What a way to start my third week at Hokkaido Japanese Language School, or JaLS. We had done taiko drumming the week before. Now on this Monday in July, we were heading off to our next cultural activity of the summer program – the kimono experience.
We headed out as a group to Tanukikoji, a busy covered shopping arcade in Sapporo. It was only a 15 minute walk from our school to a little kimono business, Mitsuki Sakura (美月桜), on the 5th floor of an office building just along the shopping arcade.
Getting the kimonos fit were quite a task all on their own. I think there were 3 or 4 ladies working at the place that helped our group of about 15 get the kimonos on. The owner of the business was helping the handful of guys in one room, while the other workers were helping all the ladies with their much more extensive and complex garments. The owner even spoke Mandarin with me. Apparently she lived and worked in Shanghai for several years. The temperature was definitely in the 30°C range that afternoon. As a guy, it was hot under the two heavy layers of fabric. But just imagine what the ladies had to endure under even more fabric!
However, I must say that all the ladies looked stunningly beautiful in their kimonos. The men were styling along with their fake Japanese swords at their side. Some of the ladies were also sporting Japanese fans as part of their outfits. It was a very necessary accessory on a hot Sapporo summer day.
Our destination after getting into all our kimonos was the ferris wheel high atop the Norbesa Building. We had to take the 5-10 minute walk over there wearing the traditional Japanese sandals that go together with the kimonos. The men were a little more free to walk normally in their get-ups, but the women had to daintily shuffle along Tanukikoji to the ferris wheel.
Along the way, an old lady stopped one of our Thai classmates. The lady had noticed that something had come undone on the kimono and spontaneously adjusted it there right on the street side. What a great random moment.
We took the elevator up to the top of Norbesa and soon loaded onto the cars of the ferris wheel in groups of 3 and 4. Everyone had their cameras and phones focused on the view outside. It was a clear, clear day to be up high in the city. Great 360° views.
After one revolution in the hot, hot cars of the Norbesa Ferris Wheel, our school activity coordinator took us down a few floors to the photo sticker booths. If you’re not familiar with photo sticker booths, they are basically photo booths gone mad. They are like mini photo studios complete with instructions (albeit in Japanese) and myriad options to gussy up one’s photo with obscenely large alien eyes, simulated blush, and/or drawings. My wife and I tried to do one on our own, but the options were so overwhelming that we weren’t sure what we were doing. Plus, we couldn’t get rid of the obscenely large alien eyes option.
After one puts the finishing touches onto one’s photos, one can print out the photo(s) onto a sticker that one’s cell phone, notebook, or forehead (last option is not really recommended nor common). We came away with our stickers, but I think my wife conveniently lost the photo stickers. That’s okay. I think I would have conveniently lost them too if they were in my possession.
We were soon back at the kimono place returning our rented outfits. It was only a couple of hours and our kimono experience was over. More moments were logged and stashed away into the memory banks from that afternoon. Fun times all around for everyone. There’s just something stylish and exciting about wearing a kimono. If you are in Sapporo, you can try visiting Mitsuka Sakura along Tanukikoji and see what they have available.
Also, you can see a video of the kimono experience from my classmate, Kacy’s, viewpoint. Doesn’t she look excited about it all?