Today had to be one of the most unexpected days and one of the great things about doing a self guided tour of Japan. This morning when we set out we were going to walk to Nijo castle and walk down Muromachi-dōri to see about getting some kimono accessories. Within 15 minutes I found myself being drawn into this shop which is just off Muromachi-dōri.

The Kimono shop where I discovered more about myself and Kimono
The Kimono shop where I discovered more about myself and Kimono

Here there was a friendly English speaking lady who I gave my list of kimono accessories to and somewhat reminded me of the Okaasan of a Okiya. Once she saw the list she took me to the kimono sensei and proceeded to translate. Essentially I had stepped into very deep waters that I know almost nothing about! After many questions (from them) we decided the best thing to do was bring the kimonos I bought to them and let them have a look as well as try and fit them to me.  I hadn’t thought of trying them on (I wouldn’t know how to fold them back again!) So they have been safely wrapped in their plastic bag since I got them.

As I was bringing them there, I got a little worried that, as kimono experts, they would tell me there are problems with the kimono and whilst it’s good to know, it would be a little sad. Still, I brought the kimonos to them and as soon as they opened the bag they made a big fuss over them. The kimonos, whilst second hand, are done in a style that isn’t done any more and most likely custom. Also, being clean and in good condition, they are very formal with some having the family crest on it (known as Mon). They asked where I got them as well as how much they were. They were shocked at how cheap they were and said I made a very good purchase on these kimonos.

Still, they explained to me that the kimonos I had bought were very small and would be too small even for a modern Japanese person to wear. These kimonos had been worn by someone much slimmer and much shorter than the kimono sensei. We tried them on me still; however, they are too small alas I have no kimono to wear!

Another conversation I also had with them was the idea of a custom kimono. For a silk kimono, the roll of silk has to be purchased seperately and this starts at 50,000 yen for the cheapest roll. As the Japanese tend to be more slender and shorter they only require one roll but westerners normally require two for an accurate fit. Though it is possible for them to fit into only one (though it tends to be a bit small). Once the silk rolls have been purchased the tailoring costs need to be factored in and that is between 45,000 yen and 67,000 yen. This depends on the type of kimono and how many rolls are used. Finally, family crests are not set in law so it is possible to adopt one and or create your own by either adapting other Japanese crests or making one from scratch. To add a crest to a kimono would be of extra cost though.

So when you convert the costs for a custom kimono you are starting at £1000 for the cheapest silk depending on the rolls used. It’s a lot of money but it’s really good to know. I figure if I save £10 a month then maybe 8 years from now I can commission one. Time to start a kimono fund!

So after much well wishing, they gave me a little calendar to take away with me as well as ideas for a Greensword crest. We returned the kimonos to the room and set off for Nijo castle (again!)

The moat that surrounds Nijo castle
Nijo Castle has two moats, an outer one that surrounds the Ninomaru Palace and an inner moat that surrounds the ruins of the Honmaru Palace

When I first stepped out of the subway I thought the castle looked small but that was my mind comparing it to Osaka castle which is huge and set on a hill. Nijo castle is on flat ground and is not built up as a fort but more as a residence.

The rooftops of Nijo castle from one of the wall outposts
The rooftops of Honmaru buildings from one of the wall outposts

Inside there were many beautiful gardens, cherry blossoms and gardeners. They were wandering about everywhere maintaining the trees and you could see how the trees were being cultivated into particular shapes using different techniques.

the gardens at Nijo Castle
the gardens at Nijo Castle

Also after reading so many books I finally saw and heard the Nightingale Floor. It sings just like a Nightingale and sounds beautiful. There were many people walking through the passages making the floor sing. It would be wonderful to try and recreate such a thing in parts of a household. One life ambition completed!

(If you are wondering what that life ambition is, it is to see something I have read about in historical fiction and to experience it.)

Nightingale Floor - finally!
Nightingale Floor – finally!

After leaving Nijo castle we made our way to Gion, the famous geisha quarter that you read about in Geisha of Gion and also see part of in Memoirs of a Geisha. It is not fully modernised with every other building being more traditional. Here we went to experience Gion En tea ceremony.

Gion En Tea House
Gion En Tea House

For 45 minutes we learned a brief history on tea, saw the tea ceremony being prepared and also we prepared some tea ourselves. Unlike green tea in England, whilst powdered tea can be strong (stronger than coffee in terms of caffeine) it’s not bitter and can only be had in small amounts.

Tea Ceremony in Gion En Tea House
Tea Ceremony in Gion En Tea House

Finally to end a long and very fruitful day walking the streets of Kyoto we watched the sunset over the Niomon dori canal with the cherry blossoms hanging over. Tomorrow is Miyako Odori day and I look forward to seeing it!

Cherry Blossoms over a river under a sunset
Cherry Blossoms over a river under a sunset

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