Today I want to talk about rental shops. Over the years I have had several experiences with kimono rental shops in Japan and they have all been very different. A lot of people who might be interested in rental probably don’t know how varied experiences might be and the information on the English websites aren’t always indicative to the service you might receive. Because I am in part critiquing services, I don’t want the post to become too negative so I will not be naming individual shops but describing the type of shop and experience.
The Photo Studio
The first time I used this type of service, I was vacationing in Japan in 2008 for my 20th birthday. Because that is the age when Japanese people celebrate coming of age, I asked my host to help me get professionally dressed in furisode. She ended up taking me to a photo studio where I was able to choose from a dizzying selection of furisode and they coordinated it for me. Professional hair and makeup was included and they took studio photos. I must say that the selection and coordinations were amazing, as was the skill of the dressers.
The Partner Shop
Before I get into this one, I just want to say that my experience with this shop was not a standard plan and may not reflect their usual work. I studied at a foreign language college here in Japan last semester. For the completion ceremony at the end of the Spring semester, a local kimono rental shop does a discounted kimono rental service for the exchange students. Even though I can do my own kitsuke, I thought it would be fun to do the rental dressing (but I arranged to bring my own kimono).
They only brought the exact number of each size kimono they needed, so if you were assigned to the later time slots you had significantly less to choose from, and used short sleeved furisode like you would wear with hakama but dressed them with hitoe hanhaba obi intended for yukata. You frequently see casual kimono with this style of obi coming from rental shops but I was surprised to see them dressing short sleeved furisode this way. I know that some other girls were unhappy with the obi they got, due to the dressers picking an obi but not asking the person if they liked the coordinate. There was also some weirdness with their undergarments but I presume that both this and the obi situation is because they had 20-30 people to dress in 2 hours and wanted everything to move quickly. I am pretty sure that normal customers at the shop would use the more normal undergarments and have more of a say in the obi used.
The Typical Shop
This one differs from the others in that I actually went into this rental as research. As most rental places do only yukata in the summer, We were curious about the quality of kimono used at other shops and the experience for foreigners. It is very important to us to change the rental kimono properly according to the season, which means right now the kimono are mostly a summerweight material called ro. I did a lot of research before I finally found one which offers summer kimono and had an English website. At the appointment, the employee spoke only Japanese with me with a few words in English. For research purposes I spoke English only. I understood most of what she said to me but I think that if a customer didn’t understand Japanese and didn’t have anyone around who could help translate, this could be a problem, especially because their form with the add on options and pricing was only in Japanese.
Their selection of “summer kimono” was quite disappointing. Almost all were lined (for winter) and only 3-4 were unlined (for spring and fall) but there was not even one summerweight kimono on the rack. I actually asked point blank if they had summerweight kimono and she responded that all the kimono were suitable for summer. I chose one of the unlined kimono and they dressed me using a juban that was also not for summer. As you can imagine, I was very hot while walking around outside that afternoon. For the obi, they also provided only half width obi but unlike the previous shop they pulled a few that they recommended, but allowed me to decide which I wanted to wear from their entire selection. The dressing was quick and the hair set went pretty quickly.
The Hair Situation
One thing I feel obligated to mention, is I prefer having short hair and it is usually asymmetrical. For all three of the shops I discussed, it has been clear that they have no idea what to do with unusually short or asymmetric hair. The studio overloaded my short hair with too many flowers. One of the other hair people spent a good 5 minutes fretting and asking everyone else what to do before ultimately giving me a style I liked. The other did not hesitate but reached a point where she could not complete the style with my remaining hair and just left it. Both of those experiences left me feeling discouraged or disappointed for different reasons.
My Honest Feelings
If I’m honest, I think I would be less bothered by these things (minus the hair) if I hadn’t started working at Sakaeya. If you know anything about kimono, it is easy to pick typical kimono rental shop’s clients from women who have done their own coordinations. We at Sakaeya put so much effort into making sure that our rental clients are getting an authentic experience that it’s difficult for me to see the others as being anything but too lazy to do things right. Our hair/makeup artist as works slower than the others I have mentioned but has had no problem giving me two beautiful hairstyles despite my short, asymmetrical hair. It seems like the other hairdressers have specific styles they default to and can’t easily deviate from that and that exemplifies the issue I have with their kimono services. The photo studio gives a traditionally coordinated outfit but the others completely streamline the process to get you in and out as quickly as possible and you end up with a cookie cutter kitsuke that is well done but lacks any kind of soul or personality.