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Portal into the past

Jan 09. 2018
Foreign visitors wearing samurai armor and helmets from Samurai Armor Photo Studio walk on a street in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo Japan NewsYomiuri
Foreign visitors wearing samurai armor and helmets from Samurai Armor Photo Studio walk on a street in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo Japan NewsYomiuri
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By Ryozo Suzuki
The Japan News
Asia News Network

3,119 Viewed

How Tokyo photo studios cater to tourists' fascination with ancient Japan

STUDIOS WHERE visitors can have themselves photographed in costumes of samurai warriors or high-ranking courtesans are becoming increasingly popular all over Tokyo.

At Samurai Armor Photo Studio in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, seven sets of yoroi kabuto (samurai armour and helmets) have been manually reproduced by highly skilled craftsmen based on ones that were used by samurai commanders around the Sengoku warring states period (from the late 15th century to the late 16th century).

The armour and helmets are made with real metal, not plastic, and thus one set weighs about 20 kilograms. 

Foreign visitors wearing samurai armor and helmets from Samurai Armor Photo Studio walk on a street in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo Japan NewsYomiuri

Visitors to the studio choose their favourite armor and helmets while listening to explanations in English about the historical background of the items. They change into suteteko traditional knee-length underwear and tabi split-toed socks.

Staff members help the visitors put on kosode short-sleeved kimono and flowing hakama trousers. The visitors also don other gear such as kote arm guards, suneate leg guards, do breastplates, katana swords and kabuto helmets.

Shooting 170 photos in 10 different poses in the indoor studio takes about 90 minutes and fees for the standard course that includes photographs start from 13,000 yen (about $116) per person.

A two-hour course is also available, in which visitors go out on the streets and have themselves photographed outdoors.

The photo studio was opened in May 2016 by a nearby firm that runs call centre services.

The company began the service as an in-house business venture to utilise vacant office space.

To start the business, studio manager Shimpei Takemura studied history and received training to help put on kimono and armour for about a year before the opening.

A customer at the studio has himself photographed before going out to the street. 

Takemura says that the number of visitors who used the service this year was about double that of last year. Most of the customers are foreigners – from the United States, France, Italy and other countries – who learned of the studio's service on the internet, he says.

At Henshin Shashinkan Studio Nanairo, another such facility in Tokyo's Asakusa area, customers can have their photos taken while dressed as oiran – high-ranking courtesans.

After customers choose their favourite furisode long-sleeved kimono, it takes about an hour for the studio to apply makeup and style their hair in the gorgeously distinctive manner of an oiran.

The customers' hair is decorated with long kanzashi hair pins, traditional Japanese combs and many other hair accessories. Then they wear kimono and pose for photos on opulent sets.

The photo studio was established in December 2014 by the Kyoritsu Maintenance group, which includes companies that manage and operate dormitories for students and company employees. The corporate group began the service as a new business utilising the group's know-how.

Minerva Wong, centre, poses for photos clad in oiran attire with her husband, Joe, 37, at Henshin Shashinkan Studio Nanairo in Taito Ward, Tokyo.

Mie Ichikawa, the manager of the studio, says the number of users has been steadily rising and has doubled in three years. 

It also lets visitors wear geisha and other costumes, but most of them, he says, opt for the oiran costumes.

The oiran course takes almost three hours and the fees start from 27,000 yen per person. The studio said there are about as many Japanese users as foreign ones.

Minerva Wong, 36, a flight attendant who came to Japan on a 10-day sightseeing trip with her husband from Vancouver, Canada, was among the customers.

“I learned Japanese history and kimono when I was very young, in elementary school,” she says, adding that the oiran makeover was something she had never experienced before. "I think [the elaborate garments make it] very difficult to move, but it's very pretty, very beautiful. It's a good experience, one of the best experiences in Japan.”

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