When I first discovered Kyoto last century, I fell in love with the clacking sound of the geta on the cobblestone alleyways of Pontocho and the glimpse of a geisha as she stepped out of the taxi on her way to the hanamachi (flower districts) of Gion. Little did I know, but people have been mesmerized by these moments for centuries.
No matter what they say,
I love Gion.
Even in my sleep
The sound of water
Flows beneath my pillow
- Yoshii Isamu (1886-1960)
Sometimes these moments are all too fleeting. Sometimes, in the desire to capture this moment forever, you may even want to be a Geisha, if even only for a day. If only I could buy that drop-dead gorgeous two-million-yen kimono. If only I could dress and walk like a geisha.
Well, now you can. At the Kozai Yuzen-en and Kimono Design Gallery, you can be transformed into a geiko (Kyoto Geisha) by professional Geisha dressers and makeup artists. A professional geisha photographer is at hand to capture your best side, and with up to three hours to parade in the scenic garden and historic Kyoto style buildings, you too can enjoy instant glamour starting from 10,500 yen, with a CD of professionally done photographs for another 3,000 yen. For those with limited time or budget, they also offer a Maiko makeover plan.
I was surprised by the skill required to put on a kimono properly, as a typical outfit includes up 12 or more separate pieces that that are worn, matched, and secured in a very specific way. Actually, many Kyoto-ites these days would find it difficult to do it unaided if they don’t wear kimonos often, it is like remembering how to tie a bow tie unaided when the last time you tied one was at the prom or at your best friend’s wedding. Actually the last time I wore traditional Japanese attire was at my wedding, as I was more than glad to have a professional dresser at hand in the hotel. The last thing I wanted was to wear something the wrong way to be captured for all time. And speaking of weddings, there are plenty of places to get married the traditional Kyoto way, but more on that in another article.
The team at the Kozai Yuzen-en and Kimono Design Gallery are so knowledgeable! I didn’t realise every pattern and motif had its own symbolism and subtle sign of social status, and different kimonos should be selected reflecting the person's age, marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion. But of course, if you wanted that fetching red or purple kimono, you are more than welcome to take photographs in it.
While you are strolling around the Kozai Yuzen-en and Kimono Design Gallery, take a look at the wonderful displays of kimono throughout the ages. Some of the kimonos are lovingly restored from 150 years ago, and their design reflects the beauty of the Meiji period. These displays change each season, and may give you some ideas as to what you would like to wear. Even though the website for Kimono hire is in Japanese, the team speak reasonable English and are keen to show the beauty of kimonos to overseas visitors. Their love for beautiful kimono is amazing, so much so that they recently presented their catalogue at the Kyoto Traditional Handcraft Seminars down under in Australia, which was jointly hosted by Japantourist and the Kansai Traditional handicraft volunteer guide association (KADEKO).