Kimono : all about the traditional Japanese clothing
The kimono (着物) is the traditional Japanese dress, although today it is worn almost exclusively for festive and special occasions. However, there are several types of traditional kimono that are worn on different occasions.
In addition, there are many different accessories to complement it. In this comprehensive guide, we will talk about the types of kimonos, their history and when to wear each one. This way, when you go to Japan or if you have Japanese friends, you will know how, why and when to wear this samurai and geisha outfit...
We will see in this comprehensive guide:
1 Kimono: traditional Japanese clothing
5 Obi belt, the closing accessory of the kimono
6 Dressing Traditionally in Japan
8 When to wear a traditional Japanese kimono?
Before we start talking about this traditional Japanese clothing and emblematic, we must first clarify that in Japan, a distinction is made between different types of kimono. In Japan, a distinction is made between the yofuku (洋服), or Western garment, and the wafuku (和服), or indigenous Japanese garment. Today, these two terms are used in Japan to distinguish Western clothing from traditional clothing, not the term "kimono."
KIMONO: TRADITIONAL JAPANESE CLOTHING
Woman in kimono robes at meiji shrine
The Japanese word kimono is a modern term that appeared under the Meiji Restoration. Its meaning actually covers any type of clothing, which can be seen by looking at how it is written in Japanese.
Kimono, 着物, is a word made up of two ideograms 物 (mono), which literally means "thing," and 着 (ki), short for kiru, which means "to wear." So the word kimono means "things that are dressed" or, simply, clothes. But make no mistake, because while every kimono is a garment, not every garment is a kimono.
When Westerners came to Japan after the country opened up, they saw people wearing these long, T-shaped robes. And they asked them about their style of dress, to see how different their clothes were from Western clothing. The Japanese answered, simply, by using the word "kimono". Until then, no word had been invented in Japan to define their traditional way of dressing, because it had not been necessary.
But while the word kimono came about during the Meiji Restoration, traditional Japanese clothing is a bit older than that. Here is a brief history of Japanese clothing.
In the Jomon period (up to the 3rd century BC), the Japanese wore loose clothing to protect themselves from the cold in winter. Later, in the Yamato period (3rd-5th century BC), the Japanese were influenced by Chinese culture in clothing, as in many other cultural aspects. Through this influence, they learned to raise silkworms and use it to make their clothes.
However, at that time, there were no fabric dyeing techniques yet. So the clothes were white and in two separate pieces. The upper part with fitted sleeves. Chinese traders then introduced the Hanfu style clothing made in one piece. This Asian style influenced the development of the kimono.
During the Asuka and Nara periods (710-794), the Japanese continued to wear two separate pieces, but with more colorful patterns, as silk dyeing techniques had become widespread. Clothing was often worn in layers.
Ukiyo-e of women in kimono at Chiyoda Castle
But it was not until the Heian period that a new technique for making these garments was developed. This new method consisted of cutting rectangular pieces of cloth, and then sewing them together. In this way, the clothing manufacturers did not have to worry about the morphology of the person who was going to wear the garment, because the size was standard for everyone. And it is precisely this technique that is still used today to make a kimono.
In addition, at that time, women wore a white garment with small sleeves called kosode (小袖). The name of this garment means "small sleeves" and although it was originally an undergarment, it is considered a precursor to the modern kimono. The kosode is worn with a hakama (a kind of trouser skirt).
Naturally, these straight-cut garments offered many advantages, so they quickly became common. For one thing, they were very easy to fold, but they could also be worn in any season. If it was cold, all you had to do was put on more layers to keep warm. Whereas in the summer, you could wear a single layer and use cooler fabrics.
Over time, especially at the imperial court in Kyoto, it became fashionable to wear unlined kimonos in multiple layers. The most common number of layers was twelve, hence the name of this garment in Japanese, jūni-hitoe (十二単衣). Today, at very ceremonial moments, it is still worn, such as at the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito in 2019, his wife, Empress Michiko, wore a juni-hitoe.
12 layers juni-hitoe
Despite the large number of layers, they could all be seen at the sleeve ends and neckline. The Japanese then began to focus on the harmony between the different colors in each of these layers. These combinations often represented seasonal patterns or the political class to which one belonged.
During the Kamakura (1192-1338) and Muromachi (1338-1573) periods, men and women began to wear brightly colored clothing. Warriors dressed in the colors of their leaders, so that the battlefields became almost a fashion show. But during this time of war, the samurai had neither the time nor the patience to wear so many capes, so this fashion fell out of favor.
Later, during the Edo period (1603-1868), the Tokugawa clan divided the country into feudal domains controlled by feudal lords called daimyō. The samurai of each feudal lord then began to identify themselves by the colors and patterns of their "uniforms." These uniforms had three parts:
- A kosode.
- A kamishimo, a sleeveless linen garment worn over the kosode and starched at the shoulders to make them stand out.
- A hakama.
With so many garments to make, the technique and making of these garments eventually became an art. As these garments became more and more valuable, the tradition of passing them down from father to son began.
During the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), Japan was heavily influenced by Western culture after over two centuries of isolation. Japan wanted to be on an equal footing with the Western powers and pushed the population to adopt Western habits and clothing such as pants, shirts, boots etc.
In addition, members of the government and the military were required by law to wear Western clothing for their official duties. As a result, the kimono began to decline as an everyday garment and became a garment reserved for special occasions.
Couple walking in kimono in Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa.
During the early years of the Showa period (1926-1989), in the midst of the pre-war period, the government restricted silk production by raising associated taxes to support the military industry. This meant that kimono designs became much less intricate.
After World War II and the recovery of the Japanese economy, kimono became more affordable and began to be produced in large quantities. New fashion concepts and ideas from the United States and Europe influenced its designs, but the form of the garment remained unchanged.
Today, however, the kimono is rarely worn by the Japanese in daily life. In fact, the kimono is usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies, festivals and special events.
Woman in kimono during a tea ceremony
But there are those who are trying to make a place for it in society again. There are kimono clubs whose members still wear kimonos, or actors like Oguri Shun who wore kimonos to the premiere of one of their movies.
Or Japanese designers like Jotaro Saito who use fabrics like denim to make kimonos. And although these special kimonos are not widely used (partly because of their price!), they have become an object of desire for many Japanese women.
HOW IS A KIMONO MADE?
The method used to make a kimono is unique. First, a tan is cut into 8 parts. A tan is a piece of fabric 12 to 13 meters long and 36 to 40 centimeters wide. These eight parts are then sewn together to form the basic shape of the kimono.
Two of these parts are sewn together to form the main body part, while two others are used for the sleeves. The necessary width in the part of the kimono under the collar is obtained with another part, slightly less wide than the rest (usually half the width), and the collar is obtained with another part of half the width.
The actual width of the garment and sleeves is adjusted by the way the seams are made. While the length varies by choosing longer or shorter parts.
Girls in kimono in Asakusa
In the case of geisha or maiko wearing their particular ceremonial kimono, the style is different. The kimono they wear consist of two fabrics instead of one, and even three for the kimono they wear during cold winters. In addition, it is important to note that absolutely all the fabric is used in the making of the kimono, without wasting a single inch.
In general, all kimonos are made of silk, but some special garments such as the yukata, which are worn in summer, are usually made of cotton. Today, however, many kimonos are made of polyester or other synthetic fibers to reduce the price.
In terms of size, most kimonos today are standard size, but historically there was a wider variety of sizes. The most common sizes today are:
- Length: 158 centimeters
- Sleeve width: 32 centimeters
- Shoulder width: 31 centimeters
- Sleeve length in a tomesode: 49 centimeters
The parts of the kimono
A kimono has many more parts than it appears, and they all have names.
The front of the kimono:
- Sodeguchi: opening in the sleeve through which the arm comes out.
- Sode: sleeves. In fact, in many types of kimono, the ending -sode refers to the sleeves.
- Eri: collar, from the outside. Uraeri for the inner side.
- Okumi: front band of the kimono under the collar or eri.
- Maemigoro: main front part.
- Dōra: upper lining.
- Sodetake: sleeve length.
- Susomawashi: bottom lining.
- Maehaba: front width.
Looking at the kimono from the back, you have the following parts:
- Yuki: width of the sleeves and shoulders.
- Sodetsuke: seam between the sleeve and the body of the kimono.
- Miyatsukuchi: opening under the arm.
