TOKYO >> The Shibamata neighborhood is well known as the setting for the long-running “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” (“It’s Tough Being a Man”) movie series featuring the kind-hearted vagabond Tora-san.
It is also the place where a real- life Frenchman has chosen to open a unique kimono shop, where he displays, sells and rents antique kimono.
“From a foreigner’s point of view, Japanese kimono are extremely beautiful,” says Thomas Kohler, the 23-year-old proprietor of Konjaku Kimono Komichi. “I want people to have a more casual approach toward kimono and have fun wearing them.”
One afternoon in early December, a group of five men and women clad in kimono strolled down the main approach to the Shibamata Taishakuten Buddhist temple. They were taking part in the “Shibamata kimono group stroll,” an event organized by Kohler. Sojin Okada, 17, was there with a friend.
“Kimono always seemed beyond my reach,” said Okada. “But after wearing one, I realized it doesn’t feel awkward at all.”
Kohler opened his store in July in a residential area that’s just a three-minute walk from Shibamata Station. “(The neighborhood) still provides a glimpse of beautiful Japan,” he said, explaining why he set up shop in the area.
A dyed-in-the-wool Frenchman, Kohler developed an interest in Japanese culture after being drawn in by flower arrangement and the tea ceremony. He studied the culture online and through books, and finally got to experience the country firsthand at age 18.
Kohler attended a Japanese language school in Tokyo for two years and worked part time at a shop in Asakusa that sold and rented used kimono. During lulls in his shift, he would closely examine the garments and gained a deep appreciation for them.
With the support of people he met while working at the kimono shop, Kohler eventually opened his own, focusing on antique kimono that had been stored away in people’s drawers and closets, relatively untouched. He saw his store as a way to give the garments a new lease on life.
He collected about 600 kimono from the Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-1926), Showa (1926-1989) and Heisei (1989-2019) eras.
Besides selling and renting kimono, he converted part of the shop into a salon, where he has held kimono-wearing classes, shamisen recitals and other events.
His efforts have garnered the support of the local community. A signboard for his shop is displayed free of charge at Shibamata Station, and neighbors assist with promotion.
Kohler’s kimono strolls tackle his latest challenge: drawing the tourist market.
In April, he held “Coming-of-Age Day, Once More,” an event that had females of all ages strolling through town wearing “furisode,” long-sleeved kimono traditionally reserved for unmarried women.
As he waits for business to take off at his humble shop, Kohler said he hopes more people will come to appreciate kimono.
“I’m looking forward to the day when the approach at Shibamata Taishakuten is filled with people wearing kimono.”