Joy in Kimono

During the three years I lived in Japan, I studied tea ceremony. In the process, I started collecting two things: tea ceremony tools and kimono.


The first time I wore a kimono, busting with happiness because I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Wrong~

I actually have a good collection of them now, many of which were gifts. I spent a year or so with only one:


Photo of a physical photo. One day I’ll have a good digital picture of this kimono.

I went to Kyoto on my first spring break in Japan, and stumbled on a flea market. Without having the first clue what I was doing, I bought that kimono, that obi (the blue belt), and the nagajihan (the under robe, that little bit of red you see in the sleeve), all while only intending to buy a fan. Which the shopkeepers then gave to me for free because they didn’t know I was intending to buy it all along.

Because I had no idea how to put on this beautiful piece of clothing, and my first attempt at putting on a yukata (festival garb, much simpler than the clothing I’d just bought) via internet instruction didn’t go well, I brought it to my tea ceremony teacher and asked, eloquently, for help.


“So, Sensei, I kind of impulse-bought this last week, but I have no clue how to put it on. Help?” 

While no dictionary or phrase book will list “help” under translations for “yoroshiku” or any of its variants, that phrase truly doesn’t get enough credit for its versatility in translations much of the time.

Both of us knew I meant “help.”

So, alongside learning tea ceremony, I learned how to put on and function in a kimono. How to walk naturally when your feet only make it a foot and a half apart, how to avoid knocking things over with the sleeves, but those were only the obvious ones. How to stand elegantly, particularly how to place your feet (with your toes pointed in, and one foot slightly behind the other). How to store small items in your sleeves (women insert things in their sleeves from the side closest to their body, men insert them on the side closest to their hand, clean items go in the right sleeve, dirty items in the left sleeve). How to sit so you didn’t end up tripping over your own kimono when you stand up (mostly practice, but also make sure to keep a fist-sized gap between your knees when sitting down, so your legs can move).

After a while, I finally started collecting more. Some of them, I bought myself:


I still brag about getting this for 5000 yen (~$50), marked down 90% from its actual list price.

Many of them, I got from my host family back when I studied abroad. I went kimono shopping while visiting them one year, and while gushing about the kimono I’d bought, my host mother asked if I wanted their kimono.


Actual photo of Lucia in that moment.

None of them knew how to wear them, she said, or had any interest in them, even. They had them sitting in storage, taking up space.

I thought she was kidding.

Spoiler: she was not kidding.

I got three boxes of kimono and kimono-related clothing that I had to ship home because it wouldn’t fit in my luggage back to Shimane. The fact that I’d also bought several on my own, even after she gave me all of those is not evidence that I have a problem.

No, the evidence that I have a problem came when Sensei, helping me sort through them and telling me about them, mentioned that I have so many, and my response wasn’t, “you’re totally right, I do,” it was, “man, and I still want more.”

Her response, after laughing, was to offer to give me some of hers that she didn’t need anymore.

And she fucking did.

I still haven’t had an opportunity to wear most of the kimono I have. I might be approaching about half of them having been worn at least once.

Quite aside from all the amazing things that happened to me to lead to having this collection of happiness, the items themselves inspire joy. Whenever going through my kimono, I can’t help but smile. I admire even the ones I’ve seen a hundred times, like that gold one I bought first, every time I pull them out. Most of them feel positively amazing to the touch. The one with maple-leaves in particular is pettable in the extreme.

Here are a few other favorites of mine:


Gift from Sensei, a dancing kimono, and it feels like water woven into fabric. 


Another gift from Sensei, one of the fanciest kimono I have. I have another of this type as well, but the phoenix on here takes my breath away.


Gift from Host Mom, this one’s made of wool, and I simply love the colors on it. 


For some reason a tiny picture, but these I purchased myself, gorgeous blue hakama. 


What do you collect that brings you joy?