- Furi: part of the sleeve below the armpit opening.Sensui. Stitching in the middle of the back.
- Ushiromigoro: main back part.
- Fuki: hem protection at the bottom of the kimono.
- Mitake: length from shoulder to hem.
- Ushirohaba: width of the back.
The advantage of making the kimono with so many pieces is that if one part is worn out or needs repair, you can simply replace it with a new one and sew it up with the rest.
JAPANESE KIMONO TYPES
Japanese kimono shop
When you decide to dress in a traditional way, you need to choose the type of kimono for the occasion. And then match it appropriately with the rest of the accessories. In fact, accessories that go well with one type of kimono may not go with another. So, if you want to have a good Japanese wardrobe with kimonos for all occasions, you also need matching accessories. And that is a lot of money.
That's why, since Japanese people don't wear kimonos often these days. Women invest in one type of kimono that is suitable for as many occasions as possible. Thus, they only buy accessories and complements for that kimono, which reduces the overall cost.
Below we explain the different types of kimono that exist and when each is worn. Although there are many, we are sure that when you see one in Japan, you will be able to recognize them more easily.
Tomesode, the most formal kimono
Kurotomesode type kimono dyed with Kaga Yuzen technique
The tomesode (留袖) is one of the most common types of kimono you will see at Japanese weddings. It is, in fact, the most formal kimono that married women can wear. But its high price and the occasions or wearing it are rare.
According to its kanji, the first (留) comes from the verb tomeru (留める) which means "to tie". The second (袖, sode) means "handle." Therefore, the meaning of kimono tomesode is that the sleeves are tied. Indeed, in the past, the long sleeves of the kimono of unmarried women were tied. Thus, they did not interfere with housework.
Finally, in order to avoid having to tie them, the sleeves were shortened when these women took on family responsibilities.
The length - or drop - of a tomesode's sleeves varies depending on the age of the wearer. For example, the standard length is 60 centimeters until the age of 30. From this age onwards, the length gradually shortens with each decade, until the age of 50. From the age of 50, the sleeve length is 49 centimeters.
Types of kimono tomesode and when to wear them
Hachioji geisha in kimono and the groom's mother wearing a kurotomesode kimono at a Japanese wedding.
The tomesode can be of two types:
- Black kimono: called kurotomesode
- Colored kimono: named irotomesode
So, the kurotomesode is only worn on very formal occasions. In fact, it is only worn at weddings and only by the closest relatives of the bride and groom, such as their mothers. This kimono always has 5 family crests or kamon.
On the other hand, the colorful irotomesode or tomesode is also seen at weddings. And although it is more colorful, it is still a very formal kimono. In this case, however, it is worn by friends of the bride and groom, that is, people who are not so close to each other. However, keep in mind that we are talking about soft colors and not too exaggerated.
The irotomesode is the most appropriate kimono for a formal party and can be worn to attend a tea ceremony, if you have no other better option, although it is not the most appropriate. It always includes a coat of arms, although the number of coats of arms can vary between 1, 3 and 5.
How to recognize a traditional Tomesode kimono
Japanese Tomesode kimono in black silk
It is quite easy to tell if a woman is wearing a tomesode. To do this, you need to consider the following aspects:
- The length or length of the sleeves: if the sleeves hang slightly, you know that it may be a tomesode, although there are other kimonos with similar length sleeves. That is, with this aspect you can tell when it is not a tomesode kimono, because young women prefer those that hang to the ankles. But you still have to look at other details to know if it is a tomesode or another type.
- The color: if it is black, it is a kurotomesode. But if the kimono is any other color than black, you still can't be sure it's an irotomesode. There are other types of kimono that are also colored with the same sleeve length.
- The patterns or designs on the kimono: in a tomesode, the designs or patterns that adorn the kimono occupy only the lower part, below the waist. Therefore, if the kimono has patterns on the sleeves, back or shoulders (or no pattern at all), it cannot be a tomesode.
- Family crests or kamon. The tomesode is such a formal kimono that it always has the family crests of the wearer (one, three or five, for the irotomesode and five if it is a kurotomesode). If a kimono looks like an irotomesode because it is one color but does not have Japanese family crests, it is not a tomesode (although there is a lot of discussion on this point).
Kimono Furisode: for unmarried girls and young women
Long sleeves that hang almost to the ankles in a furisode kimono.
The furisode kimono (振袖) is the Japanese dress of girls and young unmarried women. Its main characteristic, besides its beautiful color, is the length of the sleeves. If you look at the kanji, the first one (振, furi) means "movement, flickering", while the second one, as we said before, means "sleeves".
So it was said that a girl could catch a man's heart with the long sleeves of this kimono if she moved them gracefully.
The furisode also features bright, colorful and eye-catching patterns. And unlike the previous kimonos, the patterns take up all the space in the kimono.
What are the types of furisode and when to wear them?
Furisode Japanese style white and red
There are three types of furisode, depending on the length of the sleeve drop:
- Kofurisode. The sleeve length is about 85 centimeters.
- Chuburisode. The sleeves are of medium length, about 100 centimeters. This is the most common type.
- Oburisode. The length of the sleeves is about 114 centimeters, so they hang down to the ankles. It is also called honfurisode or "true furisode", because it has the longest sleeves.
Furisode kimonos are worn on more special and formal occasions involving unmarried girls and young women. For example, at festivities such as New Year's Day, at a wedding celebration (if it is the bride's family and she is not yet married), at the first tea ceremony of the year, etc. Therefore, they are not suitable for less formal situations, as they give the impression that you are being too fancy.
Nowadays, the only people who regularly wear this type of kimono are maikos, apprentice geishas. In their case, the furisode they wear is a little different because the lower part of the furisode is longer and drags. Therefore, when they walk, they hold the excess fabric with one hand, revealing the inside of the kimono.
The accessories that accompany the kimono furisode should add color to the outfit. For example, an inner kimono decorated with shibori technique or stencil painting with katazome technique, which contrasts with the color of the kimono.
As for the obi, it is brightly colored and fukuro style. In addition, a silk obi-age decorated with shibori is worn, showing much of the silk above the obi (which married women do not wear). The outfit is completed with gold, silver-red or red brocade zori sandals.
How to recognize a furisode kimono?
Furisode vs kimono traditional: detail of Furisode kimono dress
Distinguishing a furisode is very easy because of its unique features. All you need to do is to notice if the sleeves have a long drop that almost reaches the ankles. In this case, you are definitely dealing with a furisode kimono.
In fact, there is no other type of kimono whose sleeves are the same length. This is a curious contrast to the complexity of the distinction of other kimonos. Because the others all have the same sleeve length, but very different styles.
Homongi or visiting kimono
Homongi kimono worn by Japanese women
The hōmongi (訪問着, "visiting clothes") is one of the most versatile kimonos available, as it is suitable for a wide range of occasions. It' s a traditional Japanese garment formal, but not so formal that it looks overdressed.
It used to be the most typical type of kimono for visiting someone, hence the name.
This type of kimono has low sleeves and can be found in any color. Although it was one of the most used because of its versatility, it has given way to the iromuji type kimono. Mainly because this other type of kimono is cheaper.
This kimono is devoid of an emblem. There was a time when it was unthinkable to wear a homongi kimono without an emblem. For it was a formal kimono.
But from the 1960s and 1970s, it is used for more occasions, which no longer required such a degree of formality. In fact, if you check out any vintage kimono site, you'll see that all their homongi have traditional patches.
When to wear a kimono homongi?
In Japan a woman kimono worn on a street in Tokyo
This kimono is semi-formal, but if family crests are added, it can be worn on formal occasions. But as we said, it is less and less common to see crests on this type of kimono, unless it is an antique kimono.
So, a formal homongi with crests is even slightly excessive, such as for visits to the theater or concerts, which are not such formal occasions.
Other than visits, theater or concerts, another occasion to wear the homongi is a wedding and the banquet that follows. In this case, the bride's friends will often wear this type of kimono. They should wear something formal, but not to the extreme of immediate family members.
For an important dinner, this type of kimono can also be worn. But for a luncheon, which is usually less formal than a dinner, a homongi with crests is not recommended. A semi-formal one without crests would be acceptable, but again, it is not the best choice.
