Disclaimer: This Kimono experience in Kyoto was provided as a free sample by JAPANiCAN. No part of this blog post/review is influenced. All opinions are honest and our own.

If you have visited Japan or are currently living in Japan, you might notice that there are a number of ladies in a kimono or yukata attire while sightseeing.

A group of kimono girls setting up their tripod for groupie
Kimono girls setting up their tripod for a “groupie.”

Usually, they are Japanese, although some are tourists from other countries.

In Tokyo, the popular area where you can see people sightseeing in kimonos is Asakusa. In the Kanagawa area, it’s Kamakura. In Kyoto, probably due to it being the original capital of Japan, you may see many more.

The pattern here is that the more traditional the tourist attraction is, the more you will see Japanese tourists and foreign tourists wearing kimonos as they sightsee. I have always wondered why they do this, though I have my own ideas as to the reasons.

First, people think it’s cool to wear such traditional clothing while you sightsee a more traditional Japanese place; a means to recapture that historical feel. Second, and most likely considering the world we currently find ourselves, it looks good on social media accounts.

The second reason is probably the common reason for many who do this. But for me, the first reason was my motivation, since I don’t really have much time for Instagram or Facebook sharing. So the experience of wearing a kimono is enough of a reason to do it.

Embarrassing as this may seem, I have been living in Japan for 3 years now but have never worn one. My busy lifestyle (even before having a baby) didn’t permit me to do so. Also, I was always discouraged of the price when renting one.

Another reason I haven’t worn one is that I might be the most unfashionable person you will ever meet, outside of my husband. You see, I don’t really like dressing up, getting my hair done, or wearing layers of make-up.

But deep down I still really wanted to wear one, as long as a professional or experienced person will help me dress up, and most importantly, it’s something I have budgeted for.

Last week, I visited Kyoto for the first time with my husband and our (very) busy toddler.

Part of the trip planning was seeing the old part of Kyoto, particularly the Gion district, where I wanted to sightsee in a traditional kimono.

I almost booked my own session through a shop near Kiyomizudera, when a representative from JAPANiCAN contacted me asking if I wanted to sample some of their tours at no cost. I gladly accepted and was delighted to see a kimono rental tour in Kyoto during our visit.

Please note that in exchange, we needed to write a review of their service, include an affiliate link, and fill out a survey.

Saganokan Shijo Kimono Rental (booked through JAPANiCAN)

The kimono rental company offered on the JAPANiCAN site is Saganokan Shijo.

I researched this kimono shop and it appears that it is their main Kimono rental shop in Kyoto (near Karasuma Station) and they have several others in Tokyo as well. Their website is mainly in Japanese, and even their name on Google Maps is in Japanese (usually there is a romanized or translated name).

So I am assuming that this kimono rental company isn’t really geared towards accepting foreigner customers and mainly caters Japanese people which is why JAPANiCAN served as an aggregator between them and English-speaking tourists.

However, upon browsing around the Saganokan website, I finally found the booking website in English which is in the URL of arthousetexas.org. The domain though seemed somehow disconnected to what they’re really offering considering it’s a kimono rental.

The Kimono Rental Experience

The price listed on JAPANiCAN site is 7,500 yen per person and is consisted of Kimono rental where you can walk around Kyoto for a day (just return it before 5:30 p.m.), hairstyling for women, and a commemorative photo. Same price for men even though hairstyle isn’t included.

There’s another package listed on JAPANiCAN without the commemorative photo which was 5,000 yen only.

Finding the location: The directions they provided in the email were short and to the point, however, while trying to exit the train station we found that the directions were missing one key point; they didn’t indicate which exit to take to go the shop.

Karasuma Station has many exits, but the directions seemed to start from just outside the station as if you knew which exit was needed. Fortunately, Google maps helped us find the place; Exit 24.

From there, it was just about a 2-3 minute walk. The Saganokan shop actually occupies all 5 floors of the building, but the second floor is where the Kimono rentals are.

The receiving area: We were warmly welcomed by the front desk staff (as opposed to some reviews about Saganokan, which stated that their staff was rude, I believe the staff is no longer working there since we were welcomed nicely) and handed a form to fill out. Just some basic information about you, like name, phone number, and hotel location.

Then a very nice man, who happened to be the photographer as well, came to us and explained the process in detail. His English is good so no worries about language barrier here. He explained that to start we needed to choose the kimono from a large variety of options, well, a large women’s section.

They also have a Premium selection of fine quality fabric authentic kimonos where you pay additional 1,500 yen. Once you have chosen your kimono you then proceed to the dressing area and are given a bag and a tabi (Japanese socks) for your belongings.

For men, it’s the same process on the same floor, but in a different section.

Please note that we also had a baby in the stroller, so if you have a baby, make sure that he/she is in the stroller and have something to be busy about while both of you dress up. Or you can just alternate, one should dress up first while the other waits.

Choosing your kimono: They have quite a large selection of Kimonos. It was very hard to choose because they were all beautiful, each displaying beautifully vibrant colors. I chose a kimono that’s safe enough to match my skin tone and also my favorite color.

Other girls were really very serious about choosing theirs. I remember some of them arrived earlier than us and they were still choosing their kimono as soon as I got done choosing mine.

After choosing my kimono, I proceeded to the dressing area and was surprised that there were more people there. I felt a little intimidated at first as I was the only foreigner Asian and some looked at me like I had three heads.

For the men out there, the men’s selection was much smaller than the women’s section, and my husband, who is nearly 6 ft 1 in, or 184 cm tall, was in the absolute largest kimono they had available. So, if you’re bigger than that, you may be out of luck. Also, note that even the men are dressed by women.

