The Art of a Japanese Kimono

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For those who have been following my style and travels for the last few years, you’ll know that I always try to incorporate culture or try to highlight specific brands that call my destination home. Whether it be Aran sweaters for Ireland, fair isle knits for my favorite Nordic destinations, or even an ao dai for Vietnam to celebrate Lunar New Year, as a fashion blogger I like to show respect for the country I am visiting by incorporating traditional fashion into my own looks. Before traveling to Japan, there was one piece I knew I needed to pack in my suitcase – a traditional Japanese kimono.

Dressing in a vintage Japanese kimono did not feel like a costume, nor should it feel that way. It felt like I was wearing a piece of art. It felt like I was wearing a piece of Japan’s history. Up until the 19th century, the kimono was the traditional form of clothing worn by everyone in the country. In fact, the word “kimono” is Japanese for “clothing.” Kimonos represent Japan’s heritage and culture, and they are one of the most universally recognized types of clothing. Originated over 1000 years ago during the Heian Period, kimonos are still worn today for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies. By 1200 AD, kimonos were an everyday clothing choice, with layering becoming common and the obi belt being worn to keep the layers together. By the 1600s, kimono making was a renowned art, and vintage family kimono began being passed down from generation to generation. Over time, some kimonos became so expensive that one kimono would cost thousands of dollars.

There are different types of kimonos worn by women. During the Edo Period between 1603 and 1868, the furisode became a very popular kimono worn by unmarried women. The dramatically large, swinging sleeves was a means of showing sentiment and also that a young woman was ready to get married. When I began researching which kimono I wanted to wear in Japan, I ended up selecting an Ofurisode kimono, where the sleeves touch the ground. Not only did I feel it expressed femininity, but as an unmarried woman I felt it was very appropriate.

One question I had was would the Japanese feel offended by a Western woman wearing a furisode kimono? I was prepared to get confused or disappointed looks, or even receive hateful comments. To my surprise, I didn’t encounter anyone who took offense. In fact, I had the opposite reaction. The Japanese were so touched that I wanted to learn more about their fashion history and their culture. They felt it was a sign of respect, not disrespect. Considering I wanted to wear a kimono to show as a sign of respect for their heritage and culture, I was glad to see they understood I meant no harm.

I found my kimono on Etsy from a woman in Japan who has a collection of vintage kimonos. Her shop has sales often during the year, and I bought my kimono during one of her end of the year sales. Unfortunately due to shipping restrictions during the pandemic, she has temporarily suspended her shop. In the meantime, I have another favorite Etsy shop that sells vintage furisodes. I currently have my eye on this one, this one, and this one.

You can rent kimonos while you are in Japan, with many kimono shops in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Sapporo, and Otaru offering to help dress you for the day (the layering of Japanese kimonos can be quite complicated if not fitted properly).

I chose to buy my kimono because not only is it vintage and exquisitely beautiful (the silk is absolutely gorgeous in person!), but with my close proximity to Japan from Hong Kong, I will most likely be visiting Japan often and will want to bring my own kimono for each visit.

I highly recommend dressing in a kimono for your visit to Japan. Not only are you getting a true taste of Japan’s most iconic fashion piece, it’s also a great way to truly learn more about and understand their incredible culture and history.

Would you want to wear a kimono in Japan?

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