You may also see homongi type kimono at gatherings around a tea ceremony, at flower arrangement or ikebana presentations, at some New Year's celebrations, etc. It is also the most common type of kimono used by geisha to attend banquets when they do not have to wear special makeup. In this case, they usually wear them with crests.
How to recognize a traditional homongi kimono?
Japanese woman wearing traditional Homongi kimono: details of kimono accessories
This kimono is characterized by dyed designs or patterns on the lower part as well as on the sleeves and back, going down to the shoulders. The main difference with other kimonos whose designs and patterns are drawn on the fabric is that, in this case, the pattern is asymmetrical and continues on the seams.
As we have already explained, kimonos have a series of seams between the different sections of the fabric that compose it. In the case of homongi, a type of pattern called eba is used. This type of pattern assumes that the symbols continue between two sections of fabric separated by a seam.
This makes it more complex to achieve than when the patterns are independent and confined to a single section of fabric, without touching any seam. Therefore, this type of pattern makes the kimono more elegant but also makes it more expensive by increasing its complexity.
What are the accessories to wear with a Homongi Kimono?
A kimono of this type is usually accompanied by a fukuro or even maru style obi, which are the most formal. As for the obi-jime, it is usually a gold or silver kumihimo style or Saga-Nishiki brocade.
On the other hand, the obi-age will be colored using the shibori or rinzu silk dyeing technique. This is a way of processing silk in which different types of threads are used for the warp and weft, creating patterns that almost look like brocade. Needless to say, this type of silk requires great skill, which makes it very expensive.
Tsukesage, a multipurpose Japanese kimono
Tsukesage embroidered kimono with Japanese flower designs
The tsukesage (付け下げ), like the homongi, is one of the most commonly worn kimonos in Japan.
As with the other kimonos we've discussed, the sleeves have little drop and you can also find them in any color. The basic fabric is usually made of rinzu silk or chirimen (a silk crepe).
But despite its popularity, like the homongi, it is giving way to the iromuji as an everyday garment to cover as many occasions as possible.
This kimono appeared in the 1930s as a cheaper and less extravagant evolution of the homongi.
When to wear a tsukesage kimono
Japanese Tsukesage Kimono Embroidered with Japanese sakura symbols
The tsukesage is a semi-formal kimono when it doesn't have family crests on it.
However, you can sometimes find one with crests, which makes it a bit more formal. If it has crests, it will have one on the back. Sometimes you can see one with three crests, but it is very rare.
This type of kimono can be worn at a wedding reception, at formal and informal parties, at dinners, at graduation ceremonies, when you go to the theater or whatever. However, for lunches, it would be too formal.
To accompany this kimono, a fukuro or Nagoya style obi is usually chosen. It is never complemented with a maru-obi style obi, the most formal, as was the case with the homongi kimono.
How to distinguish a tsukesage kimono.
Cream Tsukesage Embroidered Kimono
Distinguishing a tsukesage from a homongi is one of the most difficult tasks for the untrained eye. For, as we have said, one is the evolution of the other and both are worn in virtually the same situations.
In this case, the tsukesage kimono also has dyed designs or patterns on the bottom of the kimono as well as on the sleeves and back, all the way to the shoulders. Most often you will see designs and patterns on the back of the right sleeve. On the front, you will see designs on the front of the left sleeve.
But unlike homongi, these designs on each segment of fabric are independent of each other and do not continue on the seams. This makes it much easier to draw these patterns on the fabric. You don't need to pay attention to the continuity of the pattern when you sew the different pieces of the kimono together. And because it's easier, it's also cheaper.
Hybrid kimono between tsukesage and homongi
Some people think that traditional Japanese clothing does not undergo variations and remains unchanged over time. But the art of kimono is a living fashion, even if, because it is worn by few women and on few occasions, the variations are slower.
Witness the hybrid kimonos between tsukesage and homongi, which would be on an intermediate stage of formality between the two. You can tell them apart because at the bottom, the patterns continue on the seams, like any good homongi. But if you look at the sleeves, the patterns are independent of each other, like in a tsukesage.
Iromuji or one-color kimono
Color combination for this solid color kimono
The iromuji (色無地) type kimono is characterized by its single color (iro means "color").
In addition, there is no dyed pattern on the fabric. Only the color of the material it is made of. These kimonos are usually made of satin (rinzu), crepe (chirimen) or tsumugi dyed in a single color other than black.
Despite this, this type of kimono is suitable for any formal situation. In fact, it is the one that is worn in all ceremonies that mark a change in a person's life. For example, the blackiromuji of mourning, called mofuku, is worn at a funeral.
Mofuku or mourning kimono
Black Mofuku Kimono
The mofuku (喪服), as we said, is an iromuji mourning kimono used at funerals or religious services to remember the deceased. Its main characteristic is that it is entirely black and has five coats of arms.
Both married and unmarried women can wear this type of kimono combined with a blackobi and black accessories. However, it is usually only worn by women in the immediate family of the deceased. The rest will wear muted kimono with black obi, obi-jime and obi-age. Sometimes black is even limited to just obi-age and obi-jime.
Shiromuku, the wedding kimono
White Shiromuku Kimono
Shiromuku (白無垢), which literally translates to "pure white," is the kimono worn at weddings. It is actually a whiteuchikake, with a padded hem.
The use of the color white symbolizes the rays of the sun and the sun goddess Amaterasu, the main goddess in Japanese mythology. This is truly an impressive kimono, as not only is the kimono white, but so are all the accessories and complements.
In addition, the bride's outfit is completed with a white hood called wataboshi (綿帽子), which has a similar meaning to the veil in Western weddings. This hood is only worn when the bride is wearing shiromuku and outside. So you will never see her wearing colorful kimonos or during the banquet.
In addition, the bride also wears the tsunokakushi (角隠し) on her head. Its meaning is "hide the horns" and represents the bride's kindness and obedience to the groom. These horns, according to tradition, grew on the woman when she became jealous and turned into a demon.
During the banquet, the bride wears a uchikake (打 掛). In fact, it is an open kimono, usually red in color, with a finely patterned silk brocade, which is worn over the white kimono.
Komon, an informal kimono
The komon kimono (小紋) is a casual kimono, characterized by a small pattern repeated throughout the kimono. In fact, this is what its name means in Japanese, "small pattern".
It can be worn on a daily basis or, accompanied by a nice obi, to go to restaurants. And this type of kimono can be worn by married or unmarried women, the only difference being the length of the sleeves.
The obi and other accessories depend on the situation for which the kimono is worn. Thus, you can wear a fukuro-obi with a quality komon. You can also wear a Nagoya-obi as a casual outfit, but you can also use the hanhaba-obi style to give it a personal touch.
There is a particular type of kimono komon called Edo komon (江 戸小紋), which is characterized by small colored dots arranged in larger patterns. The dyeing technique for this kimono originated among the samurai of the Edo period.
A kimono of this type has the same degree of formality as an iromuji, it could be worn as a visiting garment, equivalent, to a tsukesage or even a hōmongi.
Yukata: the summer kimono
What is a yukata?
The yukata is a garment often called "summer kimono". In fact, it is not a kimono but an unlined garment made of cotton or other plant fibers, worn during the hottest seasons of the year. In fact, there are kimonos with unlined and very airy fabrics that are worn in summer.
Yukata is Japanese for "bathing suit" (ゆかた). Originally, it was to a lined garment worn by the Japanese court nobles after taking an onsen bath. Then it was the samurai who started wearing it, and eventually the rest of the population. And, of course, for other occasions than after taking a bath.
Nowadays, yukata kimono are often seen in traditional Japanese-style accommodations or ryokan. These traditional hotels offer their guests yukata to wear during their stay.
In modern Japan, therefore, yukata has become an everyday summer garment in a wide variety of colors. It is also worn without a kimono nagajuban underneath.
How to wear a yukata?
The most classic colors are white and blue, usually dyed with the katazome technique. But there are modern designs in every color you can imagine, for every taste.
The yukata is worn with a hanhaba style obi, half as wide as a normal obi. This makes it much more comfortable to tie and doesn't require as much effort as a kimono.
Since this garment is very casual, it doesn't usually require the wearing of obi-age or obi-jime, although it can be worn if you want to be a little more elegant. Wooden geta sandals are worn as shoes, without tabi socks.
The OBI, ACCESSORY TO CLOSE THE KIMONO
The obi (帯) is the Japanese equivalent of a belt and is necessary for dressing in the traditional Japanese style, whether in a kimono or yukata.