Dressing up: I put on the tabi (Japanese socks) and took off my clothes except for my thermal wears and put in the bag that was provided earlier, which I was glad I was wearing.

I saw some ladies only wearing bras and underwear and I wondered how they could survive the cold outside when they wear the kimono without any thermals.

The woman who helped me spoke very little English and we were just communicating through improvised sign language. She put on my juban or the kimono undershirt. After that, I was assisted by the hairdresser and did my hair.

She was so quick! My hair was done in just 5 minutes and my hairstyle looked it wasn’t done in a haste. There was an extra 500 yen charge if you want a hair ornament but I didn’t bother getting that.

After my hair was done, I proceeded to the dressing area and the woman started putting on the waistband towels around my waist well, basically, under my breast, making sure it was tight enough to look good, but not so tight that I couldn’t still breathe (though it was still pretty difficult).

“This is it, I am wearing kimono for the first time,” I uttered myself.

After like 5-6 waistband towels that were put around, the kimono was finally put on. She then asked me which color of the Obi I’d like to wear. An Obi is a sash or the belt that is ribboned on the back.

Being a person with no fashion sense at all and doesn’t know which color looked great on my kimono, I told the lady “Osusume” which means “recommend” and was glad she understood what I meant.

She picked the pink one that also matched the flowers on my kimono. After that, she showed me the mirror and I was happy to see myself in a kimono and liked what I saw.

I heard my baby crying on the other side, thank God my husband was already there, although he didn’t really know what to do.

I told him to give the baby milk but I guess he didn’t hear that. So I hurried in picking a bag that matched the color of my kimono and just grabbed it quick and then rushed to get a pair of Geta or Japanese sandals. Geta are supposed to be tight to fit, but able to walk in comfortably.

After that, we proceeded to the 3rd floor for the souvenir photos. During the photoshoot, there was one thing I wish I did. I should have worn my contact lenses. I should have looked more formal without my eyeglasses while wearing my kimono.

Here’s the outcome:

Saganokan Souvenir Photo
That stiff pose though.

After the photo shoot, we were instructed to return the kimono before 5:30 p.m. or before their shop closes.

After an almost an hour and a half time spent inside the shop, we finally left the building looking proud in our kimono and our first stop was Gion District.

Since this was my first time wearing a kimono while sightseeing I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know if it would be comfortable, warm, or if I’d just get a bunch of weird looks. But it actually felt great and I realized that it is something that I want to do again in the summer.

Initially, I was pretty worried considering how cold it had been, to wear the kimono outside, but it turns out that they’re surprisingly quite warm, or perhaps the thermal that I was wearing really helped a lot.

Strolling Ninenzaka Street
Strolling Ninenzaka Street.

Saganokan Kimono Rental in Kyoto

The heavily crowded Ninenzaka Street
The heavily crowded Ninenzaka Street
I also wished I have brought our baby’s kimono!

Final Thoughts, was it worth it?

I am very pleased with the service I received from that shop, but I am more pleased with the quality of kimono and that they had such a large selection.

As we toured the Gion area, we saw a couple of Kimono rental shops with a price that is half of what Saganokan is being offered, at about 3,500 yen for a kimono rental, but didn’t include the hairstyle and other accessories.

I thought, wow, that was cheap! However, as I looked closer at their rental service and assessed their kimonos, I realized that the fabric wasn’t as high of quality as the one offered by Saganokan. In addition, you would need to pay additional 500-1,500 yen for the hairstyle.

We thought that we got a pretty good deal with Saganokan shop via JAPANiCAN (had we paid for it) considering there was a souvenir photo included.

Now to the question of where to book. Whether you book from the JAPANiCAN website or Saganokan depends on your needs.

Japanican (7,500 yen)

  • Book online even on the day of your session.
  • Instant confirmation after paying online (accepts credit card).
  • Hair Style Included
  • Souvenir Photo included
Saganokan (3,990 yen)

  • Must be reserved 2 days prior your kimono rental.
  • Wait up to 24 hours until a staff responds to your emails.
  • If booking on the day of kimono rental, you must call the shop directly. The price is 8,000 yen though.
  • No Hairstyle included. Must pay additional 1,500
  • No photo included must pay additional 1,500 yen

 

As you can see, it is relatively cheaper to book directly with Saganokan if you are willing to deal with a bit of a back and forth via email with their staff and can reserve at least 2 days in advance.

On the other hand, JAPANiCAN, although it’s 510 yen more (about 5 USD), you don’t have to deal with the hassle of waiting or communicating with someone (assuming they have an English speaker available) to take care of your kimono rental booking.

However, for a person who cares more about a budget and less about kimono fabric or quality, you may be better off with the cheaper kimono rentals around the area. Just make sure to ask which accessories are included in their package. Otherwise, you may end up paying the same amount for less quality.

I found out that many kimono rental shops have hidden costs, either the Obi or bag isn’t included in the price or the hairstyle isn’t included. This is why I find the Saganokan price very straightforward and reasonable.

I only wished I had taken more photos of us while in kimono while sightseeing. It was too late when I realized that I didn’t take any good photos of my husband! I didn’t know why, but I guess it’s because of my mind if very preoccupied with a baby who’s distressed from time to time, and the crowd in Gion was just overwhelming.

Published by Ada W.

Ada moved to Japan in 2014 as a result of her husband's deployment. A former assistant language teacher who's been exploring Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefectures slowly. She hopes to uncover other regions of Japan. View more posts