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  • Shona McCarthy

The Kimono Forest, Arashiyama


My encounters with the Kimono Forest concept have occurred more than once. My first encounter with the concept occurred in 2015, in Kyoto's Shinbashi Dori, said to be the most beautiful street in the world. But I was not exactly jazzed about it. To me the concept of taking a beautiful tactile item like kimono silks and placing them around fluorescent lights with plastic tubes around them was somehow offensive. Kimono silks were made to be worn. The idea that people would feel the need to "update" them in such a manner rubbed me the wrong way. Kimono weren't born to be show pieces rendered untouchable. However, during my 2019 visit to Arashiyama, I decided to take a more open-minded perspective on the matter. The fact is that the Kimono Forest has practically consumed the Randen station, so you may see it even without intending to as you enter or exit the region.

(Taken by me, 2019.)

One of the things I observed about the Kimono Forest throughout my trip is how extraordinarily difficult it is to photograph all of it. It sprawls in all parts of Randen station. Even once you believe you've found and photographed all of it, you'll find a little more around a corner, or even in a public restroom. Which means that unless you are transgender you will always miss part of it.

(A little corner where parts of the Kimono Forest decorate some businesses within the station. Me, 2019.)

It turns out that far from being a way of rendering kimono even more irrelevant, the Kimono Forest seems to be bringing fresh business and attention to Kyoto artisans. Each tube is filled with a true bolt of kimono silk that has been carefully dyed using traditional techniques. I couldn't help but wish I could wear kimono made of these beautiful fabrics. So I decided to take photos of my favorites. Maybe one day I can make or find kimono silks like these and dress in them myself.

(Me, 2019.)

I was there at the wrong time of year to see the two little gardens which adjoin the Kimono Forest at their best; The Autumn "Momji Forest" and The Spring "Sakura Forest". So, they make little appearance in my photos. But one landmark in amongst the Kimono Forest which does make it in is The Dragon Pond. It is said that a dragon once landed there in Arashiyama. So, many people leave coins in the pond for good luck.

(Me, 2019)

(I'm sorry that I dominate so many of these photos. I was originally taking them for Instagram, and I find posts that include me looking nice tend to outperform posts that don't contain me. 2019.)

I revisited the Kimono Forest again at night, and found that it was even more remarkable. There is something about how these poles stand out in the dark, as though they are forever engaged in a mystical procession.

(The Kimono Forest at night, with young tourists taking selfies, taken by me, 2019.)

Something I was pleased to see was that many of the tourists, particularly young tourists, were wearing rental kimono as they frequented the forest. Far from reinforcing the idea of kimono as an irrelevant or untouchable object, the Kimono Forest seems to give people a new way of engaging with kimono. I am really glad I got to stay so close to it and see so much of it.

There is one final feature of the Kimono Forest I didn't get to participate in, though it might have done me good: In among the Kimono Forest on one of the Randen Station Platforms is a foot onsen. You aren't allowed to take food and drink in there, and you are only allowed to immerse your feet. But I can imagine that a day tourist to the area could easily spend much of the day wandering the hills and streets of Arashiyama, and then restore their feet in these hot little pools.

(The Footbath/Onsen of Arashiyama Randen Station. Taken by me, 2019.)


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