Its function is to hold the kimono in place and close it. In addition, it is an indispensable aesthetic element for a traditional Japanese garment. And it is not for nothing that the choice of kimono automatically influences the obi to be worn.
The history of the obi as a decorative accessory when wearing a kimono goes back to the early Edo period (1603-1867). Until the end of the Momoyama period in 1603, the obi was a thin cord. It was nothing more than a cloth wrapped around the kimono, and its only function was practical: to keep the kimono from coming undone.
At that time, both men and women would tie their obi in front, behind, or even on the side, depending on their personal taste and the fashion of the time.
However, starting in the middle of the Edo period, the kosode took on the form that traditional Japanese clothing has today. Then the obi began to expand, and with it, its importance as an aesthetic element within the ensemble became more vital. At this time, fashion changed and the obi became tied in the front, like those seen in ukiyo-e prints.
Woman's obi bow
Legend has it that the obi became so wide at that time because a famous onnagata (kabuki actor specializing in female roles) of the time, who was very tall, needed a very wide obi to look smaller than he actually was.
Another explanation given was that as the length of the sleeves increased and hung almost to the ankles, the narrow obi used at that time looked ridiculous. Therefore, it had to be widened to maintain the aesthetics and proportions of the whole.
It was also at the end of the Edo period that the knotting style of the obi changed again. It was then that it became common for unmarried women to tie the obi in the back and for married women to tie it in the front. Soon after, however, all women began to tie the obi in the back. These changes were due to the discomfort of wearing the obi and increasingly wide ribbons tied in the front.
For the record, geisha always tied their obi in their back. This was a way to distinguish themselves from, among others, the courtesans of the pleasure districts, who always tied their obi in front.
The Japanese obi belt today
The obi, like the kimono, can be of two types. On the one hand, it can be made of white cloth, which is then dyed, or cloth made of colored threads. And again, like the kimono, it can be lined or unlined. If it has a lining, it is of the awase type, and if not, the hitoe type. Exactly the same terminology as for the kimono.
The vast majority of obi produced in Japan today come from the Nishijin district in central Kyoto. Since the 15th century, this district has been one of the main centers of the Japanese textile industry.
The high-quality embroideries produced there are known as nishiki, which means "beautiful combination of colors." These embroideries are characterized by the use of gold and silver threads to make figures of flowers, birds or other traditional geometric patterns. In addition to nishiki obi, another style of obi produced in Nishijin is tsuzure or tapestry. These two types of obi are the most ornate and expensive types of obi available.
The obi should be of a color that complements the color of the kimono. This effect can be achieved by using completely different colors from the kimono, of course, as long as they are harmonious. For this garment is a very important part of the outfit, since it covers almost the entire abdomen. The pattern or design of the Japanese Obi belt should also be in harmony with the chosen kimono, even if they are completely different patterns.
Tying an obi is also a complicated task, almost more than wearing a kimono. And, of course, it is something that, in many cases, can not be done alone. In addition, to make the obi look perfect, accessories are often used, which further complicates the whole dressing process.
Types of obi from Japan
Not all kimonos accept the same type of obi, as not all combinations are possible. Thus, in Japan, there is a wide variety of obi with different degrees of formality.
The following table gives an overview of the main types of obi and the occasions for which they are worn. The widths are generic, although they can sometimes vary by an inch or even two.
|Obi types||Width (cm)||Length (m)||Occasions to wear them|
|Darari||30||6||Worn only by maikos|
|Odori||31||4.5||For Japanese dances|
|Nagoya||30||3.6||To get out on the street|
|Chuya (haraawase)||31||4.2||All occasions|
|Hitoe||15 or 23 or 30||3.2 or 3.9||Festivals|
|Hanhaba||15||3.2 or 3.6||For children|
Musubi or the obi rope
Musubi, the Japanese word for "bow," has a meaning in Japan that goes beyond mere technical difficulty. This is because the word is often written with the characters for "living spirit," as good spirits were considered to inhabit bows.
In the past, in fact, the ribbons were given as tokens of love or even as amulets against evil spirits. Today, the word is still used to refer to certain amulets sold in temples.
It is said that there are about five hundred different ways to tie an obi bow. The versatility of this item is impressive, as you can see.
When the obi began to be considered from an aesthetic standpoint and not just a practical one, one of the first wide ties to be used was the darari-musubi. This type of bow was loose and very wide and was worn by kabuki actors and courtesans when they wore a furisode kimono. Today, this bow is only worn by maikos.
All other women, including geisha and maiko when not working, usually wear one of the following four bows, which are the most common today:
- Taiko-musubi (太鼓結び) or drum bow.
- Bunkō-musubi (分光結び) or box lasso.
- Kai no kuchi (貝の口) or shell mouth.
- Otateya (お 竪矢 結び) or arrow.
The taiko string or drum is the most common of all. Its name, contrary to appearances, is not due to its drum shape, but to the Taiko Bridge in Tokyo. When the bridge was inaugurated, the geisha invited to the ceremony wore a new type of ribbon, which resembled the bulging shape of the bridge.
Although it can be worn by any woman, the taiko knot is most often worn by married women and on formal occasions. There are many variations, which distinguish the marital status of the woman wearing it.
Musubi obi worn with blue kimono and Sensu fan
Among them, for example, the nijū-daiko, which means "double-drummed tie" and is worn only by married women on certain ceremonial occasions. It also has a figurative meaning of doubling one's happiness.
As for the bunko or box knot, it is inspired by the shape of several books when tied together with string to hold them. Nowadays, it is usually worn with the yukata, although it was traditionally worn by unmarried women on special occasions.
The kai no kuchi or shell mouth knot is similar to the men's style of obi knotting. But it is usually only worn by older Japanese women when they dress casually. It is not very popular with young girls because of its flat back.
Finally, the otateya or arrow knot is an intricate bow that is always worn by brides. Although it is also often seen on single girls on formal occasions. It is usually worn with a furisode kimono and has its origin in the quivers of arrows carried by soldiers in ancient times.
However, just because these are the four most typical types of knots, it does not mean that everything is written and codified. Indeed, the knot, as a fashion element, is subject to change, innovation and adaptation. Thus, it is common to see strange and surprising types of knots, especially in summer, when women wear a yukata and try to give it an innovative touch.
In addition to the cords, there are many accessories for wearing the obi. The most famous are the obi-age (long scarf used to hold the obi in place), obi-jime (strings that hold and decorate the obi) and obi-dome (decorative pins for the obi).
Dressing in the traditional way in Japan
Japanese dress woman potted by Maiko walking on Hanamikoji Street in Gion
There are many types of kimono, the details of which may refer to the region in which they were made, the age of the wearer, the occasion, the season of the year, etc. It is really a very complex world that requires a detailed and conscientious study to know it in depth.
The modernization of Japan has brought about great changes in the world of kimono and its accessories. A kimono was designed for a type of woman with a wide waist, narrow hips and a small chest. It also accentuated the parts of the female body that the Japanese norm considered most sensual: the neck, ankles and hips.
Today, however, wide hips, narrow waist and long legs are preferred, along with a large chest, exactly what the kimono hides. This fact, combined with the increased use of Western furniture, means that kimonos are seen less and less on the street. On formal occasions, however, Japanese women still wear kimonos. Other than that, only geishas and maikos retain the custom of wearing kimonos on a daily basis.
Geisha Kimono with hairstyle held by a Kanzashi comb
One of the reasons why only geishas frequently wear kimono is its high price. Although there are cheap kimonos, silk kimonos and hand-painted kimonos are a craftsman's job and are very expensive.
Few women can afford a wardrobe of these kimonos for everyday use. Geishas do so because, for them, it is a work tool.
In any case, a kimono is a great investment. It never goes out of style and requires almost no modification over the years. This is how silk and hand-painted kimonos are passed down from generation to generation.
Layering when wearing a kimono
Women's winter kimono with a fur replica
A kimono, despite appearances, is a complex garment to wear, because the whole thing is composed of several layers. Today, at least, we don't wear 12 layers like in the Heian era. It is normal for there to be two or three layers, which must be worn one by one and without a single crease in sight.
First, of course, there is the underwear. In the past, however, underwear was not worn with the kimono. Instead, a long, thin piece of cloth called a koshimaki was worn around the waist.
