Ever since I discovered that one of the most inspiring kimono stylists I know offers private tour and photo sessions, I’ve been dying to swan around Tokyo in a gorgeous ensemble, styled down to the last deco bracelet by modern kimono maven Anji Salz. (If you don’t already follow @salztokyo on Instagram, check these photos out, and you’ll see why!)
Fabulous, right? And guess what? I finally lived the dream! And you can too – come with us now, and watch how she transforms this plain old thing…
It all started with a “flatsuke”
A week before we met, Anji asked me if I had any favorite colors, and to send a few photos that would give her an idea of my personal style. I sent a few drab, dressed-in-black things, but I’ve seen the out-of-this-world kitsuke ensembles she wears herself, and begged her to ignore how I usually look. There’s nothing I wanted more than to get a SALZ Tokyo kimono makeover, and to look like her instead!
So she looked through her collection of vintage and modern treasures, then sent me this:
I was stunned (and secretly thrilled) by her choice. Somehow she guessed that if she could get the drab little mouse who spends her days pecking away at a computer in her dim writing cave into the enchanted kimono, the magic would happen.
Of course, the kimono was just the start. Putting together a kitsuke outfit is an intricate art – especially when styling a modern kimono hime (“princess kimono”) look and pairing it with Western accessories – so once I’d replied ALL THE YES to her inspired choice, she assembled a constellation of accessories and sent me this:
The day finally arrives!
We met at Nippori Station and checked into a room she’d rented nearby, so she could dress me. I brought my boots and a sports bra to tame The Girls, and she brought everything else. (One of the very best things about wearing kimono is that body shape is not what it’s about, so evening out the curves makes everything look better.)
Here we are, with all the basics in place:
Let’s take a moment to enjoy how Anji styled this traditional Japanese outfit to look great on a non-Japanese body
If you’ve ever worn kimono (especially if your forebears came from anywhere outside Asia), you know that there are some challenges to making a garment designed for a Japanese body fit one that’s not. I’m about eight centimeters taller that the average Japanese woman, so kimonos that are the right width (especially vintage kimonos) are always too short. Anji addressed this in an extra-stylish way by adding an Italian pleated fabric to the bottom of the jūban underslip.
My arms are also a lot longer than a typical Japanese woman’s, but these rockin’ lace gloves made my gawky wrist-parts a total non-issue:
All dressed – let’s hit the streets!
I’d told Anji that I was hoping to get at least one photo that I could submit as an author head shot for the back cover of my new book, so we warmed up by taking a few literary shots in Yanaka, an old-style neighborhood with plenty of places that suggest, “she’s not Japanese, but she’s at home in Japan.”
As we walked around the quiet streets she’d scouted for our shoot, we encountered nobody but cats and Japanese locals, who smiled and stopped to tell us how happy they were to see such beautiful kimono outfit being worn about town.
The Yanaka area was a great choice for our kimono tour, because it’s so rich in perfect settings…
I was too embarrassed to admit this before we started, but I was kind of nervous on the way to meet her, because I’ve always been horribly camera-shy and awkward in front of a lens. But I shouldn’t have worried – she was so good at getting me to relax and have fun, by the end of our time together, I was posing like a pro!
You don’t have to book an experience with a pro like Anji to wear kimono in Tokyo, but kimono touring with SALZ Tokyo is as different from the cheap walk-in shops as gliding down the red carpet at the Oscars is to trying on prom dresses at Macy’s.
Taking a SALZ Tokyo kimono tour is more expensive than those by-the-hour “kimono rental” shops in places like Asakusa, though, and here’s why:
1) Her pieces are collector-quality kimonos, often vintage and/or one-of-a-kind, while the mass-market shops rent inexpensive off-the-rack cotton and polyester pieces
2) She styles a look that’s designed for each customer personally, from her vast private collection of accessories, which are also mostly one-of-a-kind and vintage
3) Shops may include a photo of your “kimono experience” in their price, but Anji’s kimono tour is more like a professional photo shoot (where you get to be the professional model), with scouted locations and art-quality digital photography. She typically sends 6-8 high-resolution, curated, edited images as mementos of your kimono tour, not just one.
4) Unlike the costume packages that turn you into a “geisha” or “oiran,” you still look like yourself after being dressed in kimono by Anji (only better lol)
If you’ve never worn kimono and you’d be happy just seeing what it’s like to put on a kimono-like outfit and walk around for an hour, the inexpensive shops will deliver that experience just fine. But if you’re looking for a genuine kimono experience that’ll be a highlight of your time in Tokyo, this one is worth every yen.
If you’d like to book a fabulous day like this the next time you’re in Tokyo…
Kimono tour details are on the SALZ Tokyo website. (And if you love the way modern gurlz are wearing kimono as oh-so-now fashion, spend a few moments feasting your eyes on Anji’s SALZ Tokyo blog and her Instagram @salztokyo)
Update: How thrilled was I to see this surprise in my Insta feed yesterday morning?
Anji is so famed for her kimono styling that people make fan art of her creations! I got a contact buzz just from being the lucky person wearing the lovelies in this cool drawing・° ♪・☆
(More great drawings like this are on @librarian_kinu’s Instagram)
*Also, just so you know…
I never take freebies or payment of any kind for stuff I recommend on Only In Japan – if I’m telling you I loved something, it’s because I’m a paying customer myself, and genuinely want you to experience the goodness too.
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon!
A great read!” —Liza Dalby, author of Geisha and The Tale of Murasaki
Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!