


For the Japanese, there are different types of kimonos that are worn on the basis of different occasions and seasons. For instance, the kimono that I wore falls in the category of Furisode (in Japanese). These kimonos are usually seen worn by young girls and tourists who can take on rental basis. They have the longest sleeves, with beautiful colored motif designs all over and tied with bright belts (obi in Japanese). Likewise, there are formal (worn in wedding, traditional ceremonies), casual (known as Kumon in Japanese), non-wedding, semi-formal (worn in tea ceremonies) kimonos that Japanese wear as per their respective occasions and traditions. The kimonos are mainly hand-sewn that comes into a T-shape comprising of four different pieces of fabric and tied with a belt or obi and other accessories.


The basic set of a kimono comes along with the following things- zori (formal flat sandals), geta (open wooden shoes with raised platform), tabi (white socks), Obi (Kimono belt), Kanzashi (decorative floral hair-pins), Haori(traditional open jacket), Kimono silk clutch bags and Bangasa (traditional umbrella). In our case, we opted to wear Geta and took the entire set except Haori and Bangasa. Yes, it is not required for the tourist to take the entire Kimono set and it is completely optional as different pieces have got a different price. So far, I remember, firstly we looked for a reasonable rental shop as we both wanted to experience it. But Kyoto, being a famous tourist destination especially a place to stroll around wearing Kimono attire, every shop almost had the same price range which was quite expensive. The pricing was charged on the basis of rental hours. For instance, we took for two hours which I suppose was the minimum duration offered and since we were two people, we paid around 7000 yen including tax. Generally, renting a whole Kimono set may cost up to 3500-4000 yen. Sadly, the cost of women’s kimono set is little higher than men as it includes the hairdo (although optional). But for a one-time life experience, I feel it's worth the pay.


Photo: Tathagat Mahanta


Now, to say how a kimono is worn is the most difficult part as only professionals or older generations of this place can explain better. And it is said that due to this complex process of wearing a kimono and its lucrative pricing, the Kimono culture is not seen as a common phenomenon in recent years among the younger generations. So, firstly, we chose our respective Kimonos in the shop where I was flabbergasted finding their awesome collections, got matching Getas and unique silk clutch bags. We were asked to put and hand over our belongings- jackets, shoes, luggage etc. in the shop itself which was used like a security deposit until we returned the rented Kimonos safe and sound. In some shops, even a deposition fee is charged for the same which is returned later. I remember, entering a room in the shop where there were almost 5-6 professional Japanese girls and women dressers who kept dressing up other tourists. However, men and women had different dressing rooms.


Before entering the room, we had to put off our shoes and place them on a particular shelf against which a token was given. It was a spacious room with mattresses on the floor all covered with super white bed sheets, big mirrors on the walls and had a wide collection of colorful hairpins and flowers. Some were arranging the already returned kimonos, some were doing the hairdos and two ladies with utmost hospitality and smiling faces came to me to dress me up. Altogether, I was wrapped with almost four layers of cloth pieces; the third being a cotton inner jacket and on top of that I wore a huge cloth which was the final piece of Kimono with the ultimate silk fabric work. After wearing the final layer of the clothing, I was then tied with the colorful belt i.e. ‘obi’ that brought the complete look of the attire. This then followed a beautiful hairdo where I chose the hairpins myself that matched with my kimono and lastly had put on the getas (traditional wooden sandals). As I mentioned, men’s kimono is of solid colors, my husband wore a plain maroonish Kimono, got a kimono bag, his pair of getas and we were all set for the stroll. And the moment we walked out to the Arashiyama streets of Kyoto, it was indeed, one of the most spellbound experiences I ever had in life and Kyoto has forever taken a soft spot in my heart. In this context, I would say, never miss wearing a Kimono when you ever visit Japan especially in Arashiyama or Gion district of Kyoto and Tokyo’s Shibuya neighboring being the common tourist hot-spots with numerous beautiful Kimono rental shops.


Photo taken at Arashiyama Bamboo forest, Kyoto


Sometimes when I randomly sneak inside the Kimono stores in the malls, I don’t even dare to go inside and by this you can guess how weirdly these Kimonos would cost. High quality Kimono prices generally range from about 2 lakh yen to 50 lakh yen where sometimes it also goes beyond 70 lakh yen. Indeed, too shocking! In fact, there are no fixed prices of kimonos as it depends from stores to stores and places to places. Apart from the kimono cost, the obi/belt has to be purchased separately that may cost between 1 lakh yen to 10 lakh yen. Hence buying a kimono is really a hard nut to crack. However, there is a respite to buy and wear something in place of Kimono that also represents a great symbol of Japanese tradition and culture and this is known as ‘Yukata’. Yukatas are just the summer version of Kimono, made of cotton or linen and is easy to wear and also affordable to buy. So, if you happen to visit Japan and wanted to buy a kimono as a sign of Japan, you can go for Yukata which are readily available in malls and stores usually found in the range between 3000 yen to 10,000 yen.


Hence, this is all about the stunning traditional Japanese Kimono which is also available for tourist to put on, take on rent and stroll around the beautiful places of this land. People wear it and pose for photographs which give a strong vibe and quite a deeper knowledge about Japanese culture. At the end of my trip to Kyoto, I felt, just like the Kimonos which is a great symbol of pride and honor for the Japanese, people of Assam can also promote their culture through our traditional Muga Mekhela Chador or any of such variety that can eventually add a larger picture of our State and North East’s culture and traditions to the rest of the world.


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[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily

reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]

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