Purists, still defend the idea that a kimono should not be worn with Western underwear. But most people consider Western underwear to be more comfortable and hygienic than koshimaki.
The next step is to wear the hadajuban, or vest, as well as the susoyoke, or petticoat. Sometimes, however, these two garments are replaced by a single long garment worn over the undergarments.
Third, there is the inner kimono or nagajuban. It is usually a matching color to the kimono, as the nagajuban is visible at the sleeves and collar. In the case of geisha and maiko, it is not combined. Geisha always wear an inner kimono in shades of pink, while maiko wear a red inner kimono with a white floral pattern. This is true no matter what type of kimono they wear.
The nagajuban is closed like the kimono, with the left side over the right. And to keep it from opening and staying in place, strings called koshi-himo are used to hold it in place. Then, over these strings, it is tied with a ribbon called date-jime. At this point, the kimono itself can be worn and the obi put on.
Two women wearing a traditional Japanese kimono, and an Obi belt
Other essential items worn with the kimono are the han-eri (or "half collar"), which is a fake collar placed at the back of the inner kimono collar. Its purpose is purely aesthetic, to remind us of past times when many more visible layers were worn. Another important element is the tabi or socks with toe separation, which are usually white in color.
Making everything work perfectly is a Herculean task. First of all, the layers need to be perfectly aligned and wrinkle-free. Next, you need to make sure that the V-shape of the neckline between the kimono and the inner kimono is perfect.
Next, check that the back of the kimono is a little loose so that the neck is slightly visible. You also need to make sure that the right amount of fabric from the obi appears. Finally the obi must have a perfect knot.
All of this complexity is beyond the skills of most Japanese people today. That's why kitsuke schools have sprung up to learn how to wear the kimono, where all this and more is explained. Only geishas have the practice and elegance or iki to wear a kimono to perfection.
Kimono and family crest
Japanese wedding attire style kimono clothing
In Japan, each family has its own family crest or shield, called kamon in Japanese. It is not exclusive to the upper classes or families of samurai ancestry, as there is a register called Monten that lists 4590 different coats of arms. It is widely used and appears on all formal kimonos for both men and women.
The custom of marking kimonos with the coat of arms dates back to the Heian period, when the nobles and the imperial court began to use these symbols. Later, in the Japanese feudal period, only the imperial family, nobles and samurai were allowed to use these symbols. In this case, they were used to decorate banners to distinguish different families in battle.
Iromuji kimono with family crest or kamon
In the late 17th century, however, this custom was relaxed and the use of the kamon began to spread. It was then that the first kimonos decorated with these patterns appeared, to give them a greater degree of formality.
Today, when Japanese people want to dress up or dress formally, they always wear the family crest. Maiko and geisha are no exception. A maiko or geisha will wear the coat of arms of her okiya, while independent geishas will wear their own.
The various quarters of the hanamachi or geishas also have their kamon, which can be seen decorated on paper lamps, posters, and noren curtains at the entrances of establishments, among other things.
A kimono for every occasion
When to put on a kimono?
There are a number of events or situations where people dress in traditional ways. And they are a great excuse to show off the expensive investments made in this type of clothing. Although they are so expensive that they sometimes end up being rented, as is often the case in other countries for clothes that are not frequently worn, such as the morning suit or the evening jacket.
The first of these occasions is the birth of a child, when the newborn is taken to a Shinto shrine to pray for a lifetime of good fortune.
For such an occasion, a kimono with good luck symbols is worn, although the child is obviously not wearing a real kimono. Because no matter how big the kimono is, it would still be too big for him.
The little boy's mother wears a kurotomesode kimono, which we have already discussed. She will continue to wear this type of kimono for all important occasions and ceremonies involving her son.
Another important occasion to wear the kimono is in November, during the celebration of Shichi-go-san. This festival is dedicated to boys who are three or seven years old that year, and girls who are three or five years old that year.
Children go to a Shinto shrine to ask the kami to protect them and ask them to grow up healthy. Boys and girls wear brightly colored kimonos in traditional styles.
The Japanese coming-of-age day
Finally, when you turn 20, there is another important occasion to wear the kimono, the Seijin-no-hi or Coming of Age Day. This festival is held every year in early January and allows young people to visit a Shinto shrine. If you visit one of them, you may also see girls wearing the furisode kimono for the first time.
For other more or less festive and formal situations that occur in everyone's life - parties, funerals, weddings, etc... people also wear kimono. However, not all types of kimono are suitable for all occasions. Ultimately, the choice of the appropriate kimono varies depending on age, gender, season and other variables.
Below is a table summarizing the choice of clothing for each of these occasions:
|Event||Kimono||Obi||Obi-age / Obi-jime||Undergarment|
Single woman: Furisode
|Maru-Obi: nowadays, a fukuro-obi is often used||
Japanese married women wear a white obi with gold and silver threads.
Single women wear a colorful obi with silver thread
Japanese married women wear a white rinzu silk undergarment.
Single girls wear a red, white or colored silk fabric
Married woman: homongi
Single woman: Furisode or Homongi
Colorful Rinzu silk, and Japanese patterned Shibori silk
Iromuji with a crest or tsukesage.
Nagoya-obi, although fukuro-obi is also wearing
White, gold or silver silk
White or solid color rinzu silk
Komon, iromuji with crest or tsukesage
Fukuro-obi or Nagoya-obi
White, gold or silver
White or plain rinzu silk
Normally all kimonos are acceptable, with the exception of formal kimonos. Normally, a Komon Kimono is worn
Fukuro-obi or Nagoya-obi
Colorful but not gold or silver
Funeral kurotomesode with five coats of arms
Fukuro-obi or Nagoya-obi
Black or White
Black or white rinzu silk
Funeral Kurotomesode with five coats of arms
Fukuro-obi or Nagoya-obi
Black or white rinzu cloth
Fabrics for KIMONOS
Weaving is one of the greatest treasures of the Japanese tradition of handmade crafts. Japanese weaving and dyeing techniques were originally imported from China and Korea when, in the 8th century, Japan received several rolls of silk as tribute from these two countries.
The Japanese, eager for knowledge and curiosity, studied these offerings in depth and began to produce their own textiles.
Formal kimonos and obi are traditionally made of silk, silk brocade, crepe such as chirimen or satin such as rinzu. But these fabrics have always had very high production costs.
It is precisely because of this and the lack of sufficiently skilled professionals, as well as the economic crisis, that the kimono industry has tried to adapt by producing kimonos that are a bit more casual and easier to care for. Today, therefore, most kimonos are made of rayon, cotton, satin, polyester or other synthetic fibers.
However, handmade kimono fabrics are still available, but this increases the price of the final product. Therefore, it is common for fabrics to be machine-made in order to reduce costs and thus make the kimono more affordable.
All kimonos have a common shape, but regardless of the material used, they differ in the way patterns or designs are included.
Japanese red kimono fabric
Those that base their designs on yarns dyed before weaving are called sakizome (先染め) and usually feature geometric patterns. On the other hand, those that are dyed after being woven are called atozome (後染 め), and usually feature patterns in more cheerful styles.
And we can't say which of the two is better, as both techniques have their advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of woven fabric with colored threads is that the kimono is colored on both sides. So if the fabric wears out on one side, you can turn the fabric over and use the opposite side. The advantage of dyed fabric is that if the color fades, you can dye it again and give the fabric a new color.
As for the pattern layout, it has evolved over the centuries. Nowadays, asymmetry prevails, so you will only see symmetry in komon type kimonos. Asymmetry is a constant unique to Japanese aesthetics, as it evokes movement, dynamism, while symmetry implies statism.
Sakizome or pre-dyed threads
Making a traditional kimono
Sakizome, according to its kanji, is composed of saki, which means "first, before" and someru, which means "to dye." Therefore, this type of kimono is the one that is woven with pre-dyed threads.
The patterns of these kimonos are symmetrical or geometric, such as bands of color, squares or a pattern of spots called kasuri. They are traditionally divided according to the type of fabric used:
- Silk. In this group are kimonos made of reel silk (meisen or habutae), coarse crepe (omeshi), spun raw silk (tsumugi) and silk gauze (sha, coarser, and ro).
- Cotton. Here you'll find kimonos with spot patterns (kasuri), stripe patterns and check or grid patterns.
- From linen. These kimonos are called jōfu.
