I thought this might be an appropriate post for Halloween week-end as it is all about fun, costumes, and getting dressed up.  I was just in Japan (Kyoto and Tokyo) for a brief visit.  As I arrived in Kyoto, I noticed that many women were wearing kimonos all over the city. I was somewhat surprised as I had been to Kyoto before and there were very few Japanese women wearing kimonos in the city (and if they were to do it, it would mostly be for special occasions).  I also noticed that these outfits were much more colorful and less subdued than the Japanese kimonos one usually sees.  Asking around, I was told that it had become very trendy for tourists (mostly Chinese but many others including non-Asians) to dress up in a kimono and walk around as best they could in geta (Japanese-style clogs).  Kimono-dressed tourists were especially common in the beautiful temples of Kyoto where they were busy taking pictures of themselves, so a dress-up version of selfies.

Initially, I was not inclined to shoot these “fake” (a much-overused word these days) kimono wearers thinking it was not the real Japan.  But upon reflection, I realized that this influx of dressed-up tourists is a salient part of the real Japan these days, and I decided to embrace it.  So, I photographed women (and some men) in kimonos, visiting Kyoto landmark sites such as the Fushimi and Yasaka shrines and the Nanzen-ji Temple) as well as enjoying the Gion district and the Nishiki market. In Tokyo, I found kimono-clad women mostly at the Senso-ji temple, also known as Asakusa Kannon.   I also noticed that many find that the complete kimono experience must incorporate at least one ride on a traditional rickshaw.

Speaking of costumes, some Japanese girls like to dress up too.  But one is likelier to see them in a Lolita outfit than a kimono.  The Lolita style, mostly influenced by Victorian children’s clothing, has been in vogue in Japan for the last 10 years and shows no sign of abating.

And for the final focus of this costume-inspired post, I included some images taken at the beautiful Meiji shrine in Tokyo where one can see numerous Japanese weddings taking place on weekends.ย  This is the place to go if you want to see the traditional Japanese style’s full richness and elegance.

Happy Halloween to all. (By the way, Halloween is now a HUGE commercial enterprise in Japan, complete with pop-up stores and big window displays in department stores. It is amusing to see which American traditions go viral internationally.)

Trick or treat!




14 Responses

  1. I love these as I do all of your posts catching such incredible images, people and moments around the world. I lived in Kyoto for 4 years in the 80s when Halloween was less a ‘thing’. Another expat friend and I were in full costume – (I was an insect with a mask of 2 sieves) in a taxi on our way to party when we pulled up next to another cab with a Maiko in her full regalia — always a treat to encounter. We all stared at each other then burst out laughing and waved — a quirky Kyoto encounter. I miss that place. Thanks for this glimpse of a place that will always be a little bit of home for me.

    1. Tricia, What an experience this must have been. Every time I get to Japan I feel that I have to learn everything anew, walking, eating, greeting… But it is such am amazing country. The Halloween insanity surprised me a bit this year. But again why not since the children seem to enjoy it so much. I like your story with the Maiko, a friend of mine just published a book on them, a disappearing trade I am afraid. I love your blog, you write beautifully. XX France

  2. Love this blog. Great you embraced this. Wpuld have liked to see u and Richard dressed to match these colorful tourists.

    1. Thank you Michele, I embraced photographing them, not dressing up like them. I don’t think you would have liked to see us walking around dressed in kimonos unless you wanted a good laugh ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think it is hard for non-Asians to do it gracefully. Didn’t you want to see me with nose plugs as well??? XX France

  3. It is fascinating that tourists get around in kimonos…the footwear is pretty tricky ๐Ÿ˜€ . Itโ€™s lovely to see and it probably amuses the locals . In Fiji I will sometimes wear a sulu because the Fijians mostly do however if they mostly didnโ€™t wear this local dress I donโ€™t know if I would . This seems the opposite of blending in ๐Ÿ˜‚….but lots of fun.
    I thinks it is all about the fabric ..the glorious prints are so inviting and full of life that I am not surprised people are attracted to wear them .
    As for the baby doll look ..yes it is so popular.
    Halloween has become a very successful American celebration in many countries but for me it will always be a Celtic-European one . People love things that kids can enjoy and I suspect getting dressed up and eating lollies is far more enjoyable for kids than heading off to church for All Souls and All Saints Days .
    Love your photos …I havenโ€™t commented on them in a while but I always do look and read …and very much enjoy your posts .
    Happy Halloween.๐ŸŽƒ๐Ÿ˜ธ๐Ÿคก๐Ÿ‘น๐Ÿ˜ป๐Ÿ‘ป๐ŸŽƒ๐ŸŽƒ

    1. Dear Emilie, Always happy to hear from you but also happy to know that you visit regularly. You are exactly right, the weird thing is that the locals do not (or rarely do) dress in traditional attire anymore so I guess the idea for this trend is not about blending in as much as looking colorful and different in a photo. These are obviously not real “kimonos”, the real ones can be very expensive, some are worth thousands of dollars while the tourists’ ones can be rented for less than $50. I am guessing the locals find this silly but are too polite to say anything publicly. And I am sure you are right that Halloween is popular mainly because it is enjoyable for the kids, and not because of its original meaning. Hope things are calming down in your part of the world, (here not so much). Happy Halloween to you as well.

  4. What fun to dress up in those beautifully patterned and colourful kimono. Thank you France for going with the trend and recording this in your usual sensitive manner.

    1. Thank you Jane. I just felt that this whole trend was giving such a different feel to the country in general and to Kyoto in particular that it had to be recorded. And yes, some of the fabrics were dazzling. But I am still not sure about the footwear ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I too have several shots of the kimono-wearing tourists. At first I thought they were Japanese, but a local (of half Japanese, half Brazilian heritage) assured me that no self-respecting Japanese women would wear those kimonos (well except perhaps some young ones who were gathering for a special occasion). Anyway I started asking the kimono-clad people in Kyoto where they were from. The most common answers were China, Korea, and Taiwan. I did see two separate couples having wedding photos taken in the streets of old town Kyoto (and joined in with the photographer, which nobody seemed to mind) and also was lucky enough to see a wedding at a shrine in Tokyo. Lovely photos France. I think my favourite is the one of the torii gates of Fushimi. The same person who told me about the tourists dressing up spent quite some time with me talking about and showing me pictures of kimono through the years, and how to tell real ones from the rented ones. Given what he said I think it’s highly likely that the woman on the bridge next to the cyclist is Japanese rather than a tourist. I really enjoyed this post. I’ve just myself finished a post about Fushimi and the Golden Temple. I fell in love with Japan.

    1. Dear Alison, It is easy to fall in love with Japan. I have been in love with Japan for 25 years. It is a fabulous country where you feel that you have to relearn everything, walking, greeting, eating… It is also full of surprises. This time the surprise for me was these dressed-up tourists, I had not seen them before. I did not mind them, I was just surprised. I agree with you that the woman on the bridge look local. I happen to know that she is not as I chatted with her and her friend while they were taking pictures of each other on the bridge before heading to the Gion district. They had paid a lot of money to look like real “geishas”. I guess some take this more seriously than others. Love the Golden Temple too as well as some of the less crowded ones. The world is an exciting thing to explore. All the best, France

      1. I forgot to mention that I too saw some tourists who were dressed to look like real geishas. I did think they were until someone with more knowledge than me assured me that they were tourists dressed up. Did you know that Julie lived in Japan for 3 years many years ago? She too fell in love with Japan.

        1. Wow, lucky her! What a great experience that must have been! Not easy I imagine but so enriching!

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