A boy blossoms in Japan

In the days after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan, my husband and I re-considered our pre-booked April holiday.

As our travel date approached we had to make a decision and stick to it. Although the trip was booked for my 40th birthday, our five year old boy Tai, was also very excited to visit Japan. He’s not a sheltered child - he knew that Japan had just suffered a major catastrophe (not that he fully understood what it all meant) and he knew that we were weighing up our travel options. In a last ditch attempt to make a call, we decided to ask him what he wanted to do. Bless the mind of this young child to stay present and matter-of-factly state that he still wanted to go to Japan. And so we did; with an altered itinerary we visited Osaka, Kyoto and Kanazawa.

Tai as a Japanese Boy

A highlight of the trip was dressing up in traditional Japanese clothing. We arrived at Kokoyui, a kimono hire and dress-up service in Kanazawa, at 1pm for my scheduled appointment. We entered the shop through the noren (traditional door curtains) where Haruka, the shop owner, welcomed us with the usual bowing and Japanese retail greeting of, ‘I ras shai mase’, which translates to, ‘May I help you’. Listen for this while shopping as many shop assistants stand at the doorway of their shop repeating this to lure in potential buyers.

After removing our footwear (a must do custom in Japan), we entered the sitting room and that’s when Tai decided he wanted to dress up as well. Originally, the booking was just for me as a birthday treat. I was excited to share this playtime with Tai. Daddy did not play dress-up; choosing to act as our official photographer instead.

We followed Haruka by climbing on our hands and knees up a very steep set of stairs to the kimono room. There were many different patterns, colors and textures to choose from. Tai choose a gorgeous green, dog character printed kimono with dark green, thick hakuma (boys skirt) to match nicely. Tai’s favorite color is green so naturally his entire outfit was in shades of green.

Although Tai was shy to remove his western wear (he kept his jockeys on), he did so with my help and then Haruka quickly commenced the layering of the outfit. Firstly, the hada juban (underwear close to the skin) which is a thin wrap around top and long wrap around skirt-type of garment to cover his entire body. Not at all like western underwear and not very boyish considering in was pink. However, it was cute and he enjoyed the pampering.

Next was the naga juban (long underwear), a one piece thin garment to provide a layer in between the underwear and the actual kimono. This could also double as pajamas.

Tai looked so cute when the dog-printed kimono was draped onto him. But Haruka was not finished yet. After he was fitted with the hakuma (skirt), she then bound him around the ribs with an obi (belt) to secure the setup. To finish the outfit, Tai chose white tabi (socks) and a pair of padded zori (sandals). Haruka didn’t have any green socks.

On the Streets of Kanazawa

Tai and Daddy waited patiently as I got dressed up in the many layers of this ancient fashion. After spending two hours at Kokoyui, we were set loose to wander the streets of Kanazawa and set wonder to the Japanese onlookers.

Not long after we set out, it started to rain so Daddy purchased some umbrellas so we didn’t get too wet. He found a gorgeous one for Tai that had a detailed handle and when in its sheath looks like as a make believe samurai sword. It was fun and functional.

We meandered around Kenroku-en, the large and beautiful gardens of Kanazawa, in search of sakura (cherry blossoms) with Daddy snapping heaps of photos; some candid, but most were shamelessly posed for. Our favorites are of Tai acting as a wee Samurai.

As the rain got heavier, the temperature dropped and we were all cold, wet and tired. Tai’s kimono and socks were soaked by the time we arrived back to Kokoyui at 6pm. Haruka gave us warm towels as we shivered our way out of the kimonos and back into our western clothes.

The cost of this playful adventure is ¥3000 ($35AUD) for children and ¥8500 ($100 AUD) for adults. I paid an additional ¥3000 for hair and make-up services as well. You can pay less if you just want to have a dress-up in the shop and not go outside. It is such a unique and treasured cultural experience and one Tai will always remember. We highly recommend it.

We absolutely loved everything about our fortnight in Japan. Everything was so different to our ‘normal’ but such a fantastic and educational life experience. We were sad to leave and even more sad to hear that tourism was down by 75%. The locals were very welcoming and happy to see the few tourists that were visiting. Tai loved Japan and the Japanese people loved him with his blonde hair and cheeky nature, calling him ‘kawaii’ which means ‘cute’.

By Jennifer Morton