Before I travelled to Okinawa late last year, I gotta say, I really didn't know much at all about this tropical side of Japan that's so unlike the rest of the country. When I got there, I finally understood why it's often dubbed the Hawaii of Japan. I mean, the blue waters, the sunny weather, the palm trees? Gorgeous.
It's also genuinely pretty fascinating to learn about Okinawa's history - for a long while, they were an independently-governed kingdom (called the Ryukyu Kingdom), and because of that, a lot of their customs and traditions differ from mainland Japan, including their traditional wear.
Ok, so you know how the Japanese have the kimono? In Okinawa, it's called ryusou (though many people typically call it an Okinawa kimono, for ease of refence).
And while it does have similarities to a regular kimono, there are many points that make it different too. For one thing, it's a lot easier to wear. While a kimono has many parts and takes a lot of skill just to put it on and tie it in place,a ryusou is more like a yukata (the casual cotton kimono locals wear usually in summer).
Ryusous also tends to have much larger sleeves (helps keep you cool in their much warmer, tropical weather!) and is usually made in bright colour fabrics. Of course, as with a lot of Japanese traditions, the design and patterns of the fabric often have deep symbolic meanings borne from Okinawan history.
I got to try a ryusou for myself while I was in Okinawa, specifically at Okinawa World, which is a theme park located in Nanjo, about half an hour drive from the main city of Naha. The park aims to promote Okinawan culture, and features all sorts of workshops where you can experience local crafts and artforms. There's an entrance fee of around 1,300 yen for adults.
You have to rent the ryusou to take pictures, and while I was there it cost 700 yen to rent and wear the ryusou for photos in their studio area only, or you could upgrade to 1,500 yen and get a full half an hour in the ryusou, with the option to roam around outside to take photos.
I decided to go the full hog and splurged on the 1,500 package (you have to pay upfront btw!). I wish I took photos of choosing and putting own my ryusou, but to be honest it happened so fast I never got the chance ? The staff there were clearly trying to get me and other customers through the process as fast as possible, and because the ryusou is so easy to wear (I basically just threw it on over my clothes and they tied it up with another ribbon in the middle, tuggged a bit here and there and voila!), I was ready in less than 5 minutes.
The staff took photos of me in the studio first, and I was given a prop, a large and ornate flower-like object which is actually a hat! Ryusou was traditionally worn with it, though nowadays it's mostly worn during performances of traditional dances.
After taking photos indoors, I was given a red umbrella, some slippers, and off I went to go take photos outside! It's nice to have a friend there who can help you have your photoshoot moment. Best believe that I got my 1,500 yen's worth ?
After I was done taking photos outside, I headed back to return the ryusou. Once I was done the staff seemed to want to look at my photos and make sure I uploaded it to Instagram and tag Okinawa World, but I wasn't quite sure (there was a bit of a language barrier ?). In any case, they stopped after a while, and let me go on my merry way.
All, in all, I'm glad I got to experience it! If you ever drop by Okinawa World (or also Ryuku Mura, another similar theme park in Okinawa), you can give it go and hopefully take some memorable photos ?