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Kyoto, Japan: Memoirs of a Kimono-Wearing, Barely-Able-to-Breathe Non-Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha is in my Top 3 list of favorite novels. Like, up there with The Hobbit

I first bought the book in 2002 and have since read in more than 5 times since, not including the times I randomly picked it up for the loo (British daw oh, “loo.”). When it translated into the big screen, I knew for a fact that it would be a different presentation as it is in the book.

The book is actually more of a special documentary of the life of a geisha than solely the story of a child running after the concept of an older, much more sophisticated man. For the book, the story was about being a geisha and the love story was just a means to keep the story going.

I love that book. Still do. Currently, reading it again, actually.

 

 

 

Fast forward to this year and we step into a large warehouse in Kyoto – it’s a souvenir warehouse shop that has a specialization in traditional Japanese clothing or more particularly, the kimono. They get to show you the traditional process of how it’s made. Naturally, you would be able to purchase your own budget or full-blown version of the Japanese garb, along with all the bits and bobs that come with it – geta (or traditional Japanese slippers), bags, hair accessories, make up and other stuff that completes the Kimono.

To affirm that we are actually in the world of Super Tourists, of course, there is an offer to dress up in a Kimono and have a photo op whilst looking like the dainty, mysterious and graceful geisha. 

 


 

I am not one (by a longshot) of any of those adjectives so I had no intention of signing up for the kimono dressing thing. Also, I didn’t want to end up hiding my pretty little plus sized face behind a noh mask after finding out that the stuff won’t even fit me.

But then, as I walked around the aisles of that warehouse department store, sorting through the Made in China Hello Kitty merchandise and wide assortment of kimono-looking bathrobes, I found my Mom running after me and handing me a ticket stub.

Why SHE was aggravated at why I DIDN’T WANT to do this made me roll my eyes. Nevertheless, I rolled with the punches and did a, “if this doesn’t fit me, my ego bubble burst will be on you.”

 

 

To start, I got stripped down to my lovely underwear and a tiny little Japanese lady went over me and took control over me. Then, suddenly, I felt like a tornado going all over the place. Somehow, this lady managed to push, pull and tuck everything that needs to be done in a way that I hardly resemble a sumo wrestler. I was pushed, turned, twirled, instructed and looped all around to have this thing put on me. I should’ve felt violated, however, it was all too fast to be able to calculate any feelings about it.

 


<Me in Kimono Underwear. Scandalous!!!>
 

<I SWEAR there is a tiny Japanese lady behind me, doing her magic>

 

<Seeeeeeee…..>

When it all came down to it and the final tuck was tucked and the geta (traditional Japanese slipeers) were put on, I, then, knew why geishas act the way they do. I was finally encased in this traditional Japanese clothing and I couldn’t help but feel like a tightly wrapped spring roll. This wasn’t a matter of being the epitome of all the wonderful things about a woman. It was about restriction. I couldn’t bend over, I couldn’t twist, I couldn’t pick something off of the floor and I couldn’t breathe.  

I felt like a shark just swallowed me whole and didn’t want to digest me just yet. Like he was either reveling at how immensely juicy I was or just wanted to insulate me from the “freezing” Kyoto temperatures.

Amazing how strong that tiny little woman had that she was able to pull strings and tuck stuff within me that none of it came undone when I (tried to) bend over and pick something off the floor.

 


<“Strike a pose,” Mom Says. We burst out into this.>
 

 

<Attempting and failing at imitating Japanese Kawaii cuteness.
Or… me, successfully imitating the Maneki Neko>

The layers consisted of the underwear – a thin top and skirt combo made of linen. It was then followed by an unprinted 2nd layer, which is slightly shown when putting on the 3rd layer and the final kimono layer. Then, I was tied around with some rope and a long obi that went round and round and round my gut before being intricately knotted behind me. All I needed now were the white socks and traditional slippers.When I first took my steps in full garb, my first honest reaction was, “Kaya pala ang hihinhin ng geisha” (“No wonder geishas were so timid”) because they literally couldn’t be anything else, even if they wanted to.

 


<Still breathing>
And can you imagine doing that every night and day for the rest of your life? Can you imagine how many all-you-can-eat buffets you’re going to miss out on? Can you imagine never being able to sit through a movie without passing out due to poor blood circulation? No wonder geishas go all out with the white make-up, to hide the fact that they are already turning blue from not being able to breathe.

Although I do have to commend, it is amazing how my posture was instantly corrected due to this wonderful and just how regal I actually felt. It’s like a chiropractic adjustment with intricately printed robes. Sure, I did somewhat resemble the look of an out and about sumo wrestler, so thank god I didn’t put my hair in a tight bun that day. Either way, I can feel my spine thanking me for having done this even for a few minutes.

The experience of wearing a traditional kimono is very tourist-y and doesn’t even give you an in-depth look or study on how the entire process goes about. There was no short film showing on the history of the kimono or any pamphlets and brochures that would explain it. You basically, go in, get dressed, go out and have your photo taken. That’s it.

It would’ve been nice if it had that whole experience to go with it, just to make it richer and much more educating and memorable. Having read Memoirs, I have a basic idea of how the history of geishas and kimonos go so I have a much deeper appreciation for it, if not an almost reverence towards them. Like I said, I’ve read it more than a few times – I could be in denial of this seemingly blatant obsession on the book.

This whole experience doesn’t come totally cheap, by the way. It was a steep(ish) price, something like 2,600 yen or to the tune of $26(ish) just to have the darn thing on, and without a good photographer to take your photos.

Honestly, I could’ve gone on with my life without having done it and my life isn’t exactly changed because of it, but hey, it’s a good memory to keep. And everybody had a few laughs as it happened. I would prefer that my glorious mammaries would never ever be strung to my body so closely and tightly ever again.

After a few poses, I was finally ready to get back into my usual attire for the day, and with one fell swoop, old, tiny, Japanese lady did a few untucks and before you know it, everything, even the underwear just magically dropped off of me. No guy on the planet has even been able to do that. (Say Whaaaaaat??!) It was a “what just happened” moment. Still, it was good to be back in this century, finally!

So that’s it, that’s my experience with wearing a traditional Japanese kimono. Check, please!

<Got schooled by little miss model here>

So what’s the big deal? The following facts may not pull the wool from over your eyes, but they’re nice to know:

  • A kimono is worn left over right. If you do the other way around, it means you’re dead and will be attending your own funeral.
  • The obi or the main sash/belt is knotted at the back. Back in the day, those who wore their obis in front weren’t really geisha but prostitutes.
  • The okobo or traditional footwear worn by geisha is designed so that the kimono will not ever touch the ground or get wet.
  • Traditional hand dyed silk kimonos and its accessories could cost, presently, at around $20,000 or to the tune of one million pesos.

 

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Eileen Campos loves cheese and The Walking Dead. Currently doing a great job in post grad studies but awful with regards to ruling the universe. She also thinks that she is married to Robert Downey Jr.
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10 thoughts on “Kyoto, Japan: Memoirs of a Kimono-Wearing, Barely-Able-to-Breathe Non-Geisha

  1. Wow this is awesome! Too bad they didn’t tell you about the history… they didn’t mention anything? No brochures or plaques on the wall, no nothing? Well, like you said, it’s a good memory and the photos are awesome hehe 🙂

    1. the only thing i remember taht the ladies kept telling us (in japanese) was them screaming and yelling that we shouldnt SIT on the 2-foot high “desk” so we could put on our socks. unfortunate but it gives them room for improvement! 😛

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