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The comeback of the kimono

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In Japan kimono are still worn by both sexes on special occasions, such as weddings and festival visits to a shrine. But as the demand for high-class kimono, such as those made by the craftspeople of Kyoto, declines – a result of the falling birth rate and Japan’s ageing population – the one bright spot for the industry is the trend to adapt old kimono to new uses. Increasing numbers of fashion-conscious young women have taken to wearing a kimono like a coat over Western clothes or coordinating it with coloured rather than white tabi (traditional split-toed socks). At the same time, fashion designers are turning to kimono fabrics and styles for contemporary creations.

Few visitors to Japan fail to be impressed by the beauty and variety of kimono available, and every department store has a corner devoted to ready-made or tailored kimono. Ready-made versions can easily cost ¥100,000, while ¥1 million for the best made-to-measure kimono is not uncommon. Much more affordable secondhand or antique kimono can be found in tourist shops, flea markets or in the kimono sales held by department stores, usually in spring and autumn. Prices can start as low as ¥1000, but you’ll pay more for the sumptuous, highly decorated wedding kimono (they make striking wall hangings), as well as the most beautifully patterned obi, the broad, silk sash worn with a kimono. A cheaper, more practical alternative is the light cotton yukata, popular with both sexes as dressing gowns; you’ll find them in all department stores and many speciality stores, along with happi coats – the loose jackets that just cover the upper body. To complete the outfit, you could pick up a pair of zōri, traditional straw sandals, or their wooden counterpart, geta.

If you want to try the full kimono look, you’ll find that most of the big hotels have a studio where you can dress up and have your photo taken (typically around ¥10,000–15,000), while some guesthouses also offer the opportunity. The most popular place to don kimono is, of course, Kyoto. Men can get in on the act, too, dressing up in what is called “samurai” style (around ¥5000), though the male kimono is much less florid in design than the female version, and is usually in muted colours such as black, greys and browns.

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