Enticed by the chance to take part in a few traditional activities I popped into Ota City’s Tourist Information Center. The TIC was easy to find; as soon as you walk through the ticket barriers at Keikyu Kamata Station you will see the familiar red ‘i’ indicating the center. The TIC is bright and spacious, using classic modern Japanese design throughout, with traditional touches of a tatami room and zen garden decoration. The staff greeted me as soon as I came in and were extremely welcoming, all staff are all bilingual, able to guide visitors in Chinese, Korean, English or Japanese.
When I planned my trip I had a look on the Tokyo Activity site to see what they had on offer, and was surprised by the amount of free activities, from origami and washi paper crafts to Japanese lessons and a Kimono experience!
We decided to kick-off my visit with the free kimono try-on. Having lived in Japan for three years it may come as a surprise to you that this was my first experience wearing a Kimono! I was ushered over to the tatami room, exclusively used for the Kimono experiences, where I took a seat on the fresh tatami to discuss my outfit. I looked through the selection of fabrics, five lavishly patterned kimono, two bright yukata and two subdued men’s kimono. There was a wide selection of obis and accessories to style the kimonos with; I opted for a bold modern print with a mustard yellow obi. Two friendly members of staff dressed me, I was suddenly whisked back in time and felt like I had my own helpful ladies in waiting. The staff’s expert hands had me wrapped up in just a few minutes, complete with updo and hair accessories! We spent a few minutes deciding which clips suited me, and which were a little over the top.
Naturally this quick Kimono try on forgoes the many layers and extra padding usually required for a full Kimono, but this session gives you a taste of Japanese culture. You remain in your street clothes underneath, so the experience is comfortable for those nervous about being dressed. But If this piques your interest then the TIC offers a more in-depth experience with a full Kimono, and the option to visit a local shrine in the beautiful garb. The TIC encourages taking photos and sharing your experience, so I was assisted in my own mini photo-shoot- complete with tatami tea-room backdrop and dramatic lighting. Whilst one member of my crew snapped away, the other helped me pose and gave me props! We tried a few fans, and different coloured paper parasols until we got the best shot. The TIC also lets you take an Instax photo- or cheki in Japanese- which they pin onto a big corkboard showcasing their global visitors.
Throughout my try-on we talked about the tradition and meaning of Kimono, and the ladies taught me a lot about how they mastered the techniques. Trying on kimono can be a costly and sometimes intimidating experience, but the staff here take real pride and joy in teaching visitors about Japanese culture, and it was a truly fantastic experience for an admittedly shy first timer. Though I’m far from being a pro, I have to say that I feel a lot more confident in wearing kimono and can better understand the painstaking effort it takes to craft even the simplest of obi ties!
After I changed out of the Kimono, I tried out a few of the other free Japanese culture experiences. We made beautiful, and surprisingly simple origami cranes, and I tried out monkiri paper craft for the first time! The decorations change monthly, so each time you visit you can try out a new shape or design; this month was floral monkiri, samurai hats, bunnies and crane origami.
The Ota-ku Tourist Information Center is a fantastic resource for all; many visitors pop in with a few questions about trains and end up with beautiful photographs, a lesson in paper craft and a few Japanese phrases to boot. The TIC staff are very knowledgeable and can help book tours, create a wonderful itinerary and offer advice on enjoying Tokyo. The TIC also offers a variety of local guidebooks, local craft products, regional specialities, fun robotic games, and advice on travelling and exploring the nearby neighbourhoods.
The center offers different activities and workshops each month, so be sure to check out the website for updates during your visit. Whether you are looking for advice on where to eat, which train to catch or simply want to spend a little more time and explore Japanese culture I really recommend making a visit. Even if you have just 30 minutes spare before you speed off to nearby Haneda airport, you should definitely come in chat to the wonderful staff and try on a gorgeous kimono!