Koto Concert (AKA: A Plethora of Kimono)

A friend of mine (and fellow kimono enthusiast) has been studying the koto for two years and had a concert today with her group.  Not only was the music great, but the kimono…sooooooo beautiful!  Most of the ladies were wearing houmongi, but one woman was in an oshima tsumugi and the other was wearing a gorgeous shibori kimono (maybe oshima, I didn’t get close enough to see her kimono, but the colour is right).

My friend is currently practicing for a kimono dressing competition next month.  She’ll have 8 minutes to completely dress herself in a furisode, create a fukurasuzume musubi (plump sparrow bow) using a biyosugata, and put it on.  Today was a great opportunity for her to practice and her group was impressed with the results.  So much so that when they introduced all the members of the group, the announcer made a point of saying…

“This is nani-nani-san.  She is from America.  She has been studying koto for two years.  Today, she is wearing her own kimono and she put it on herself.  (Audience: eeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiii!!! Sugoi!) Please stand up and show everyone!”  My friend then had to stand up and turn around for all to admire.

Just one more note before I show you the pictures, Japan has very strict privacy laws.  If I don’t have the person’s permission, I have to block out any identifying features which is why all the faces are blocked out.  I only have my friend’s permission.  And with that being said, enjoy the plethora of kimono I got to see today!


All the ladies dressed to impress


My friend with the younger members of the group and the sensei.


Playing the koto like a pro!


This was one of my favourites. I love how the green haneri stands out against the cream kimono.


The sensei of the group playing the shamisen.


A gorgeous shibori kimono.


I love the way the obi and kimono go together in this ensemble.


Drool. Drool. Drool.


The flute player wearing hakama. He was the only man in the group.


A gorgeous oshima kimono and haori set.


The otaiko of one of the obis. The first time the audience saw this obi, everyone (including me) was oooooing and aahhhing.


A very unique way of tying the obijime.


Her kimono from the front. Her group always insists that she wear a furisode because she is the youngest adult member.


And her obi from the back. I think she did an amazing job.


An alternative peace sign to show off the “pickers” (Sorry, I don’t know the proper name for them). She told me that they have to dip their fingers in egg white before putting them on so that they’ll stick to their fingers.


I wish I could have worn a kimono to this event, but the sad truth is that I overslept that morning and didn’t have enough time to dress.

Maiko Dressup: Take One!


This is a maiko, an apprentice geisha, and it’s a very popular tourist activity in Kyoto for people to dress up in kimono and get their makeup done in the traditional all-white face. There are lots of studios that provide this service, and nowadays you’re just as likely to see these tourists as you are to see an actual geisha or maiko. This is the story of my first experience dressing up as a maiko.

My first trip to Japan was in 2006. I was a solo backpacker with no clue what I was doing. I wanted to go to Gion Matsuri, and during the course of the day, I met two young women who had just returned from a working holiday in Canada. They were planning to do a maiko dressup later in the afternoon and they invited me along.

Now, this was eight years ago. And everything happened very quickly and in a language that I didn’t understand at the time. I don’t remember much about the actual experience. Some things that I do remember are…

I remember that the kimono were old and worn. Mine had some visible wear and damage, but I just chalked it up to it being a rental.

I remember that the wig hurt.

I remember that they had a small garden set up for people to take photos with their own camera.

I remember that we couldn’t go outside.

Here are some of the photos I took that day.

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But what I most remember about the experience was the reaction I got when I got home. I hadn’t told my parents about the photos. I wanted it to be a surprise and see if they recognized me. When I got home, this is the conversation that we had.


Me: I met a geisha in Kyoto and she was nice enough to let me take photos of her.

I show the picture.

Mom: oh very nice.

Dad: Looks like a man.

Me: Dad that’s me!



Seriously, Best. Reaction. Ever. I still laugh about it to this day. And honestly, I can’t quite bring myself to disagree with my dad. Maiko makeup just didn’t quite work on me.  This time.

My First Kimono

I got my first kimono in Kyoto during a trip in 2006. Here it is.


I had come to Japan as a tourist, and I knew nothing about kimono except for (a) I thought they were beautiful, and (b) I wanted one as a souvenir.  I had no idea what to look for except what was aesthetically pleasing to me.  I walked into a used kimono store and was looking around for The Perfect Kimono.  At the time, I thought it would be the only kimono I would ever own, and I didn’t want to regret my decision.  I picked this one because it has all my favourite colours in it, purple, pink, and blue.  I remember the shopkeeper telling me it was a very formal kimono (he probably told me it was a furisode, but I spoke no Japanese at the time and I couldn’t remember the word.)

Then, I wanted to get an obi to go with it.  Again, not knowing anything about kimono, I asked the shopkeeper what she would recommend.  She brought out a pink hanhaba obi.  She told me it would be easier for me, as a foreigner, to tie it.  At the time, I accepted it.  Now, I cringe at the thought.  After living in Japan for several years and studying kimono for two, I know what a faux-pas that is.

I also didn’t get any undergarments.  No nagajuban, no datejime, no koshihimo.  Just a karihimo that the shopkeeper threw in.  I thought I was set and ready to wear my kimono.  But I also realized that I needed footwear.  I spotted a pair of geta at the local market (again, I knew nothing) that had straps that matched the pink in the kimono.  I got them, but I’m proud to say that I never wore them.  Not because  I learned better, but because I realized that they were too small for me.

So to summarize, my first ever kimono outfit consisted of one furisode, one karihimo, one hanhaba obi, and one pair of geta.  Sigh.

Everyone starts somewhere.  This is where I started.  I’m going to go hide in a hole now and burn any pictures I have of me wearing that embarrassing combination.