One of the best known weaving techniques of this group is tsumugi. This is a very popular type in almost all Japanese prefectures, all of which have their own type of fabric of this type. This fabric is made from spun raw silk which is then dyed and woven. It is characterized by the fact that it is handmade and the thickness of the threads is not constant, resulting in a non-uniform appearance.
Tsumugi originated from farmers who wanted to use the silk cocoons left over after selling the best silk. These farmers collected the cadarzo from these cocoons, spun it (tsumugu) by hand and wove kimonos for themselves and their families. Thus, kimonos made from this type of fabric are warm and comfortable and have a rustic, family feel.
This type of kimono fabric is especially suited for wearing at home or at informal gatherings, never for formal occasions. This is despite the uniqueness of its manufacturing process which makes it a very expensive kimono.
The tsumugi kimono gradually adapts to the wearer, as before the weaving process, starch is applied to the yarn to make it more flexible and prevent it from coming loose. When this kimono is first worn, the starch makes it quite stiff, but over time, it gradually comes off the dress, making it a very comfortable garment.
Stripes, checks and kasuri polka dot patterns are the main patterns used for tsumugi kimonos. However, it is the kasuri pattern that produces the most colorful and creative designs for this type of kimono.
Kimonos dyed with the "Kaga Yuzen"
Another fairly typical fabric of this group is kasuri, a special fabric made in the Kurume region in southern Japan. In Southeast Asia, it is known as ikat, which in Indonesian means "to bind and hold."
This type of fabric is made by selectively choosing parts of the warp or weft threads, or both, which are then bound and dyed, before the tile is woven, making it a labor-intensive process.
Whether it's silk or cotton, the yarns are stretched on a loom, then the selected areas are bound and finally the skeins of yarn are dipped into the dye vats.
However, a little dye always seeps into the areas that were originally intended to be left out of the dye. This allows for a soft contrast between the dyed and undyed areas, with a soft faded tone that is one of the unique characteristics of kasuri.
Another type of fabric in this group of sakizome is omeshi. In the past, it was the honorific term for kimonos worn by members of the court. Later, the term was used to refer to a type of silk crepe.
After the sericin, or gummy layer of the silk is removed by boiling, the yarn is dyed and a layer of wax is applied. When weaving, the weft threads are crossed and woven in pairs.
This type of kimono can be used for sightseeing if it has continuous painted patterns on the seams (eba style). They can also be used for everyday wear if they have colorful stripes or kasuri patterns. With these kimonos, a hanhaba style obi is most often used.
A final type of fabric to consider in this group is the jōfu, a hand-woven linen kimono that is a bit more formal than the yukata. It is usually worn with a silk or fine cotton woven obi.
Atozome, or dyeing after manufacture
According to their kanji, atozome (from ato, meaning "after" and someru, which, as we have already seen, means "to dye"), these kimonos are dyed after the weaving process. The patterns of this type of kimono are free style and much richer in detail and color than sakizome.
There are several types within this group, classified by whether or not a dye resist is applied. This is simply a substance or process that prevents the dye from staining the fabric in certain areas.
- Without Resist. Immersion dyeing and painting techniques.
- With resist (can be paste or patterned).
- Yuzen. The painting process is done by hand and the resist is a paste. There are two types, Kyo yuzen and Kaga yuzen.
- Katazome. Stencils are used for the painting process. In this category, there are kata yuzen, kata komon and Edo komon.
- Shibori. This type of kimono uses a pattern resist, not a paste.
Both resistless dyeing techniques, dyeing by soaking the fabric in dye vats and painting the fabric, can be extremely complex. However, they only achieve a sufficient degree of importance when combined with one of the resist dyeing techniques. These other techniques are much more important in Japan, and fabrics dyed in this way are more highly valued.
Among the techniques using resist dyeing, the main one is yūzen (友 禅) dyeing. This technique was invented by Miyazaki Yūzen around 1700. Since then, it has been the most famous and recognized technique for incorporating hand-drawn patterns on silk fabrics.
One of the reasons for yuzen's success is its technical superiority over other forms of dyeing, as the color is stable and water-resistant. In addition, it can be used on a wide variety of fabrics. Another advantage is the precision of its designs, which are difficult to achieve even with traditional stitching, as well as the fact that it allows for a wide range of colors.
The main production centers for yuzen are Kaga, in present-day Ishikawa Prefecture near Kanazawa, and Kyoto. The fabrics produced in Kaga are known as Kaga yūzen and, in the latter, Kyō yūzen. The former are characterized by exuberant patterns and varied colors, while the latter feature more symbolic and less naturalistic designs.
Today, with the use of chemical dyes and the advantages of modern technology, this technique is more active than ever, and the designs are naturally more contemporary. In fact, in Kanazawa, you can visit the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center, take a hand-painting workshop, and admire the kimonos made with this technique.
Japanese Katazome Kimono technique
Kimono dyed with the Kaga Yuzen and Katazome technique
The katazome is another technique that uses sturdy wafers, but applied with a stencil. This technique originated 400 years ago as a way to include the family crest on the kamishimo, which is part of the ceremonial dress of the samurai. At the time, the stencils were made of wood, but later they were made of paper.
The dyeing process involves the use of a strong paste that is applied to the fabric through the open cutouts in this paper stencil. The paper template, called a katagami, is made by placing three sheets of handmade mulberry paper impregnated with persimmon juice.
The water-soluble paste is made from rice bran and is filtered through the cutouts made in the stencil to protect the areas that are not to be dyed. The fabric is then dyed by hand directly with brushes or by dipping it into dyeing vats.
If both sides of the fabric were to be dyed, the resist process would be applied to one side to prevent it from being dyed when the process is applied to the other side, and vice versa.
Since the template is made of paper rather than wood, its manufacture is a much simpler operation. This makes mass production of katazome-dyed kimonos possible. Another advantage of these paper templates is that, when used, they allowed craftsmen to create small, delicate patterns called komon.
As kimonos completely covered with the same komon pattern or design were very popular in Edo, this type of dyeing became known as Edo komon, as mentioned above. This technique is usually used on habutai silk, crepe or ro cloth, but it is also used to dye even cotton fabrics.
At the end of the day, kimono with this type of dyeing, when viewed from a distance, appears to be one color, with no pattern. One must observe it closely to see the delicate patterns that dot its surface.
This technique involves a great deal of technical skill on the part of the person preparing the stencil and the person doing the dyeing. In addition, the stencils themselves are works of art in their own right and as such become collectors' items.
The purpose of the katazome technique is not to produce a colorful and fascinating kimono, but the opposite. That is why komon kimonos (created using this technique) are on the lowest scale of formality. However, it should not be forgotten that the technical process of creation is sublimely expert and very expensive and exclusive.
Finally, to talk about patterned resistances that do not use resistant galls, we need to talk about shibori (し ぼり). It is one of the oldest and most widely used Japanese dyeing techniques in the world, first mentioned in 7th century Chinese writings.
This technique is thought to have originated in India and reached Japan in the 8th century via China. Today, although this technique is known and used all over the world, it is in Japan that it offers the greatest variety of possibilities.
Fabrics treated with this technique are of the "tie and dye" type, which is the translation of this word. However, unlike kasuri, which we have already discussed in the section on sakizome, in this case the dyeing is done after the fabric has been woven.
Often, the different areas of the fabric are marked with a pattern by tightly winding small sections of a light white silk with thread. When the fabric is dyed, the bound areas remain white, forming an irregular pattern.
However, shibori is actually a set of strength techniques. And all of them involve fixing or binding the fabric so that the dye does not affect the fabric in the fixed areas. This technique is traditionally used for men's casual kimonos and obi, but it is also used for many other garments.
When to wear a traditional Japanese kimono?
Girl Japanese kimono worn with wooden zori sandals
One way to organize kimono that we like is the categorization proposed by American writer Liza Dalby in her book Kimono: Fashioning Culture. Her scheme is very clear and more or less simply covers all the situations in which one can wear a kimono.
However, even this categorization can sometimes be confusing. Especially since the proposed categories are not watertight but overlap. The categories for organizing kimonos are as follows:
- Life versus Death. Although we don't always think about it, kimonos and the way they are worn are not the same for the living and the dead.
- Sex. As with Western clothing, women have many more choices than men.
