Kimono in the Heart of Tokyo
Tokyo’s Harajuku district is known for its wild fashion and youth culture, but just off the main street of Takeshita Dori is a hidden gem for only the most in-the-know travelers: a traditional kimono atelier like no other. This small shop is run by a woman who sees kimonos as an important way for foreigners to bond with Japan.
A Cultural Heritage Reborn
In modern times, the role of kimono in Japanese life has changed greatly. Less than a century ago, they were still common everyday wear and different styles of kimono carried both profound and mundane meanings. While some Japanese women still might own a kimono inherited from a family member, today you rarely find them being worn outside of formal occasions or on holidays. In fact, the most ubiquitous kimono for locals nowadays is the casual yukata, worn at summer festivals and friendly gatherings.
Although the kimono is no longer used as an everyday item, it has gained importance as a cultural teaching tool. Delightfully youthful Kahori – all smiles and abuzz with friendly English chatter – runs her own kimono atelier in Harajuku. Her mother Keiko founded the family’s original kimono shop in 1959 and operated it successfully for more than 50 years. Kahori says her mother expected the business to close upon her retirement, but her daughter had other plans. Upon returning from university in Norway, Kahori took over the business and oversaw a move to the current location and subsequent rebirth.
Dressing Up in Tangible Culture
This is not an upscale fashion studio, nor is it a cheap rental outlet for tourists. Kahori’s humble shop is a world of beautiful fabric and carefully tied knots that you would never assume is located in a nondescript apartment building. Kahori masterfully manages customer service and everyday operations but the real star of her shop is the kimono collection itself. Her family’s assortment of stunning outfits ensures that guests will always find the perfect pattern and color that fits their taste. There is even a selection of historical antique kimono only available to select guests.
Guests can pick out a kimono, and then watch as Kahori and her assistant use their expertise to find matching accessories to create the perfect ensemble. For ladies, hair and makeup can be added to the preparation process. The act of being dressed in traditional garb is quite enjoyable for many guests, as they are shocked to find how much work goes into what seems at first glance to be a simple garment. Kahori feels that the wearing of the kimono is in itself an exercise in cultural appreciation. While she wants foreign visitors to have fun, she also hopes that they can find awe and respect in the level of detail that goes into wearing a kimono.
Once dressed, guests are given the option of visiting a variety of local venues to take pictures in their striking outfits. Peaceful Togo Shrine is located nearby, and the forested paths of the famous Meiji Shrine are also within walking distance. Sometimes guests will request a photoshoot on the busy streets of Harajuku or Shibuya, where the juxtaposition of modern scenery and traditional kimono makes for a creative combination. Photos by a professional photographer or the shop staff can be arranged as part of the activity package.
Rethinking the Role of Kimono
By dressing foreign visitors in an authentic kimono in her shop, Kahori seeks to make the world of the kimono understandable to outsiders. She scoffs at formal workshops that place too much emphasis on the ritual of putting on the kimono itself, finding little value in following rules for rules’ sake. The casual and playful approach that foreigners take to wearing kimono inspired Kahori to continue her mother’s business for a new audience. Whether her guests are seeking to try on a casual yukata or a multi-layered formal kimono, Kahori knows that the very act of wearing a kimono is an important cultural activity that she is proud to be a part of.
The Art of Travel is happy to introduce our guests to this enchanting kimono expert during their time in Tokyo, opening the door to the most exclusive antique kimonos available at her shop. Try on a historical garment for yourself and enjoy a stroll through the neighborhood or a tasteful photoshoot in a nearby shrine.