There are benefits to wearing a kimono while sightseeing in Tokyo, even if you’re travelling alone.

Japan is a country that knows how to hold on to traditions and celebrate local cultures, with annual festivals and historic shrines and temples waiting to be found all over the place, including in major cities like Tokyo. And while it’s one thing to explore the traditional sights and sounds of the city while dressed in everyday western clothes, it’s another thing entirely to visit famous historic sites while dressed in traditional clothing. 

Gazing up at pagodas and praying at sacred temples while dressed in kimono helps take you back to the time when these historic buildings were first built, and creates a deeper bond with the culture, which international tourists and locals both appreciate. But what if you want to step into a kimono robe while you’re sightseeing on your own? It’s a daunting prospect for any traveller, even if they’re Japanese, so we asked our reporter Yayoi Saginomiya to give it a try and report back with her findings.

The first hurdle for anyone wanting to rent a kimono in Tokyo is choosing the right place. After an hour or two searching online, Yayoi decided to go with a rental salon called Vasara, which looked reasonably priced and has a total of 21 branches at a number of locations, including Tokyo and Kyoto.

She made a booking online (although the store does accept same-day rentals in person as well) and when she arrived, she was greeted with an enormous selection of colourful robes.

She browsed through the rack before choosing an outfit, and then she was asked to head upstairs to select her obi and hair accessory.

The staff here deal with local and foreign tourists all the time, so when Yayoi asked for advice on which accessories would work best with her outfit, they were more than happy to help. And when it came to dressing her, the staff were incredibly professional as well, putting the outfit together in mere minutes, while chatting with her about her sightseeing plans.

The time it took to set out fully dressed in kimono after entering the store came to a total of 30 minutes. Yayoi was incredibly impressed by this speedy turnaround, especially since tourists are often strapped for time, and after being given a bag to match her outfit, she was ready to explore the area around Sensoji.

First stop was lunch, at a spot that came highly recommended by the staff at the kimono rental store. Called Asakusa Menchi, this little hole-in-the-wall eatery serves up a locally renowned “menchi-katsu” (minced cutlet) filled with high-quality pork from Kanagawa Prefecture. This juicy piece of fried crumbed meat is deliciously crunchy and packed with meaty juices, which ooze out as you eat it. Thankfully, the bag soaked up all the juices, saving Yayoi from ruining her beautiful kimono.

▼ Then it was time to head to Sensoji temple.

At the main building, Yayoi made an offering and bowed her head, pressing her palms together in prayer. As she turned to leave, a foreign couple asked to take a picture together with her. And then, an Indonesian family asked to pose with her as well.

In fact, our camera-shy reporter was approached a number of times by passersby who wanted to take a photo with her. Yayoi was a little embarrassed at first, but happy to oblige, and found it was a great way to chat people from all over the world. She never would have had these encounters if she’d been in a group or dressed in regular clothes, and it was actually a godsend in the end, as she was able to ask them to take photos of her on her camera too, which saved her from having to approach strangers on her own.

She spent about two hours exploring the sights of Sensoji, and felt connected to the historic monuments in a way she hadn’t experienced before. She felt like a woman from the Edo Period (1603-1868), or even earlier in history, given that the temple was first established in 645.

Walking back along the Nakamise shopping street, Yayoi found another benefit to sightseeing alone, as she was able to stop and browse at any stall she felt like, without having to worry about any other individual.

Vasara is open until 6:00 p.m., and with full-day rental options available, some customers even walk as far as Tokyo Skytree in their kimono, enjoying the city streetscapes along the way. For Yayoi, though, two hours was plenty of time to enjoy nearby Sensoji temple, especially in the geta sandals she chose to wear, which came included in the kimono rental.

There are four Vasara locations near Sensoji, and there are a variety of plans and rental periods available, starting from 2,990 yen (US$26.31), Yayoi highly recommends checking them out, as it’s a wonderful way to soak up the atmosphere of the city and create a memorable afternoon for yourself, and if you’re worried about dressing in kimono as a foreign tourist, people in Japan love seeing foreigners in kimono too.

Store information
Vasara Kimono Rental Asakusa Flagship Store / 着物レンタルVASARA 浅草本店
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-1-1
Hours: 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. every day

Photos © SoraNews24
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