I enter, remove my shoes, and look around the store. Every nook and cranny is filled with items: racks of colorful kimono; modular shelving housing a rainbow of obi; stacks of geta sandals and assorted accessories. But this isn’t a shop, and I’m not here to buy. Before leaving Japan, I am treating myself to a kimono experience and photoshoot at inKIMONO in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo.
I have a degree in costume design, but I still found the idea of kimono daunting. So many items! So expensive! How do I wear it?
During my five years in Japan, I’ve come across countless kimono rental shops, but the effect to me always seemed cheesy. I still wanted to wear a kimono, but I wanted to do it right.
inKIMONO is a full kimono experience run by Polish-born Stasia Matsumoto. Customers can choose from different packages such as summer yukata, kimono, or furisode (formal kimono), with options for kids and couples or groups. The experience includes a kimono lecture, dressing, photoshoot, and a selection of edited photos. Every step of the operation is done by Stasia herself.
This complete package serves to set apart inKIMONO from the competition. Of course, a kimono experience is always a popular option for tourists and visitors to Japan, but Stasia attracts a wider clientele of both Japanese and foreign-born locals who book shoots to mark special occasions such as anniversaries and children’s day and to simply learn more about the art of kimono itself. The fact that her photography has such a strong Instagram aesthetic and the glowing 5-star reviews on Google don’t hurt, either!
First, Stasia showed me the items that she had selected based on my booking notes. Since it was June, I could wear an unlined kimono, as opposed to a lightweight summer kimono or a lined one that would have been more appropriate for a cooler season. I had said that I liked bold colors, graphic prints, and retro styling, so we went for a vintage Showa film heroine vibe.
Once I’d approved the kimono, there were a lot of other choices to make: collar, obi (the wide sash worn around the waist), obijime (the cord on top of the obi), and obiage (the sash under the obi). I was struck by how individual and customizable kimono are. Stasia never repeats an outfit, unless requested, making each booking completely unique.
Kimono as Clothing
Having chosen the outfit, we settled in for the lecture. In addition to explaining about the different types of kimono, Stasia gives me some extra information because of my interest in textiles (who knew that you could use bird poop to remove stains from silk?) It’s easy to see her passion as she talks, her eagerness to share what she loves with others in a way that is informative and authentic.
“People don’t think about kimono as clothing,” Stasia explains. “[But] it’s fashion, it’s changing. This is what I would like people to see or notice. It’s clothing that makes sense, can be fun, has different rules for formal occasions and different rules for casual occasions. It’s not different from Western clothing, it’s just the shape that’s different.”
When we begin the dressing, the different shape of the kimono becomes apparent. There are undergarments and various pieces of padding and shapewear that she wraps around my body. Adjustments are made as she builds the look and dresses me with a skilled, practiced hand. Everything feels comfortable and secure, while looking delicate.
It was a dressing experience that got Stasia into the world of kimono. Stasia had come to Japan as so many others do, as an English teacher working for an eikaiwa just after graduating from university. “I had studied a bit about Japan and that was my main topic of interest, basically. So I thought. . . I wanted to visit Japan.”
A few years after arriving, she was able to try on a furisode that a Japanese friend had worn for her coming of age day forty years earlier. The friend arranged a day to celebrate Stasia’s own belated coming of age, with a kimono stylist, hairdresser, and photographer.
“It was gorgeous, and very proper,” Stasia says of this pivotal experience. “I was thinking how many more [kimono] must be hidden away in people’s houses. . . People must have so many and they don’t know how to wear them. They don’t know what to do with them.”
Afterward, she started picking up kimono and accessories from secondhand shops, and signed up for a class so that she could learn how to dress herself. Five years later, she is continuing her kimono education as she runs her own business.
Two Hobbies Become a Livelihood
Around the same time that Stasia put on that fateful furisode, she had been getting into photography. “I used to blog, so I bought a good camera for my blog,” she explains. “Once I started figuring out how to use it I started taking photos, and I really liked street photography, so this is what I was doing at first.”
She continued doing these two hobbies separately, until one day these worlds collided into one. While scrolling on Instagram, Stasia saw an ad for a kimono experience, and was appalled by what she saw. Technicolor pink floral prints, kimonos worn as bathrobes, with no underlayer underneath. The dressing in the ad was “not neat, not correct. . . Why would you call it a kimono experience when it’s not?”
A quick search on Instagram proves this. There is indeed a huge demand for such an experience, but one can easily see that the quality and authenticity varies widely, as does the price. “I was thinking if I was the one to do this kind of thing, run this kind of business, I would want it to be as authentic as it gets, explain what kimono is, what it can be, just so people understand it,” Stasia explains. She started collecting items and doing test shoots and in late 2018, inKIMONO was born.
Stasia’s street photography roots were apparent for our photoshoot. The location for each shoot varies, but for our Showa-heroine theme, the retro streets of Asakusa were the perfect backdrop. Although this wasn’t my first time in front of a camera, this was my first time doing so in a kimono, and Stasia put me right at ease, and gave clear and encouraging directions for my poses that made me feel like a star. The fact that she is a completely self-taught photographer is startling, as her level of skill and professionalism is so high.
A Gorgeous Memento of Japan
The entire session lasted five hours, but those hours flew by. A few weeks later, I received the edited photos. Stasia’s photography has a sense of drama and elegance, and the photos from our shoot completely captured the mood we were going for. These will be a treasured memento for me not only of that special day, but of my entire time in Japan.
For a kimono experience and photoshoot that isn’t cheesy, but authentic and informative, with wonderful photos that you can treasure for a lifetime, inKIMONO ticks all the boxes. By making kimono accessible, personal, and beautiful, Stasia Matsumoto is helping to keep kimono culture alive despite.
The level of detail and attention that she puts into each and every customer’s experience is outstanding, with results that are truly unique. As she puts it: “I’m not taking pictures of the kimono on you – I’m taking pictures of you in kimono.”
Author: Mo Stone