- Season of the year. In Japan, the season of the year is something that is always present, and not only in clothing. In the case of the kimono, it is important both for the patterns drawn on it and for the type of fabric.
- Age. A young girl will always dress differently from an older woman who is retired from working life.
- Taste or class. Again, a young girl with little experience wears a kimono differently than a woman with a lot of experience.
- Formality. If you go to a party with friends, you dress differently than if you go to a wedding, and it's the same with the kimono.
Kimonos of life and death mourning
White mourning kimono for the Japanese deceased and black traditional kimono for the family
When a person dies, he or she is dressed in a white cotton kimono and an obi, usually woven by his or her female relatives. However, the dead are not the only ones to wear a white kimono.
As mentioned above, at a Shinto wedding, brides also wear a white kimono. This is because in their case, it is also considered that one life cycle has ended and a new one has begun in the husband's family.
However, despite this macabre coincidence, the kimono of a deceased person has a unique feature that no other kimono has: the left side of the kimono does not overlap the right side, but the other way around.
So, when wearing a kimono, never forget to overlap the fabric on the right side, not the left side - if you do, it is the same as saying you are dead!
Kimonos by gender
Kimono teens in Kanazawa at a kitsune mask shop
Although the basic shape of the kimono does not vary much between the sexes, a connoisseur will never go wrong in distinguishing a male and female kimono.
There are subtle differences between these kimonos. For example, men's kimonos are not very colorful and if there is a pattern or design, it is usually simple and scattered throughout the kimono. Only on the formal kimono is the presence of ridges, as a special detail.
Also, the men's kimono falls straight from the shoulders to the ankles, unlike the women's kimono. In the women's kimono, the excess fabric is either tightened at the hips or dragged down, as geisha and maiko sometimes do.
Another difference is in the sleeves. Men's kimonos have much shorter sleeves than women's kimonos. In addition, the part of the sleeve that is attached to the body for men is sewn on, while for women it is open.
The last major difference between men's and women's kimono is the obi. In the case of men, the obi is much narrower and is tied in a completely different way.
When wearing formal wear, men close their kimono at the hips with a kaku-type obi, two inches wide, which ends up being hidden under the hakama they wear on these occasions. For more informal outfits, men wear a heko type obi, which is loose and resembles a scarf.
Finally, it should be noted that footwear also varies slightly by gender. Although both men and women wear geta sandals, for example, men's sandals are more square in shape.
Season and kimono
Spring kimono worn during Hanami (garden with Sakura cherry blossoms)
The Japanese pay special attention to nature and the passing of time. The four seasons are very present in the daily life of the Japanese, which also affects the way they wear kimono.
The Japanese are very careful to keep their eyes open and their eyes open.
However, to be fashionable and stylish, you don't need to celebrate the season you are already in. Instead, you need to slightly anticipate the upcoming season, both in terms of fabric and color as well as patterns.
Some kimonos, such as the one-color ones, can be worn in multiple seasons by simply changing the obi. This avoids spending a lot of money because the same kimono can be combined with different types of obi.
Depending on the season, we can also distinguish whether the kimono is lined or not.
The former is the awase kimono, which is lined, and the latter is the hitoe kimono, which is unlined.
When do you wear an awase kimono and when do you wear a hitoe kimono?
Visiting women in kimono
An awase kimono may not only have two layers but also a lining. Therefore, it is natural to wear it during the autumn-winter season (i.e. October to April). Usually, these kimonos are made of silk crepe with a lining of crepe or muslin, which are very light materials.
The accompanying nagajuban or inner kimono is also lined and, in the case of geisha, is also made of silk. With the onset of the cold winter in mid-December, a second layer must be added to the awase kimono.
Because of its construction (these kimonos are made of three tan-colored materials), this type of kimono can weigh up to 20 kilos for geishas.
The use of lining for both the inner kimono and the kimono depends on how hot or cold it is during that particular month. For example, during the warm months of May and October, the inner kimono will not be lined, but the kimono will be lined. In June, however, when the humidity and temperature rise and mark the arrival of summer, both the kimono and the inner kimono are single-layered, i.e., the hitoe style kimono is used.
A traditionally dressed young woman walking in Korakuen Gardens in Okayama.
During the warmer months (July and August), kimonos are not strictly hitoe type, but usumono type. These kimonos are made from ro, a loosely woven fine silk gauze, or sha, a slightly more coarsely woven silk gauze. For your information, it should be noted that ro kimonos must have all other accessories made of the same material.
Finally, in September, depending on the temperature of the year, either the more summery hitoe kimono or the warmer awase kimono is worn.
In short, as you can see, awase kimonos are the ones that are worn during most of the year. They are therefore the most common in Japanese women's wardrobes.
The unlined hitoe, in fact, is hardly used anymore, as most women do not have a large enough need for kimonos to justify investing in a kimono that they will only wear for a few months a year. Therefore, it is common today that only geisha wear hitoe kimono.
In order to understand this explanation in a less complex way, here is a table showing when to wear which type of kimono. But keep in mind that, generally speaking, awase kimono is for winter, hitoe kimono for spring and usumono for summer. Of course, these are general and flexible rules and nothing prevents you from adapting to the particular circumstances of each season in one city or another.
Awase and Hitoe
|September||Hitoe||Hitoe or Awase||
But it's not just the type of kimono that relates to the season of the year in question. The color and design also play an important role in choosing which kimono to wear.
Pale and bright colors, such as light green, are characteristic of spring. Lighter, cooler colors, like lavender, call for summer. On the other hand, dark, intense, warm colors, such as the color of changing maple leaves, are typical of fall. Finally, brighter and stronger colors, such as black and red, are worn in winter.
Finally, the pattern of kimonos also varies according to the season. For example, one of the typical patterns in spring is the cherry blossom, while in autumn, maple leaves predominate.
However, as for the presence or absence of the lining, only geisha usually have kimonos whose patterns clearly and accurately show the passage of the seasons. Other women tend to choose kimonos with more neutral patterns that can be worn regardless of the season. This saves them a lot of money.
Kimonos for all ages
Women's Japanese Silk Kimono
We have already said that the type of kimono a woman wears changes throughout her life, depending on her age. One of the clearest moments is during the transition from adolescence to maturity. At this time, the sleeves stop hanging down to the ankles and become shorter.
In the past, this moment was clearer, as it occurred at the time of marriage. Nowadays, as women get married later in life (if they get married at all), marriage is no longer used to change kimono. Thus, Japanese women stop wearing the long-sleeved kimono in favor of the short-sleeved kimono around the age of 23. This is, of course, only an approximation.
For young, unmarried Japanese women, the greatest degree of formality is achieved by the length of the sleeves of their kimono, as we said when discussing the furisode. Therefore, it is not necessary for their kimono to be decorated with a coat of arms, which always expresses a high degree of formality.
In addition, these kimonos usually have colorful patterns on the lower part and on the left shoulder. However, as women age, and although the sleeves of their kimono continue to hang down, the patterns become more subdued and are concentrated on the lower part of the kimono only.
Kimonos by taste or class
There are two opposing opinions when it comes to wearing a kimono with class. On the one hand, that of a young, inexperienced Japanese woman, and on the other hand, that of a geisha who is in control and knows every detail of how to position herself in society.
The image a woman wants to portray of herself by wearing a kimono has many facets. For example, the way the neck of the kimono shows part of the neck. Or the way the obi is tied and its position more or less close to the hips.
In the case of maikos, there is a curious mixture, as they manage to be both sensual and innocent. Thus, they show a good part of the neck, which is considered very sensual and attractive. At the same time, they wear their obi tied almost at the armpit level, covering the entire bust area, which is considered a bit prudish.
Formality when wearing a kimono
The ceremonial kimono worn in honor of Japanese tradition
This is where the main problems lie when it comes to deciding which kimono to wear. First of all, the Japanese make a distinction between formal attire, called haregi (晴れ着) and casual or everyday attire, called fudangi (普 段着).
As with Western parties and events, the degree of formality of the occasion will clearly define what type of kimono to wear. However, sometimes it is possible to choose between several options. In this case, the choice of kimono is left to the taste and judgment of the person who will wear it.
Talking about formality and talking about kimono is almost talking about the same thing, as the two ideas are closely related. It is impossible to choose a kimono without choosing, in turn, the degree of formality associated with it. Everything about the kimono, from the color to the fabric to the patterns and even the obi, says a lot about the degree of formality of the chosen outfit.
