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kimono watching

In addition to history, culture, art, and food, we would add one more reason to the list of rich experiences that make Kyoto a must-see destination: it just may be the best place in Japan to people-watch.

Not only does Kyoto attract far more Japanese tourists than foreigners, but also many of them opt to see the city in style, renting out traditional outfits for their sightseeing excursions.

Kimono rental shops are a dime a dozen in Kyoto. The oldest of them have been in business for nearly two centuries and boast tens of thousands of kimonos and yukatas for rent.

For just $40-50 it’s possible to rent a traditional Japanese outfit for an entire day of inspired (Instagrammable) sightseeing.

Of course, that’s just the base package. The rental shops can also do your hair and add all sorts of accessories for an additional fee.

And if strolling around in geta (clogs) all day, is not one’s idea of fun, it is also possible to pay a fee and do a Kyoto photo shoot without ever setting foot outside the kimono rental store.

While most of the traditionally garbed tourists contented themselves with snapping selfies, we also saw quite a few visitors with professional photographers in tow.

Naturally, the city’s more famous temples, palaces, and shrines also serve as a backdrop for special occasions, and we saw a number of wedding and ceremonial photo shoots.

While D enjoyed sneaking candid shots of our fellow travelers, S was more interested in spotting a real geisha. There are several geisha districts in Kyoto, most of them clustered around the well-preserved neighborhood of Gion.

Of course, because the ochaya where geisha perform are exclusive establishments, tourists rarely catch even a glimpse of this aspect of Japanese culture. As luck would have it, a taxi with a couple of geisha stopped at a traffic light just as we entered Gion.

Because wandering from shrine to temple was bound to get tiresome for Munchkin, we kept him entertained by spotting colorfully attired tourists who were strolling around the city’s markets or visiting the same sites as us.

Though he counted dozens of outfits, Munchkin never did quite get the hang of the word, instead producing something closer to “komodo” than “kimono” and forcing us into a repetitive game of disambiguation.

And our explanation about Komodo dragons led to further confusion given the prevalence of dragons in Japanese art and temple decorations – and the total absence therein of actual Komodo dragons.

We kept Junebug similarly occupied. She never got into the counting game, but she had a great time calling out the colors of the kimonos we passed.

Since learning her colors a few weeks ago, Junebug has decided that pink is her favorite. Her fervor for it runs deep. “I want pink!” she’d shout if too much time elapsed between one colorful kimono sighting and the next.

Incidentally, Junebug – who has been sucking up new vocabulary like a vacuum – never learned the word “kimono,” but more than a week after our return to Manila she still uses her adorable “ayigato,” which made the Japanese swoon with delight and to which the Filipinos are rightly impervious.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Geisha culture fascinates me! I have to visit Kyoto!!!

    November 12, 2019
    • Apparently, there are some hotels/online companies that can facilitate an ochaya visit for foreigners — for a hefty price. So that’s an option, depending on the extent of your fascination.

      November 13, 2019

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