Let’s say that prior to this wonderful experience in Kyoto, I had very little knowledge about kimonos and yukatas. I could just about tell them apart; I knew that one wears a kimono in colder seasons and more formal occasions, whilst one would wear a yukata in summer and more casual situations.
At first, I wanted to rent a kimono. There are a lot of shops in Kyoto at which you can rent a kimono for the day. When I was researching and comparing prices of different rental plans online, I came across used kimono shops in Kyoto.
Intrigued, I started to look around and after while, I found this little gem in the heart of Kyoto, Ochikochiya.
As you can already tell from the title of this post, I bought my very first traditional kimono with them. Today, let me share with you my experience with Ochikochiya went; from getting dressed in kimonos to choosing my perfect traditional kimono, and some important things I learnt during my time at this cute little kimono shop in Kyoto.
Before my visit to Ochikochiya, I kind of already had a picture about how my experience would go. During my online research I’ve read all the amazing reviews about them left by other visitors. I also had a visual of how the shop looks like, from all the pictures on Google, so you would think I was well-prepared.
Upon entering the shop, I was still delightfully surprised. I felt like I stepped into an old kimono shop back in the 1900s.
The layout of the shop was clean, minimalistic and straight-forward. My eyes glanced around the room; stacks of neatly-organised fabrics piled up against the walls, brightly-coloured traditional japanese dolls (人形, ningyō) stood neatly on a wooden table, and cute little getas placed side-by-side right next to the stairs leading to upstairs.
A young man in a somber kimono greeted us upon entering into the shop.
Just when we were taking off our shoes at the foyer, an elderly women in a muted violet kimono came out from behind the shop. I immediately recognised her face from the many pictures online. She had a kind smile that reminded me of my own grandmother.
I told her that I was looking for a pre-loved kimono and she led me to the floor upstairs.
Finding ‘The One’
Touching a real silk kimono for the first time was a strange revelation to me. The fabric felt heavier than I thought, but at the same time it felt like holding cool liquid in my hands. I also realised that I prefer red and pink tones, so I chose a few kimonos that had reds and pinks in them to try on.
Getting dressed in a kimono felt unfamiliar, yet at the same time familiar. There is a correct order and right way to each step. I looked down to glance at her small grey head. The soft sound of swift and dexterous hands moving against rustling silk filled the atmosphere.
As she was dressing me, the shop owner explained the different components of a kimono and narrated the meticulous process of putting one on. She tried to provide as many details as possible, pausing once in awhile to make a motion with her hands whilst thinking about the English equivalent.
I asked her a wide range of questions — from pregnant women wearing kimonos to how one pees in a kimono. For the latter question, she pulled out a nearby mannequin to demonstrate.
Given the length it takes to put on a kimono, you would think that she would be tired from all the kimonos I tried on. On the contrary, she insisted that I try on each item and her kind face showed nary a wrinkle of impatience.
My First Kimono
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally decided on my kimono. I weighed and compared the prices, colours and style I wished to go for.
In the end, I chose an apricot kimono with shibori dots all over it. The shop owner told me that shibori, is a Japanese resist dying technique that is hand-made. Each hand-made white dot on my kimono produced a raised dot effect against the smooth silk.
For the obi, I chose a violet hanhaba obi (casual obi sash) instead of a fukuro obi (formal box-style obi). The rich violet contrasted beautifully against the soft apricot.
You might be wondering, what do you wear underneath a kimono? Well, traditionally, women wear a hanjuban, which looks like a thinner kimono.
Initially I opted for a haneri (a strip of white collar) to wear underneath my kimono. However, when the shop owner was dressing me, I could see peeks of pink and white through the gap of her kimono sleeves and it looked so pretty that I decided to get my own hanjuban as well.
After trying a few that had longer sleeve lengths than my kimono, I chose a vintage red and white hanjuban that was almost 90 years old.
The kimono, hanjuban, obi sash, and the strings to hold them in place all came to less than ¥17,000. The total was still much lower than my initial budget and I was really pleased about this. There was a younger girl waiting for us at the counter downstairs.
As the girl in the navy blue kimono handled my payment, I watched as the shop owner smoothed, folded, and wrapped my kimono set in soft paper.
The blue package felt heavy in one hand, whilst the other was slowly sliding the door panel shut.
I turned back to look at the kimono shop one last time, and caught a glimpse of two bowed heads behind the glass panels, one grey, one black, both bidding goodbye.