I was about four years old when I walked into that toy store and laid my eyes on the tiny doll with black hair and red lips, wearing a beautiful red dress with prints all over it. It was the first time I saw anything that looked like a kimono and I loved it. Ever since I've dreamed of wearing one myself.
Originally, "kimono" (着物, きもの) was the Japanese word for clothing. Ki 着 meaning "wearing" (from the shoulders down) and mono 物 meaning "thing".
But in more recent years, the word has been used to refer specifically to the traditional Japanese garment.
At the day of my 18th birthday I moved to Japan for a year and made a childhood dream become a reality. During the time I spend in Japan I studied the Japanese tea ceremony, also known as sado (茶道) and translated as the Way of the Tea. Just like the kimono, the way of the tea is a traditional piece of art, elegant and full of history and story telling. The two are in fact deeply intertwined as many of the movements and components of tea ceremonies evolved from the wearing of kimono. During our tea ceremonie classes we would practice in our regular school uniforms while going through the movements as if we were wearing a kimono.
Performing the Tea Ceremony at a hotel during the 'Best for Women' gathering in Nara, 2009.
Towards the end of the year I was given a wonderful opportunity. I got invited by my tea ceremony teachers for a special women's gathering event and was asked to perform on the formal occasion. That meant one thing for sure, I had to wear a kimono.
It was during the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912) when the government encouraged people to adopt Western clothing styles and the formal kimono was replaced by the more convenient Western clothes and yukata (originally worn as a bathrobe) as everyday wear. For many the complexity of kimono-wearing and the cumbersome sandals they required became a hindrance. Whenever I'm in Japan I often still hear complaints about the kimono being too tight, uncomfortable and therefore tiring to wear for too long. Not to mention the time it takes to get dressed. I've been dressed by professionals and depending on the type of kimono, number of layers and obi fold, it can easily take up a full hour.
Beautifully styled obi with the high quality bright red kimono I wore during the new years festival in 2016, Nara. I was dressed by a professional at home as a new years gift from my host family.
After the year I spend in Nara and Osaka I've been revisiting the country, five times to be exact. I've been back for all kinds of different reasons, but no matter the occasion, I've always made sure to wear a kimono at least once during every visit. By now I've worn a kimono 9+ times in many different colours and styles. I've even worn a bridal one. To be honest, I do not find it uncomfortable at all. Most of the times I've worn the kimono throughout the entire day and tried to procrastinate the moment of undressing, simply because I love wearing it that much. It makes me feel elegant, feminine and with all the core binding it also keeps your body in a great posture. Most of all, for me personally, it just feels so right. Every single time I get to wear such a gorgeous piece of art, it almost feels like arriving.
A bridal Kimono I wore for my music video in Osaka in 2014. The music brought traditional instruments and modern ones together and we tried to visualize that concept in the clip too. Therefore the kimono isn't styled the way it should on a traditional wedding.
To dress oneself in a kimono is not to be underestimated. Actually there are kimono dressing classes and people have to learn how to wear a kimono and tie obi in order to be able to wear kimono (formal) properly. Professionals are hired for special occasions like weddings, for both the bride and often the guests. Luckily my Japanese host mother is one of those kimono enthusiasts who has been studying the art of kimono dressing for years now. She loves dressing me, especially seeing she doesn't have many people to practice on, and I absolutely love to get dressed by her. It's a win-win.
A kimono worn at the beautiful gardens of Kyoto, 2014. Dressed, styled and owned by my Japanese mother.
A bright and long sleeve kimono style known as 'furisode' (the most formal style of kimono worn by young unmarried women in Japan). Dressed, styled and owned by my Japanese mother.
Even though the kimono isn't worn that often nowadays, they are still an important part of cultural traditions. The special occasions you will most likely see them worn are weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies, or other special events, such as summer festivals.
Elegant silken kimono with a soft design worn at a wedding at the Ritz Carlton Osaka, 2017.
My friend Yuka and I wearing colourful kimono while visiting the park to watch the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, 2017. The cherry blossom (Sakura) only blooms two weeks a year and is always a special celebration with festival stands all around the park.
Most people nowadays don't even own a kimono anymore. On special occasions when a kimono is required they would rent one at a specialized kimono rental store.
Especially in the bigger cities there has been an increase in rental stores targeting foreigners as tourism has increased greatly over the past few years. These kimonos are often of a lesser quality and therefor much more affordable for a day of fun. Although you won't see many locals roaming around the streets in kimono when there isn't a special occasion for it, there are increasingly more tourists walking around experiencing the wearing of the beautiful garment. It's nice to see that this even includes young local tourists as you will often see groups of friends on a day out together, all wearing a kimono. I can't help but love that sight!
A rental kimono from a little rental company in Kyoto, 2015.
They also offer men's kimono at the rental shop. For tall foreigners it's always a challenge to get the right size though. I'm used to having shorter sleeves for example.
To own a traditional hand sewn kimono of high quality made with 100 procent silk can cost one tens of thousands of dollars. But not to worry, lesser quality, yet still incredibly gorgeous kimonos, can easily be found these days in second hand stores. There are even some specialized vintage kimono shops. Prices here can range from 10 dollars to hundreds of dollars, depending on the quality and state of the garment. Kimono hunting is something I do with my Japanese mother every time I visit her. She's always on the look for new pieces for her kimono dressing collection and knows the best places for an absolute bargain. Seeing she lives in the countryside, these places aren't easily accessible for tourists and as local as they come.
My Japanese mother and I drinking tea at a traditional tea ceremony house in Nara Park, 2018. Both our kimono are found at a vintage shop in Nara.
With my deep love for the kimono I've purchased multiple pieces over the years with the idea to have some of them being re-modeled into something more casual. To make sure that they aren't going to waste and I still get to enjoy the beautiful fabric whenever I'm not in Japan. Currently one of my designer friends in the Netherlands, Kimberley Franken, is working on a full silken kimono (even the tread is silken) which I bought in Osaka. To honour the original piece as much as possible we settled on a design that asks for minimal adjustments. I recently found out she has even chosen to do all the adjustments by hand as all the stitches in the kimono are originally hand stitched and she wants to continue that tradition to truly honour the piece.
Two Japanese girls wearing kimono with modern styling in Nara Park, 2018. Boots instead of sandals, a high neck lace top underneath the kimono and modern accessories.