Kimono are an undeniable symbol of Japan – their elegant and intricate patterns are woven from the history and culture of the country. Every year (with certain… pandemic exceptions), thousands of tourists flock to kimono rental shops for their chance to wear these garments. There are just as many shops all across Japan happy to oblige.
The majority of shops are set up assembly line style – choose your kimono (or oftentimes, yukata), choose an obi, grab some accessories, and have your hair thrown up in one of the six pre-approved styles. Unless you’re at a smaller, local shop run by a (usually older) lady who is passionate about kimono, the whole process can feel a bit… cheap, and rushed.
With very little guidance, you’re haphazardly thrown into the world of kimono. For some, it may not matter. Maybe they just want to dress up, look cute, and take some photos for the ‘gram. But there’s so much more to kimono than polyester sparkles and out-of-season patterns. When I tried this kind of mass-market kimono rental for myself, I was left feeling a bit disappointed…
Lucky, through the power of social media, I was able to find a few people who have immersed themselves in all things kimono. I saw beautiful photos of happy looking visitors in impeccably styled kimono. The same account kept coming up again and again: Inkimono, the business run by Staisa Matsumoto.
I decided to send an inquiry about a photoshoot – a present to myself for my 30th birthday. From the website, I learned that it wouldn’t just be a photoshoot, but also a whole lecture on the world of kimono. Via email, Stasia asked about what I was interested in – what kimono style I preferred and where I was interested in taking the photos. I requested a hakama (because I absolutely love the style but have never gotten the chance to wear one), a mix of urban and traditional backgrounds, and if the shoot could somehow be related to food.
My appointment in March started in the morning. I made my way to Asakusa, where the shop is tucked away deep on a local street. A traditional Polish dress stood in the window surrounded by kimono. Staisa greeted me, and I was led into the tatami floor shop.
Stasia isn’t just passionate about kimono – she’s made it her business to know everything about them. She’s studied, been certified, and has total creative control. With the exception of make-up, she takes charge of every part of the experience. She gives you an explanation of the history of kimono, the different types and what they are used for, examples of different patterns, and the realities of the industry today.
She styles your hair, selects the clothing based on your preferences, dresses you, styles the outfit, and gets you perfectly prepared for your photoshoot.
She also does all the photography, carrying a bag of props, lenses, and other camera accessories, while simultaneously directing you into natural and flattering poses with ease. And finally, after the shoot is finished and you’ve gone home, she selects and edits the photos, so that each customer ends up with a great set of beautiful, professional photos. She does it all, and I was very excited for us to get started.
After having my makeup done (by the incredibly talented and friendly Joyce Drummond), I sat down on the tatami to learn a little more about the world of kimono. Stasia taught me so many different things as I frantically scribbled into my notebook. I’ll share a few highlights of some of the things I learned below. (To get the full experience, I highly recommend making an appointment with her or attending one of her online lectures.)
• Before the introduction of western style clothing, kimono was simply the word for clothing. Now it refers to the garment we associate with kimono today.
• The increase in tourists to Asakusa has led to an increase of shops offering dressing services. However, most rental shops do not follow proper dressing or kimono rules about seasonal patterns, nor do they provide any explanation on how kimono should be worn. This is part of what inspired Stasia to include a lecture as part of her business.
• Kimonos are seasonal, and the proper order is to wear things pre-season or “saki dori.” For example, a kimono featuring plum blossoms would be worn in January, right before they bloom in February.
• Kimonos and yukata are constantly confused, but a kimono is not a yukata. Kimono require two layers of undergarments and a collar, while yukata do not. Yukata were primarily worn as a bathrobe at ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) until the 80s, when they started to be marketed as a lighter option for the summer. The kimono business boomed during the bubble economy, but took a sharp downturn after the burst. Following the burst, yukata started being marketed as “cute” and “causal” to appeal to younger customers.
After the fascinating lecture, it was time to get dressed. I was thrilled with Stasia’s choices for my outfit – a deep navy hakama skirt paired with a light, soft gold kimono. But I was most excited about the obi covered with sweets like cake and ice cream, and the custom-made bento as my obidome (an accessory for the obi)! I felt like the choices really reflected my desire to incorporate food without making it look over the top. It was the perfect outfit for my Taisho era alter ego.
We walked through and shot in different locations of the shita machi (downtown) streets near the shop. Stasia coached me through different poses and what to do with my hands. It was really helpful having someone else take on the challenge of posing for photos, something that has never really come naturally to me.
Stasia took me to some great spots that really captured the East Tokyo vibe I wanted, as well as a few shots outside of restaurants and grocers. I got to incorporate my sakura dango for a few of the photos, which ended up being some of my favorite from the day.
As we were walking back from shooting our photos, we took a quick detour into a secondhand shop. Stasia had instantly spotted a pair of brown hakama boots, and was pleased to find that they were her size. “You know, this is best time to find hakama boots; after Coming of Age day a bunch of these end up for sale in secondhand shops and online.” I made note of that – I wanted a cute pair myself. The whole time we were shooting was like that – I was constantly learning more random facts about kimono, the neighborhood, and photography. She made the whole experience so comfortable and interesting; it felt a bit like spending an afternoon with a very creative and knowledgeable friend.
Returning to the shop, it was back to business. I took off the outfit I’d grown so fond of, and stepped out of my Taisho romance. My hair and make-up still looked great; way too nice for my jeans, jacket and sneakers combo. After paying the rest of my bill, Stasia told me she would edit and send the photos to me within a few weeks. I was a bit sad it was over, but really looking forward to seeing the photos. I left the shop and went for a walk around Asakusa to enjoy the sunset near Sensoji.
As promised, a few weeks later the photos appeared in my inbox. I was beyond pleased – as you’ve seen, the photos turned out great. It really was a great birthday gift (thanks, me)!
The whole photo shoot was a lot of fun. I learned so much, and had a great time feeling like a model decked out in my hakama. For an unforgettable experience wearing kimono, I can’t recommend Stasia enough. It’s not easy for a young, foreign woman to break into the exclusive old boys’ club that makes up the world of kimono, but Stasia’s work ethic and determination have created a successful business that merges all her talents together.
Address: 6 Chome-42-3 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032