Dress Like a Local – Kimono Dressing in Japan

When we lived in Japan on a US military base there were a lot of opportunities to take part in cultural activities, some through military organizations and some through local efforts.

The City of Yokosuka sponsored a cultural awareness day several times a year and Sam and I went to one. There were wonderful opportunities to see/hear taiko drumming, samurai actors, origami making, ikebana flower arranging, tea ceremony and calligraphy.


One of the activities at the event was both of us being dressed in kimono.

The process goes have a fairly significant time commitment. It takes a while to put everything on and that is with 1-2 women helping you. An American friend who spoke Japanese and was helping at the event escorted us back to where the Japanese ladies took charge. Sam was whisked off into the capable hands of several ladies who plied him with tea and probably some snacks. I did not see him for a while. Since there were a lot of people waiting to be dressed you really did not have a choice in the kimono you got, but I told my friend I liked the color green so she helped guide me toward a beautiful green one.

I did not take photos of the complete ensemble of undergarments at this event, but had a photo from another event I went to that educated us on kimono.  This photo shows just some of the accessories required.

Tons of bits and pieces for kimono dressing

That top pink part is a rigid piece that gets covered with an obi and goes around your mid section.

There are many types of kimono based on different factors including marital status and the event or level of formality for which you are dressing. For example, unmarried women wear kimono with long sleeves, while those for married women have shorter sleeves. I felt a little rebellious in my long sleeve kimono usually worn by unmarried women.

The dressing included some adornments for your hair and one of the ladies asked me if I would like to have a very traditional styling to my hair. I had very long hair at the time and she said she had wanted to style someone with long hair. I immediately volunteered. The result was amazing. There were piles of beautiful flowers, fabric and decorations available to put in your hair. There was some hair teasing involved, but the majority of the height in the hair was achieved through synthetic hair pieces (think bump its) placed underneath to achieve the volume.

Hair styling
Hair styling
Hair styling

The finished product…….

My amazing up do

Sam also had to make do with his clothing. At age three, five, and seven, children are dressed in kimono and visit a shrine with their families on November 15th to mark the health and growth of children. Sam was three, but they only had a kimono for a five year old available so the lovely ladies made do and worked it out so everything seemed to fit him perfectly.


Walking in a kimono is not easy, it is tight, to say nothing of the fact that there were no shoes that came close to fitting my size nine feet. They ask if you need to use the restroom before beginning to dress you, yes, you want to take care of that beforehand!

I asked my friend Hitomi in Japan if it was legal to drive in kimono, she said yes it is, but most people do not because it’s not comfortable and it’s difficult given that your legs are so constrained. I do know that it is NOT legal to drive in geta shoes that you wear with kimono. A visit to the motor vehicle on the military base has a sign indicating what footwear are illegal.

Cannot drive in geta shoes (shoes furthest right)

This was a really fun experience and I am really glad that I have the photos, especially of Sam. You can find places that you can pay to dress in kimono in Tokyo and Kyoto and probably other cities in Japan as well. I saw places in Kyoto that also would do your hair and make-up in geisha fashion.


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