If you are looking for a way to enjoy your time in Kyoto by looking and feeling like Japanese royalty for the day, I highly recommend taking a moment to pre-book a kimono rental experience online. Of course, once you arrive in Kyoto the rental shops are easily found as you make your way up and down the traditional streets of a place like Gion, but in peak seasons the available time slots will book out fast, so it is a good idea to book ahead.
A quick Google search and an easy online booking later, we had made an appointment with the Gion branch of Okamoto Kimono Rentals. As we were visiting Kyoto during peak season, we needed to select the full attire package and in hindsight, I am glad we did. The traditional Japanese outfit would not have felt complete without the bells and whistles - the vintage bag, the pretty obi decorative cord and the effort put into getting my long hair all done up (a can of hairspray and a lot of hairpins) and topped with an elaborate hair accessory by the professionals.
Booked in for a morning maiko makeover, we arrived to a large room, only a stone's throw away from Kodai-ji Temple, full of excited Japanese girls choosing their kimono from the racks that zigzagged the shop's interior. They seemed to be on a girls holiday and tended to choose the softer, muted colours over the bright bold prints that we went with. The endless selection of bold prints and fine delicate designs had a whole group of women bubbling over in excitement, but made choosing just one very difficult for me and it was only with the help of the shop’s attendants that I could get the ball rolling and move onto the next stage of the makeover — choosing my obi. We wanted to get ready and explore Gion and its surrounding temples and teahouses as fast as we could, so after fiddling with bags and kimono accessories, obi cords and geta (the wooden clogs that lend the pretty clicking you hear to the cobbled streets of Gion), we were ready to start the transition.
Each of us had a designated dresser and we huffed and puffed our way into our elaborate kimono layers and were lastly corseted in by a gorgeous obi, and put on our white tabi socks, which delicately webbed our toes into intimate pairings that felt unusual and made the experience quite unforgettable. These socks later became ours upon leaving Kyoto and I have shelved them for another kimono experience in Japan — I know this will be the first of many.
Unlike walking around Kyoto in our tame everyday clothes, once transformed into maiko, we were stopped for photos by fellow travelers and interviewed by a group of Kyoto locals whose aim is to help travelers during their stay in Kyoto.
We managed to tip-toe down a few streets, up a few staircases and into a few temples before eventually retiring as maiko for the day. The morning slot of kimono rental was perfect. We were able to snap some unforgettable shots in Gion, before leaving the magical cobbled streets and made making our way back to Kyoto’s city center.