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White River experience

By: Ann Summar

Date Posted: 1998-09-04

When my husband and I first arrived on Okinawa, we planned quite a few things that we HAD to do before we left. While we still have a few places left to visit, one item we were able to mentally cross off our list last week was dressing up in traditional kimono and getting our pictures taken at the White River photo studio. It took us a little over three years, but we finally did it. It was one thing we wanted to do to document our time here on the island. Just a little bit of the culture to take back with us and preserve for as long as we can.

We set our appointment a week in advance, and headed out to BC Street on a Saturday morning. White River is easy to find and is located a block and a half from the new Korinza Shopping Center on Chuo Park Avenue. Parking is free in a small lot around the back of the studio, or in the Korinza parking ramp.

We found White River quite easily, and walked up the stairs to the second floor, where we stepped into an air conditioned sitting room and were served sweetened tea while we browsed through the photo albums. A number of photographs are on the wall as well, to help customers decide which poses and kimono they would like best.

I wanted to have my picture taken in the traditional white wedding kimono, but after looking at some of the options, I was not so sure. I finally decided on a colorful kimono, embroidered with intricate cranes, in red, black, and gold. This kimono was traditionally used for the weddings of royalty, and is known as ‘uchikake.’ The colors were a bit dark for a younger bride, according to Ms. Izumi, but my heart was set on it. My husband had the choice of wearing black or white, both of which are traditional wedding kimono for men.

The kimono we chose were Japanese-style, as opposed to the lighter, more brightly-colored Okinawan kimonos, which many customers choose. After deciding on the dress, I changed into a light robe and was led into the salon area of White River.

Traditionally, the faces of Japanese brides were made up with an extremely pale base. Times have changed, however, and most women now choose a more natural look. Hiroko Izumi, who owns White River with her husband Hisashi, prepared a water-based foundation and went to work, first applying the base to my face and neck, then proceeded to cover my hands and wrists with the makeup as well. Apart from the kimono, a woman’s makeup is the most important step in this process. After finishing my eyes, cheeks, and lips, she piled my hair on top of my head and wrapped it with a soft net in preparation for the wig I was to wear later on. It takes a while for the makeup and hair to be completed, so if you bring children with, it’s a good idea to also have an older child, husband, or friend to keep them busy during this process. The makeover is not included in all packages, but if you’d like to experience it, it’s well worth the extra yen.

When I was finished in the salon, we returned to the mirrored room where we choose the kimono an hour earlier. Ms. Izumi and one of her assistants carefully laid out the kimono, obi, and tabi, which are socks designed to be worn with the platform shoes. For Ms. Izumi, one of the pleasures she gets out of White River is seeing the looks on the faces of her clients when they are dressed in kimono for the first time.

Dressing was fast for my husband, who only had to change his shirt. He was padded, dressed in a black underrobe, a black, white, and gold-striped skirt, black obi, and after a few pulls, tucks, and some added belts, put on the actual kimono. The process was a bit more time-consuming, though similar, for me. A white underrobe, white obi, belts, padding, and straps, and I was almost done. Ms. Izumi opened a case and took out an elaborate black wig and her assistant displayed beautiful pieces of jewelry to be worn in the hair. After I chose the bejeweled set which had first caught my eye, the heavy wig was placed on my head and we were ready to step into the shoes and walk down the hallway to the photo studio.

In that room, we were introduced to Hisashi Izumi, who is White River’s talented photographer. He enjoys photographing children, and often spends time at area hospitals snapping complimentary pictures of newborns for their proud parents. One Okinawan tradition is to have a family portrait taken 100 days after the birth of a new baby, and a beaming couple was just finishing their shot when we arrived.

Because it is quite hard to walk in the complete ensemble, I was positioned in the middle of the room, and once everything was perfect, I was helped into my outer kimono, the beautiful red and black robe that I had chosen earlier. After making sure the pose was as it should be, my husband stepped into place and the picture taking began.

The whole process took about two-and-a-half hours, but the memories from our day at White River will last us a lifetime.

White River is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and offers a variety of services, from family portraits to Western-style wedding photos, but their claim to fame is, without question, the memorable kimono portrait. A number of packages are available, ranging in price from ¥7,000 to ¥30,000 or more, depending on the costume, number of poses, and size of the pictures. See White River’s ad in this week’s Japan Update to find a detailed map and current specials.

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