©Photo by Ai Matsusaka

Celebrate Motherhood and New Life with Kimono Maternity and Newborn Photography

Capture Your Precious Memories in Gorgeous Refashioned Kimono

By Elizabeth Sok
December 2, 2021
Families, Sponsored Post

Looking to commemorate a pregnancy or new birth? Connect to Japanese traditional culture and celebrate this momentous occasion with photography that includes original kimono costumes for pregnant and newborn bodies, as well as intricate belly painting.

Two months after giving birth to my second daughter, I was so excited to talk to Ai Matsusaka, owner of the Kimono Maternity and Newborn Photography service.

From her home studio in Yokohama, Matsusaka spoke with me about what inspired her to start her business and how she uses traditional Japanese fabrics and motifs to celebrate women’s paths to motherhood.

Maternity photos

For maternity shoots, clients choose a kimono lovingly tailored for pregnant bodies.© Photo by Ai Matsusaka

For maternity shoots, clients choose a kimono lovingly tailored for pregnant bodies.

Matsusaka’s home base is her photo studio in Yokohama. She also travels across the Kanto area for home visits with all of the equipment needed for photo sessions. 

For maternity shoots, clients choose a kimono lovingly tailored for pregnant bodies while Matsusaka provides lighting and accessories to make the mother look at her most beautiful. She recommends taking photos during weeks 28 to 34 of pregnancy—any later than that and a baby’s position will shift downward making it hard for the mother to move smoothly.

As we spoke, I was drawn to the exquisite kimono and handmade accessories displayed behind her, their meticulous reworking a testament to her commitment of honoring women’s changing bodies throughout their pregnancies. 

This respect for new motherhood and each woman’s unique fertility journey is central to Matsusaka’s art and work.

“So, who celebrates mothers?” she says during our interview. “Everybody celebrates babies and children, but nobody celebrates the mother. They are worth being celebrated, too!”

…customers have the choice to change into as many kimonos as they like. For home visits, you can choose three for her to bring along. 

Thanks to Matsusaka’s fluent English, foreign women make up the majority of her customers for these maternity shoots. Non-Japanese women who live in Japan rarely have the opportunity to wear kimono—especially furisode, the ornate and joyous patterns reserved for seijin shiki (coming of age ceremonies) and weddings that she specially chooses for her pregnant clients. 

“I thought most foreigners in Japan don’t have many chances to wear [kimono]. They are living in Japan and they didn’t have the chance to wear and enjoy these amazing clothes. I think kimono is one of the most amazing cultural forms in Japan, so I wanted to celebrate [pregnant and postpartum] women […] with these amazing costumes.”

Belly painting

Matsusaka listens to the mother’s story and design suggestions while incorporating her own aesthetic sense and color choice.© Photo by Ai Matsusaka

Matsusaka listens to the mother’s story and design suggestions while incorporating her own aesthetic sense and color choice.

Matsusaka is an award-winning belly painting artist. She attended the 2017 and 2019 Daegu International Bodypainting Festival in South Korea where she was given a special prize for her work. She uses the medium to paint heartfelt stories and patterns onto the bellies of pregnant women to celebrate motherhood. 

One client, for example, asked for imagery of the traditional Japanese story of Momotaro—a child who emerged from a giant peach to become the son for an older childless couple—to represent her long fertility journey. Like Momotaro’s surprise appearance, the mother wanted to pay homage to the baby who she had conceived naturally, despite all the odds. The painting itself is a collaboration, as Matsusaka listens to the mother’s background story while incorporating her own aesthetic sense, design and color choice.

The artist as a mother

Another of Ai Matsusaka’s artistic passions for expectant mothers: belly painting.© Photo by Ai Matsusaka

Another of Ai Matsusaka’s artistic passions for expectant mothers: belly painting.

Matsusaka had always been passionate about art, but it wasn’t until she began undergoing fertility treatments that she found her calling in working with pregnant women and newborns. At that point, she was stretched to her limit working full time, while trying to care for her body—and still managing to make time for several art projects. 

As Matsusaka told me: “I had to make a choice—what’s more important for my life? And that was when I decided to focus more on this job and my personal life.”

In 2018, deeply moved by the birth of her daughter after the long and difficult treatments, she decided to focus on maternity and newborn photography as well as belly painting to help women feel beautiful and powerful as mothers. As a new mother, she was in awe of the miracle of birth and felt drawn to dedicate her artistic talents to this special period in women’s lives. Through her services, she hopes to celebrate women’s ability to create new life despite the hardships that they may face. In this way, her own experience of the challenges of infertility and pregnancy led her to channel her creativity into maternity photography and belly painting.