By cultural tradition, the formal kimono should be made of brightly dyed silk. Silks or other non-glossy fabrics used in the making of a kimono are considered informal.
In fact, silk alone does not indicate that a kimono is formal. A clear example is raw silk with tsumugi technique, which is beautiful and expensive but can only be used for everyday kimonos.
Another aspect that marks the formality of a kimono is the amount of designs or patterns on the surface of the kimono.
Edo komon kimono with Japanese cherry blossom designs
The more the kimono is covered with designs or patterns, the less formal it is. That's why the komon kimono, with a pattern of small motifs all over the fabric, is very unformal and meant to be worn every day.
The next step is a kimono with an asymmetrical pattern covering only the left shoulder and the lower part of the kimono. If we go up the steps, we arrive at a kimono with the same type of pattern as the previous one, but with the pattern continuing on the side seams. Finally, we come to the most formal type of kimono, where the pattern is only on the lower part.
Formality, however, can also be marked by the length of the sleeves, as mentioned above. Normally, the length of the sleeves tells us about the gender and age of the person wearing the kimono. But since there are three different sleeve lengths for single girls, a kimono with a sleeve length different from the standard length is less formal.
In short, the most formal kimono a woman can wear is black, with patterns only on the bottom and with five crests. It is called kuromontsuki.
Accessory for wearing a traditional Japanese kimono woman
Wearing a kimono comes with a number of mandatory clothing and accessories. In fact, without them, the outfit would not be complete.
Among them, we can mention the following:
Hadajuban (肌襦袢): inner blouse worn under the inner kimono. It is usually made of cotton because of its sweat-absorbing qualities, so that it does not transfer and stain the kimono.
Susoyoke (裾よけ): underskirt, which was created in the Edo period to prevent the lower part of the kimono from staining. Today, the combination underskirt is very popular. It is a garment that combines the divided skirt and the underskirt.
Nagajuban (長襦袢): an underskimono worn under the kimono. The neck part can have a han-eri. When you wear a kimono, only the neck and sleeves of the inner kimono are visible. But it is still important to choose it to coordinate well with the colors of the kimono. It is usually made of silk, but in winter it can be made of wool.
Han-eri (半襟): a decorative rather than practical piece of silk attached to the collar of the nagajuban or inner kimono. This part is visible when wearing a kimono, at the back of the collar. Thus, it helps to make the outfit more beautiful. In winter, it can be made of wool. They vary from pure white to a strong embroidery.
Date-eri (伊達衿): in the past, another kimono was worn underneath the main kimono on formal occasions, but nowadays only the date-eri remains, which simulates the existence of this second kimono. It is a strip of cloth sewn around the neck so that it stands out a little, in a color that contrasts with the kimono.
How to wear the Japanese traditional men's kimono?
Sometimes it is also coordinated with the color of the obi-age. It is usually worn with a formal kimono like furisode, tomesode, homongi or iromuji. In the case of a kurotomesode, for example, it should be white.
Koshi-himo: laces essential if you want to wear a kimono perfectly. The kimono has no buttons or zippers to keep it closed, so koshi-himo, of which you need between three and five, are the only way to close and tie the kimono properly. They are usually made of muslin, but you can also find some made of silk.
Date-jime (伊達締め): ribbons that are used to close the kimono and kimono. After closing these garments with the koshi-himo, they are closed with the datjimes that are placed over the koshi-himo, making sure that they have a flat, non-rough surface. The most popular and highest quality datjimes are woven in the Hakata style, made of silk.
But in addition to this, there are a multitude of accessories that often accompany the kimono. One of the basic elements is the jacket and coat to fight not only the cold or rain, but also the heat or dust.
The haori jacket
The haori (羽織) is one of the most famous and common traditional garments of Japan, not only among geisha but also in modern Japan. It is a light jacket usually made of silk decorated with shibori. It is worn over the kimono and its length depends on the formality of the event: the shorter it is, the more informal it is. A geisha or maiko, for example, always wears them long for maximum protection and formality.
Also, the color of the haori can add formality to the outfit. The black haori (usually made of silk or crepe) with a single coat of arms in the center of the back is called kuromontsuki haori and is worn on very formal occasions such as graduation ceremonies or funerals.
Similarly, haoris of any other color with patterns can be worn for New Year's celebrations or other joyous festivities. In this case, the woman will usually wear the colored haori with a kimono without a patterned design, such as a komon or Edo tsukesage.
The haori is not only worn as a solution to the cold, but also as a protective measure against the dust of ancient Japanese roads.
Originally, this type of garment was reserved for men, who wore it with hakama pants. This was the case until fashion changes at the end of the Edo period made it a garment also worn by women, with geishas being, as always, the forerunners of this new fashion among women.
The history of the kimono haori jacket
It was the geisha Tatsumi, from one of the ancient hanamachi of Edo, who first adopted the haori fashion for women. Today, however, jackets worn by women tend to be longer than those worn by men. And like other accessories, the design of this jacket also matches the design of the kimono. In the case of men, when paired with the hakama, it gives a formal look to the outfit.
Naturally, as with all garments that are worn as a kimono, something is needed to close the haori. In this case, it is the haori-himo, a rope woven with tassels, which also has degrees of formality. Thus, white is the most formal. However, the haori can also be worn open, so the use of the haori-himo is not always necessary.
The michiyuki coat
Japanese teenager wearing a michiyuki over a dress
The haori is ideal for autumn, when the temperature starts to drop but it's not too cold yet. Therefore, one of the winter coats that offers the best protection against the intense Japanese cold is the michiyuki (道行), literally "on the road."
It is a fairly long coat (about three quarters of a length) made of crepe, silk or satin, usually without any pattern. Because of its length, which can cover the entire kimono, the michiyuki is often used as a style suit over it.
This Japanese coat has a rectangular collar on the front and is usually tied in the front with a series of buttons on the right side of the coat.
An unpatterned michiyuki goes well with tomesode, homongi, and tsukesage kimonos. On the other hand, a michiyuki with a small pattern goes very well with a kimono with a small repeated pattern like komon.
The dochugi coat
Traditional Japanese coat: Dochugi
Another garment for the cold winter is the dōchūgi (道中着), which is very similar to a long kimono in that it is double-breasted and tied at the waist. However, it is much shorter and usually reaches to the hip, and can sometimes reach three-quarters of the length.
The dōchūgi is a V-neck coat, much like a kimono collar, but made of wool. It protects well from the cold, but its material gives it a casual look.
Other kimono accessories
Kinchaku kimono bag
For rainy days, Japanese women also wear special mackintoshoes made of nylon or clear plastic in their kimono.
Finally, on days when it's not too cold or when you want to add an extra layer of warmth, it's common to wear shawls and shawls, just like any other Western woman. Even geishas and maikos do it.
That's the beauty of it, because although it's a traditional Japanese garment, it's also associated with outdoor elements and remains current.
As for accessories, Japanese women wear them as if they were wearing Western clothes. In other words, there are almost no accessories solely and exclusively dedicated to the kimono.
In the past, it was possible to wear a special bag for kimono, which can still be seen today when wearing a yukata. But in many cases, there are women who, even while wearing a kimono, use their everyday bag.
MODERNIZATION OF KIMONO
A man and woman wearing a modern kimono in black
Wearing a kimono is a traditional art in Japan, known in Japanese as kitsuke. But more and more young people are reinventing the kimono look by combining it with Western accessories, breaking free from the strictest traditional conventions and norms.
The kimono is almost a symbol of Japanese identity, but it fell out of favor with the modernization and industrialization of the country during the Meiji Restoration. Today, however, it has been given a new lease on life, but with a very personal touch.
Young Japanese are looking to personalize their kimonos, to give them a new, modern and sometimes much more casual touch than the strict rules of dress. They use bags and hats of Western style, but also scarves or scarves to replace the objijme.
There are even sneakers and jumpsuits with Western style coats, scarves, sunglasses... Everything is allowed, there are no prohibitions or rules, just freedom.
Examples that show that this is not a passing fad are the popularization of the Kimono Jack event and the emergence of stores specializing in decorations and accessories to customize the kimono in Tokyo or elsewhere. This event, promoted by Kyoto Kimono enthusiasts and held in various cities in Japan and abroad, aims to revitalize the use of kimono to "preserve its transmission."