Understated Elegance at Kimono Photo Studio Wa

By Juliette Olah
October 28, 2015
Art & Culture

Kimonos have to be my absolute favorite element of Japanese culture (that and toe socks, but that’s a less glamorous facet). Perhaps it’s my love of textiles, or the way they restrict movement, making the wearer walk in such a charming, elegant manner. So understandably, when had the chance to visit the Kimono Photo Studio Wa in Meguro to try one on and have my picture taken, a rush of frenzied excitement surged through me. These regal garments are an honor to wear and I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to collect some experience with them, and to learn more about their place in Japanese society.

Maho, the studio’s assistant, greeted me at the station, with a Kimono Photo Studio Wa sign. Friendly, understanding (I got a little lost and was slightly late!) and excited, Maho seemed to share my enthusiasm about the coming hour and half. Perfect.

The energy inside the studio was much the same as the greeting. Upon arriving I was introduced to the president of the studio, Hisami, a charismatic, bubbly lady who welcomed me and explained the flow for the shoot.

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Hisami’s mother worked in a kimono shop while she was growing up, and she has been wearing kimonos since she was just one year old. Their intricate beauty inspired her to open her own photography studio to share their intrigue with the world. Inspired by a similar desire for cultural exchange, Maho lived in Los Angeles for several years and always struggled to explain her culture properly to people she met there. Since arriving back in Japan, she has been passionate about interacting with locals and tourists from all over the world, finding joy in providing them with a traditional experience of Japan.

Hisami started by asking me to choose a kimono from a selection in a photo album. Once I had selected my kimono, a delicious, vibrant tomato red number with heavy embroidery, I switched my top for a camisole and Maho got to work on my less-than-shoot-ready hair. I was also given free reign to use studio’s makeup for any touch ups. There are also packages available that include full makeup done for you, if you prefer to have that taken care of. Once the final bobby pin was in place I chose a hair accessory from a glittering display of flowers and ornaments, and these were adjusted a few times to get them just so.

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Now it was time to slip into those sleeves. Originating in the Heian period, stylized kimonos as we know them today traditionally have up to 12 separate layered pieces. However, for ease of wear, the studio had a custom vest made that is used as a base to give the illusion of wearing many layers, without the added bulk. Then, a thin, plain colored kimono is put on and tied first with an obi belt and then an obijinme, a decorative rope. Tying an obi is an art that can take years to master and is incredibly difficult to do yourself. Kimonos also wrap surprisingly firmly around the body, but I didn’t find this uncomfortable at all. If anything, it helped my lazy writer’s posture, propping me up to where I should be.

A few shots were then taken in the plain kimono. Once the outer kimono is put on top, the obi is no longer visible, so it’s wonderful that the package includes shots of the entire outfit.

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Hisami also encourages her clients to be themselves in the kimonos, inviting people to inject their own style into the shoot. This is apparent throughout the experience. From the choice of kimono, to your hair, to the way you would like to pose in pictures, you will be given advice and direction, but everything will be done to ensure the pictures reflect your personality. Hisami even graciously agreed to change my hair accessory midway when I had a moment of vain indecision concerning the water lily adorning my head. When they say I had selected the “princess package,” they genuinely meant it.

Once the final shot was taken, I was helped out of the kimono and served a traditional matcha tea. All the photos are ready for printing on site as soon as the shoot finishes, so once you have scrolled and chosen your shots you are free to admire the evidence of your kimono clad alter-ego right away.

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In addition to individual portraits like the one I had taken, Kimono Photo Studio Wa also offers couple and family sessions. The studio has a wide range of garments available for men, women and children, including large sizes for those who are tall, and colors to complement any skintone. With the holidays coming up, this would be the perfect unique way to get a family photo that doubles as a very special souvenir of your time in Japan. Have it printed on your holiday cards and you’re sure to impress all your friends and family back home.

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Waving goodbye to Hisami and Maho, I mused about what a convivial, engaging and effortless morning it was. I’ll admit, this is probably not something I would have done had the opportunity not presented itself to me (I am not exactly a tourist after all), however, I would sincerely recommend this experience for locals and visitors alike. This is not a cold, sterile studio, but a supremely warm, welcoming environment where you will be treated more like a treasured long-lost cousin than a slot in an appointment book. And that for me, is as just as intrinsic to the essence of Japanese culture as the exquisitely adorned kimonos, already famous the world over.

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The Deets

Address: Meguro Nishiguchi Mansion I #804, 2-24-13 Kamiosaki, Shinagawa-ku

Tel: 070-6455-9831

Open: Mon–Sat, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (closed Sun and hols)