Sewing Shopping in Japan: What to Bring Home

Ever since I started listening to the sirens of minimalism, there is one area I know I can improve : travel souvenirs. I always want to bring back tons of useless stuff. But that was before sewing! Here is a list of things you can buy there and use later in your sewing room, to revive those travel memories of your happy time in Japan…

Sewing Japan

Japanese Fashion 101

Even before I visited Japan, fashion designers like Issey Miyake (king of pleats) or Kenzo Takada (king of prints) helped me get an idea of the Japanese aesthetics. Even closer to the sewing world, I recently read “Drape drape” by Hisako Sato giving me a lesson in minimalist applied to pattern cutting.    


But that doesn’t really prepare you to how unique Japan is compared to everything I had witnessed before.

The minute you set foot there, you notice the dual nature of fashion. You will run into armies of black suited men and women all looking similar followed by eccentric and colorful manga-like creatures. At the corner of a store, a granny will greet you in traditional Kimono while some Tokyoïtes will wear avant-garde styles that will send you running for your phone to take a picture for inspiration.

It is a true feast for the eyes and a wonder of every instant.

One of the vintage Kimonos presented at the Tokyo National Museum

Fancy Dress Made In Japan

You all know my love of fancy dressing by now, well it seems a fair share of Japanese (mainly girls) also share that passion. At every key places around the country (Nara, Kyoto, Osaka) numerous shops give you the opportunity to rent a Kimono (about 30$) to visit and take pictures in the “proper” outfit.

Young Japanese ladies climbing up the stairs to visit a temple in Kyoto

At first I thought this was a “foreign tourists only” thing as I saw many Chinese girls and boys and a few Caucasians doing it. But actually many Japanese girls and even older women seem to be very fond of it too…

A splash of color in an ocean of dark blue

As I haven’t seen any youngsters wearing them outside of those specific temple areas, I asked around and got confirmation : just like a tuxedo nowadays, very few Japanese own high end kimonos. Instead, they prefer to rent them out for an occasion (wedding, visit to the shrines etc.) to be able to take pictures in them and rent new ones after.

A wedding couple in Kyoto

And it even works for pilgrimage!


Those two were followed by their mother in western clothes taking pictures of them at every corner of this beautiful shrine complex, lost in the Kii peninsula. It reminded me of young graduates posing in their special day uniform with family members immortalizing the moment.

A very striking man’s dress that matches perfectly with what Madame is wearing. It gave me new ideas to be bolder in how I pair patterns and colors

It sure makes for beautiful pictures!

And of course, I really wanted to try it for myself. You can read about my Geisha transformation experience here.

sewing geisha kyoto maiko
The Maiko experience at Aya studio in Kyoto

What to bring back from Japan

If you are a seamstress, or simply if you like clothes, here is my list of items I would recommend getting when in Japan.

Option 1 : You Have Very Little Space

1. Washi Tape

Washi tape is a very useful tool when sewing. Be it for marking your sewing machine or patching together patterns it’s always useful and easier to handle than regular tape (too strong)

Where? Kinokuniya, Yodobashi Camera (among other electronic stuff) offers a good washi tape selection too, even easier, go check the paper rows of one of the Family Mart supermarkets, they are everywhere.


2. Silk Remnants

I found very beautiful silks here and there and the variety of colors where mouthwatering ! Plus it doesn’t take much space.

Where? Somewhere lost in Kyoto. Sorry didn’t write this one down.


For historical costumer : tiny combs to shape eccentric hair styles. I first saw them in souvenir shops and wondered how they got used, now I know!

Option 2 : You Have Some Space

1. Obi belts

You would have loved to buy one of those kimonos BUT you really don’t have the space. How about a shorter version ? I don’t know about you but whenever I sew a woman wearing a kimono my eyes are instantly attracted (glued) to the belt, the famous Obi. It’s rather narrow (30cm) but pretty long (4 yards if not more) and generally made of silk with awesome embroidery. 

Where? Most of the renting facilities like Wara Plus in Nara will also offer to sell some of their possessions. You would they think they would be rags used over and over but guys, this is Japan so most of the ones I found were in pristine conditions. The cheapest I saw were 5$ (back but great silk). Styles are endless so go out and have fun with it!

Oh and, if you REALLY couldn’t find space in your bag, there are some good buys on Etsy like in this shop.

A renting shop in Kyoto
a rent & sell facility in Nara





2. Samples of fabric

This is what I settled for, found in a good old fabric store in Kyoto. Most of the fabric was similar to what I had at home so not interesting until… I found a dedicated remnant section featuring these babies below. It will make for perfect pouches, jacket details, bag handles.

Where? I went to Nomura Tailor shop in downtown Kyoto. It had a good selection of items and was easy to reach.


3. Yukata

If you stay at a Ryokan (traditional japanese pension) chances are you will get into one of those blue bath robe. It’s comfy, it’s stylish, I loved it ! They are made of cotton and consist of only one layer so pretty easy to find space for it in one’s luggage.

Where? If you want to bring a Yukata back home, your hotel will probably offer to sell theirs. Otherwise, many tourist shops with a bit of products will feature them. Just check it’s actually cotton and if you want to stay true to actual ones go for colors like blues, blacks, dark greens. They were the most frequent I saw.



Option 3 : You Have A Lot of Space

1. A Proper Kimono 

Enough space to bring home one of those silk beauties ? Go for it! Keep in mind what you will do with it : wear it (will you be able to wash it and how ?) use it as decoration or tear it to pieces to make a new garment (for a stained kimono for example. or one with holes in it)

Where? Same as the Obi belts : rent and souvenirs shops. The best ones I found where in Kyoto. Prices can go as low as 15 euros and as high as… you wish, really. Note as well that the outer layer is only ONE of the parts that constitute an actual kimono, to wear it “the proper way” will require a bit more effort and investment. Have a look at my previous article about Geisha to see what I mean.


2. A sewing Machine

I am a big fan of Brother sewing machines which is a Japanese brand. You will find them in places like Yodobashi Camera that has a fair amount of sewing machines. I didn’t find them especially cheap but you could give it a try in case of dire need.

Side note : you can actually keep a machine as a hand luggage in a plane. You just need to :

  1. remove the needle
  2. check that it’s below the maximum limit weight
  3. pack it so it doesn’t bang in anything when carried.

Where? Yodobashi or any major electronic selling facilities



Oh and on another side note, don’t go to the Kyoto Costume Institute unless you have a very specific reason.

sewing japan

The place is not really created for general public and you will only be able to access a tiny room with only a handful of clothes… As I painfully discovered myself!

sewing japan


To dig deeper into the subject

Kyoto’s historical Fabric District

Have you been to Japan already ? What did you bring back ?

La bise



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