Beautiful, intricate and feminine: kimono is an iconic symbol of Japanese culture. But if you want to buy one of these wearable pieces of art, it could easily set you back thousands of US dollars. This is why kimono rental is so popular in Japan, both amongst locals and tourists – it’s an inexpensive way to experience this unique part of Japanese culture.
Exploring the city, visiting temples and shopping for souvenirs all feel that bit more special when you’re kitted out from head to toe in a gorgeous kimono and accessories. Plus, there are so many opportunities for great holiday snaps!
Rental Kimono Mine has ten branches in Kyushu, five of which are in Fukuoka City. They offer an inexpensive two-day rental plan (called “Osharegi Rental Plan”; runs from 10 am on the first day till 6 pm on the second; ¥3,800), and dressing is included free of charge. The cleaning charge is also included, so even on rainy days you can enjoy wearing kimono without worry. You don’t need to prepare or bring anything – just show up as you are, and the super-friendly staff will take care of the rest. And whether you’re petite, statuesque or somewhere in between, you can always find a kimono the right style and size for you. The convenient service and wide range of designs are what persuaded Fukuoka Now’s Jess McHugh to try kimono rental at Rental Kimono Mine.
On arrival at the Hakata branch of Rental Kimono Mine, I was greeted by the smiling faces of the super-friendly staff. My wet shoes were carefully packed away and I was invited to fill out a form with my details (including name, address, telephone number, height, and so on; romaji is ok! They’ll soon have English forms.) Then it was time to choose a kimono!
At the time of booking customers are asked for their height and shoe size (both in centimeters), so they had a range of correctly sized kimono waiting for me. I was shown a selection of five kimono which would fit my (for Japan) towering height, all different colors and styles. This was my first time wearing kimono, so I found it difficult to visualize which kimono would actually look good on me. Thankfully, the staff are happy to make recommendations based on what kind of “look” you are going for; I went for “modern kawaii (cute)” – after all, when in Rome (or rather, Fukuoka)…
I was informed that, if you prefer, you can come in a day early to make your selection. But don’t worry if you can’t, as there are always plenty of pretty kimono in stock on the day, in a variety of sizes and styles. You’re sure to find a kimono perfect for you!
Next, I needed to pick a nagajuban. These garments look like a sheer kimono, and are usually pale and plain except for the more intricate collars – this is because only the collar shows from underneath the kimono. I picked a white one with delicate pink flowers embroidered on the collar.
It was time to start the transformation! After wriggling my tootsies into some tabi (traditional Japanese socks), I was left to de-robe and put on a delicate, slip-like cotton garment. My dresser, a sweet woman who has been doing this for over ten years, then carefully placed rectangles of cotton padding around my decolletage; this is to make the feminine curve of one’s chest less distinct; kimono may be flamboyant in color and pattern, but the shape is rooted in traditional ideas of modesty – you want to cover your curves.
I then carefully put on my nagajuban and was strapped in with seemingly hundreds of meters of cloth ties. Then the dresser helped me put on the silky, vibrant kimono.
Once my kimono was carefully arranged and tied on with yet more sashes, it was time for the piece de resistance – the obi. Rental Kimono Mine has a large range of obi, so to remove some of the agony of choice, the dressers will put together a shortlist of five or so obi which suit your kimono. I opted for sunshine yellow, which was then carefully tied into an elaborate bow and fixed with a decorative pin. The whole process was surprisingly fast – the dressers worked with the lightning-quick hands despite the intricacy of the work!
If you choose to have your hair and makeup done, you’re in for a treat; the staff at Kimono Rental Mine are consummate professionals. As someone who doesn’t often wear makeup, I decided to leave it all in my makeup stylist’s hands (I had a flash of doubt when she reached for the orange eyeshadow, but I’m glad I trusted her). I emerged feeling like a pretty doll with poreless, flawless skin (kimono barbie).
During my makeup session, the hair stylist started working on my hair. I was given a sheet of hair styles to choose from, but in the end, I decided to trust in the enthusiastic stylist’s recommendation. She began eagerly beavering away; my curly, extremely non-Japanese hair, which she declared “fuwa fuwa” (soft), didn’t phase her. I emerged feeling elegant and ladylike; I think this was genuinely the best hair styling I’ve experience in Japan.
I was then given the chance to add one final floral flourish to my hair (for an extra fee). The stylists picked three or so hair accessories that they thought would go with my “look”, and I made the final selection – yellow to go with my obi. Looking into the mirror, I felt transformed.
I then picked my bag and my zori (sandals). Given I can never find Japanese shoes in my size, I was rather worried about the latter. But I didn’t have to shuffle along in shoes two sizes to small, as they had three pretty pairs of sandals in my size.
Borrowing a clear umbrella, I then set out to explore the local area. Passing the modern shopping mecca of Canal City, I made my way towards Kawabata Shotengai. As a foreigner in kimono, I certainly attracted a lot of attention – but all of it was positive. So many sweet elderly ladies came up to compliment me, happy that I was embracing traditional Japanese culture and fashion.
Kawabata Shotengai is one of Fukuoka’s oldest shopping arcades, and this 400 m long covered street is crammed with charming souvenir shops. It’s a great place to shop for traditional tea, sweets, washi (paper) and more, and is therefore packed with photo opportunities.
Looking for a profile picture that screams “Yes, I went to Japan!’? Then take a stroll around the ground of Kushida Jinja Shrine.
You are guaranteed to find a great photo background to make friends back home jealous of your Japanese adventure – profile picture opportunities abound, from red torii gates to fluttering rows of knotted omikuji (fortune-telling paper strip).
Despite the confining obi, I was beginning to get a bit peckish. Fukuya offers tasting of its various mentaiko (cod roe) products; they even have pretty ceramic bowls for you to taste mentaiko of varying levels of spiciness. Their cans of mentaiko make for tasty, spicy souvenirs.
The little alleyways in this area are full of stores with friendly shopkeepers always eager to say hi – and to compliment your kimono!
All too soon, it was time to make my way back to Rental Kimono Mine, where the lovely staff helped me remove my kimono (no extra charge). I had been called kirei (beautiful) more times in the space of that one hour than in the entire 18 months I’ve been living in Japan – taking off the kimono felt like losing a superpower. Though this was my first time wearing kimono, it won’t be my last – I’m definitely hooked!
Osharegi Rental Plan (incl. Kimono, obi, nagajuban, tabi (socks), dressing): ¥3,800 (excl. tax)
Hair styling: ¥1,800 (excl. tax)
Makeup: ¥1,200 (excl. tax)
Rental Kimono Mine
Address: 6-43 Gionmachi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Address: 1F Ekimachi 1-Chome Kashii, 1-11-1 Kashii-ekimae, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka
Address: 2F Lions Mansion Nishijin, 1-7-27 Nishijin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
Address: 1F Success Ohashi, 1-18-24 Ohashi, Minami-ku, Fukuoka
Address: 1-2F Well-Being Bldg., 1-15-24 Daimyo, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
Studio Mine (Photo Studio)
Address: 2F Gion Shibata Bldg., 6-43 Gionmachi, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka (above the Hakata branch)
Video shot by Shizuka Matsubara