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Painting the Town

Miami’s Art Basel, by the numbers; Japan’s first foreign geisha simplifies the kimono; Berlin’s scoring leader; the world’s smallest brewery; Kristin Chenoweth gets back to her roots

TOKYO
Beginner’s Belt

One of the geisha world’s best-kept secrets is revealed

A woman dressed in a powder-blue kimono and wooden geta sandals makes her way through the crowd near Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensoji, in what was once an infamous entertainment district. Her name is Sayuki. And while she prefers not to reveal her age or full name, Sayuki has been well known in her adopted country since 2007, when the Australian became the first-ever foreign geisha.

After gliding past the sweets stalls and tea shops lining the narrow streets, this social anthropologist (who holds both a Ph.D. and an M.B.A. from Oxford) arrives at her latest tradition-bucking venture: Sayuki no Kimonoya, a store that specializes in kimonos that wearers can easily put on by themselves.

Opened in March, the tiny shop is filled with brightly colored, neatly folded kimonos, many of which are recycled, but all of which are immaculate. (A used kimono set begins at around $250, or about a 10th of the price of a new one.) Sayuki’s hottest seller, however, is her revolutionary take on the traditional belt known as an obi. Little known outside the geisha community, the revamped version is called a tsukeobi: Instead of the single stretch of material used in an obi, each tsukeobi is cut into two pieces, allowing even novices to fasten it in minutes.

“Nearly every Japanese woman has an obi at home,” Sayuki says, “but 92 percent of them are unable to fasten one on their own. It’s very difficult and requires strength and practice. The tsukeobi makes it easier and faster, and once it’s on, no one can tell the difference.”

Sayuki notes with a polite smile that her product is perhaps not for kimono traditionalists. Considering the many customers who go straight from Sayuki no Kimonoya to the nearby Hello Kitty photo studio to have a picture taken in their new regalia, she’s probably right. —DANIELLE DEMETRIOU

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