Newborn photos

Matsusaka’s designs use reconstructed kimono over the swaddled infant for the utmost comfort.© Photo by Ai Matsusaka

Matsusaka’s designs use reconstructed kimono over the swaddled infant for the utmost comfort.

As for her photos of newborns in kimono, Matsusaka’s design places reconstructed kimono over the infant in an okurumi, or swaddled style, for the utmost comfort. She also recommends the best time for photos is when the child is between 2 and 5 weeks old. 

From her own experience, Matsusaka knows that it’s hard to get good images of infants at this stage. The parents don’t know when—or if—the child will fall asleep, cry or just be rather unsettled. Patience is key. Matsusaka takes her time so that the newborn and the parents all feel relaxed and comfortable during the photo shoot.

“Nobody was doing newborn in kimono,” she says. “My love for Japanese kimono culture and my passion to express the miracle of [life] is linked here and that’s why I decided to do kimono maternity shoots and newborn photoshoots, as well.” 

Her choices of motif for newborns draw on Japanese history and culture. For both genders, the natural world figures heavily in the imagery. 

For girls, she suggests beautiful sakura (cherry blossom) patterns which are seen as transcending the seasons. Also popular with new mothers are the matsu (pine tree), take (bamboo) or ume (plum) patterns that represent patience and strength, as they grow through the winter seasons. 

Other inspiring motifs are butterfly patterns that echo a girl’s transition into womanhood and symbolize long life, as well as mari, or ball, designs whose round shape alludes to a life of harmony and peace. 

Matsusaka also offers fascinating explanations of the patterns she suggests for boys. Eagle designs, especially those paired with hamaya (arrow), represent strength and family protection while kabuto (helmet) designs symbolize courage and wealth, harkening back to when only samurai could wear the beautiful and intricate headwear. Also popular are koi (carp) designs that draw on these fishes’ ability to thrive in difficult conditions.

A day in the life: what to expect 

Either in the studio or in clients’ homes, Matsusaka provides a photo background, the kimono costumes chosen by the client, accessories.© Photo by Ai Matsusaka

Either in the studio or in clients’ homes, Matsusaka provides a photo background, the kimono costumes chosen by the client, accessories.

When you book with the Kimono Maternity and Newborn Photography service, Matsusaka dedicates the whole day to one client. 

While she suggests aiming for before noon since the natural morning light makes for beautiful photographs, you can book any time in the day. In your home, she needs about two meters of space set aside for maternity photography and 1.3 meters to 1.5 meters of space for newborn photos. Best, she says, is next to a window—especially for newborn shoots, so as not to disturb the infant with the artificial flash.

In Matsusaka’s small studio space, customers have the choice to change into as many kimono as they like, with over 60 gorgeous kimono and 40 handmade accessories to choose from. For home visits, the customer can choose two or three for her to bring along. This will usually take about two hours, but that really depends on how many costumes the client wants to try on.

Either in the studio or in clients’ homes, Matsusaka provides a photo background, the kimono costumes chosen by the client, accessories—such as flowers hand-stitched from kimono fabric—and the materials for body painting.

Kimono Maternity and Newborn Photography is more than just a business. As Matsusaka says, ‘This job is not only for money. It’s my life’s work.’

As for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Matsusaka is fully vaccinated and comes equipped with a mask and alcohol sprays for home visits. 

Maternity, newborn and kimono photoshoots with Matsusaka start from ¥20,000 (or ¥25,000 with belly painting included). Transportation costs, from Yokohama station to your door, are borne by the client for home visits. 

Within a week of your session, she will send you a link to download your photos as well as the option of a hard copy photo album. You can receive the album for no extra charge if you book both the maternity and newborn shoots together, otherwise it is ¥5,000 with the purchase of one photoshoot. 

Kimono Maternity and Newborn Photography is more than just a business. As Matsusaka says, “This job is not only for money. It’s my life’s work.” 

Consider yourself worthy of celebration as you bring new life into the world. Take some time to treat yourself and cherish the often hectic late-pregnancy and newborn period.

The Deets

Kimono Maternity and Newborn Photography

Address: 401, 1-5-2 Hiranuma, Nishi-ku, Yokohama
Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.
Tel: 080-6600-4157
Email: info@kimonomaternity.com