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  • Shona McCarthy

Kyoto Costume Museum


Of my experiences in Kyoto, the time I spent visiting the Kyoto Costume Museum was definitely among the most enjoyable. I'm dissatisfied with the photos I took of the Museum, so here is a video someone else made:


The museum can be a little tricky to find, since to get there you have to enter a business building called "Izutsu Samegai" on a relatively quiet stretch of Horikawa Dori and take an elevator up to the 5th floor. The Museum is small. Much, much smaller that you would ever expect a museum to be. But this is largely (cough cough) due to the fact that most of the museum is made up of miniatures. In fact, I feel the museum underrates itself in calling itself a Costume Museum alone. The miniatures are posed within highly detailed tableaus that not only tell the story of The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu; the dioramas also answered many of the questions I had about Heian Period life. There are depictions of the games people played back then, what they ate, how they perfumed their clothes.


A moment I found especially striking was when I was walking through one little corridor and noticed that the tiny mannequins on my right seemed to be posed to look at the viewer. "How odd!" I thought. Then I looked to my left and realised that I was walking through an event; the dolls to my right were viewing the dolls to my left as they performed in an archery contest. But this odd sensation of being looked at by these dolls and then realising that I was literally walking through their world made me realise that this truly was a simulacrum of things that real people did around 2000 years ago. In the gift area of the museum, many things could be purchased including booklets explaining the entire history of Japanese clothing, right back to the prehistoric. Admittedly, the books are largely in Japanese, but I intend to use The Google Translate App's camera function to help me go through them. I also bought a very beautiful post card depicting a life-size mannequin in full Heian period dress.


One of the key things that makes the Museum significant is that it is regarded as a true historical resource on traditional Japanese dress. When Japanese film makers want information on period dress, they will usually study the museum's resources. For me, visiting the museum and buying the books was particularly exciting because I had been unknowingly looking at their website for historical dress information for over a decade by the time I got to go. See the link to also find out their opening hours as these may vary during holiday periods, or after the end of Covid-19. So, I can recommend it as a good place to go if you want to know more about Japanese history and culture, and if you love miniatures. You may have to be careful that younger children won't try to play with the exhibits, as they are very pretty and enticing.


If you would like to supplement your experiences of Japan with wearable objects, you could try perusing my online store. I try to keep my prices reasonable, and my products a blend of the fun and practical:

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