One of the things that I have always associated with Japan is the kimono.
When visitors first come to Japan, the sight of a geisha or maiko dressed in beautiful kimono is usually enough to create an enchanting impulse to retrieve cameras from bags at unprecedented speeds in order to snap a photo.
Even after living in Japan for 2 years, I still experienced this bewitching compulsion when I visited Gion in Kyoto with my parents earlier this year.
Last week, I was able to try on a kimono myself, in Koriyama City.
There are many stores around Japan that allow visitors to rent kimonos, and maybe even throw in a photoshoot in from of famous locations for a set price. The shop that I went to was different though.
Firstly, it’s a café.
Secondly, renting a kimono there is free (as long as you buy a delicious lunch or cake – vegan options available!). The reason I have never rented a kimono at one of these stores in the past is due to the high prices.
Waraku Café (和楽cafe) is a very eclectic place to eat your lunch! It includes a small gift shop, a traditional, very “Japanese” room, a terrace lit up with Christmas lights and complete with a huge blow-up Santa, and an ‘Oxygen room’ large enough to top up around 5 people with O2 while they’re watching TV.
The café is filled with wonderful and unique, vintage items, many of which have been recycled in unique ways, such as tables are made of old doors, and wooden basins used for pounding mochi (rice cakes).
One other thing that stands about the café is the stunning kimonos that are exhibited on the walls and in a separate display room, which I was lucky enough to enter to take photographs.
Waraku Café has over 600 kimonos stored on the premesis, and visitors are free to choose one to try on before or after their meal, and even get help putting it on! I’ve been told that if you pay a little extra you can get your hair done as well!
Waraku Café has been collecting kimonos for a long time. Soeta san hopes his café will give visitors from abroad the chance to learn about the culture of kimono in Japan by trying one on themselves.
Although kimono are usually associated with formal events such as weddings, coming of age ceremonies, and new year celebrations, there are forms of kimono specifically designed to allow the wearer to move freely.
The kimono that I tried on during my visit to the café was a formal, traditional style, picked out due its retro Showa era colours. This style of kimono is apparently worn during the new year celebrations.
There were so many steps to putting it on that I don’t think I could ever remember them, let alone be able to dress myself in one!
It was really fun to watch the kimono slowly come together as layer upon layer was draped over my shoulders or wrapped around my waist.
I had never worn a kimono before, so I was surprised by how difficult it was to sit down, to walk up and down stairs and to bend my knees.
When the whole look was put together, I felt like I was ready to attend a grand event. Wearing a kimono made me think about the UK’s lack of traditional dress (with Scottish kilts as an exception).
I’m not sure my blonde hair really fits with the image that most people think of when they hear the word “kimono” but it was a great experience to finally get to wear a proper kimono and take pictures.
Waraku Café allows you to take away the kimonos that you rent for the day and return them the next day, meaning you can wear them to tourism spots and take photographs with your friends, something that I definitely want to do in the future when my friends come to visit.
Disclaimer: * There may be other cafés or stores where you can rent kimonos for free in Fukushima Prefecture, so if you know of any please let me know, and I will continue to look them up! I happened to go to Waraku Café this time, but there are plenty of other lovely restaurants and cafés in and around the city! *
Non-Japanese speakers very welcome! (Waraku Café has one English-speaking staff member, so you may want to contact them in advance to check if she’s there on the day you want to go.)
By public transport: After getting the Shinkansen to Koriyama Station, take a bus heading for Yurigaoka Danchi (百合丘団地行)from Koriyamaekimae（郡山駅前）and get off at Gyouninda (行人田) bus stop. The bus will take around 11 minutes. From the bus stop, the café is a 4 minute walk (400m).
By car: After getting the Shinkansen to Koriyama Station, rent a car from close to the station. From the station, the café is a 15 minute drive.