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While in Japan, we noticed women dressed in kimonos just walking the streets. Quite quickly our guide corrected us explaining that the traditional dresses we see are simple yukatas. For a foreigner it seems to be a kimono, but it is not. But still even a simple yukata made of cotton or synthetic silk is considered a casual but elegant dress.

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The main feature of a true kimono is many layers. In Gijon, the Geisha district we saw women, whose dresses or robes were more complex and much more decorated. You could have seen they consisted of many layers. Their faces were painted, their hair carefully dressed. These were professional geishas or geikos (or women learning to become one).

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Seen in Gion, the geisha district.

There are of course simpler kinds of kimonos worn on special occasions. Like in the Western tradition, different kinds of dresses and robes are worn on different occasions. The best example in every country is the wedding dresses.

A newly married couple dressed Japanese traditional way posing to a photographer in the bamboo forest in Arashiyama.

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And yet another beautiful bride in a beautiful robe.

But the absolute highlight was dresses, robes, costumes and apparel we saw during the Aoi Matsuri Festival. It is a traditional procession of a couple of hundred people dressed according to VIII-XII century court code alongside streets of Kyoto. In the middle of procession there is an unmarried woman, who performs the role of Saiō-Dai. In past times, she was a lady chosen from the sisters and daughters of the Emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo shrine (another shrine on the way of the procession). According to the tradition she is dressed in jūnihitoe that is the most elegant kind of a kimono. It consists in fact of 12 twelve layers of silk garments (hence its name ‘a twelve-layer robe’). The colours of layers depend (or rather depended in the past) on the woman’s position. As the Sao Dai was carried is some kind of a litter it was not possible to see the whole robe. It would be however difficult for the performer to walk in the procession as the junihitoe may weight up to 20 kg.

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Sao Dai dressed in jūnihitoe, the twelve layers robe.

Today, only members of the imperial house wear jūnihitoe on very important occasions.

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Still of beautiful dresses and robes at the Aoi Matsuri festival.

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