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Kimono (着物, kimono literally "something worn") - The national costume of Japan. Originally the word "kimono" referred to all types of clothing, but it has come to denote a particular type of traditional full-length garment. The original and exact word should be wafuku (和服, wafuku literally "clothes of Yamato people").

Kimonos are T-shaped, straight-lined robes that fall to the ankle, with collars and wide, full-length sleeves. Kimonos are wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and secured by a wide belt called an obi, which is usually tied at the back. Kimonos are generally worn with traditional footwear (especially geta, thonged wood-platform footwear; and zori, a type of thong-like footwear) and split-toe socks (tabi).

Today, kimonos are most often worn by women, and on special occasions. Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode, which have floor-length sleeves, on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still wear kimonos on a daily basis. Men wear kimonos most often at weddings, tea ceremonies, and other very special or very formal occasions. Kimonos are also worn by both men and women in certain sports, such as kendo. Professional sumo wrestlers are often seen in kimonos because they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress whenever appearing in public.

Kimono hobbyists in Japan can take courses on how to put on and wear kimonos. Classes cover selecting seasonally and event-appropriate patterns and fabrics, matching the kimono undergarments and accessories to the kimono, layering the undergarments according to subtle meanings, selecting and tying obi, and other topics. There are also clubs devoted to kimono culture, such as Kimono de Ginza.

The earliest kimono were heavily influenced by traditional Chinese clothing called hanfu through extensive cultural adoptions between China and Japan, as early as the fifth century ce. It was during the 8th century, however, when Chinese fashions came into style among the Japanese, and the overlapping collar became particularly a women's fashion. During Japan's Heian period (794–1192 ce), the kimono became increaslingly stylized, though one still wore a half-apron, called a mo, over it. During the Muromachi age (1392-1573), the Kosode, a single kimono formerly considered underwear, began to be worn without the hakama pants over it, and thus began to be held closed by an obi "belt". During the Edo period ((1603-1867)), the sleeves began to grow in length, especially among unmarried women, and the Obi became wider, with various styles of tying coming into fashion. Since then, the basic shape of both men’s and women’s kimono has remained essentially unchanged.

Kimono for men are available in various sizes, but kimono for women are typically of similar size, and are adjusted for various body sizes by tucking and folding. An ideally-tailored kimono has sleeves that end at the wrist when the arms are lowered. A man's kimono should fall approximately to the ankle without tucking. A woman's kimono is longer to allow for the ohashori, the tuck that can be seen under the obi.

Kimono are made from a single bolt of fabric called a tan. Bolts come in standard dimensions of about 14 inches wide and 12.5 yards (enough for one adult kimono), and the entire fabric is used to make the kimono. The finished kimono consists of four main strips of fabric: two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves, with additional smaller strips forming the narrow front panel and collar. In the past, the kimono was often taken apart for washing as separate panels, and re-sewn by hand. Due to the fact that the entire bolt remains in the finished garment without cutting, the kimono can be easily retailored to fit a different person.

The maximum length of the sleeve is dictated by the width of the fabric. The distance from the center of the spine to the end of the sleeve could not exceed twice the width of the fabric. Traditional kimono fabric was typically no more than 36 centimeters (14 inches) wide. Thus the distance from spine to wrist could not exceed a maximum of roughly 68 centimeters (27 inches). Modern kimono fabric is woven as wide as 42 centimeters (17 inches) to accommodate modern Japanese body sizes. Very tall or heavy people, such as sumo wrestlers, must have kimono custom-made by joining multiple bolts of fabric together or custom-woven. source

Traditional kimono are sewn by hand, and their fabrics are also frequently hand made and hand decorated. Various techniques such as yūzen dye resist are used for applying decoration and patterns to the base cloth. Repeating patterns that cover a large area of a kimono are traditionally done with the yūzen resist technique and a stencil. Over time there have been many variations in color, fabric and style, as well as accessories such as the obi.

Kimono and obis are traditionally made of silk, silk brocade, silk crepes (such as chirimen) and satin weaves (such as rinzu). Modern kimono are also widely available in less-expensive easy-care fabrics such as rayon, cotton sateen, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fibers. Silk is still considered the ideal fabric, however, and is a must for formal occasions.

Customarily, woven patterns and dyed repeat patterns are considered informal; Formal kimono have free-style designs dyed over the whole surface or along the hem. During the Heian period, kimono were worn with up to a dozen or more colorful contrasting layers, with each combination of colors being a named pattern. Today, the kimono is normally worn with a single layer on top of a slip style undergarment. The pattern of the kimono can also determine in what season it should be worn. For example, a pattern with butterflies or cherry blossoms would be worn in spring. Watery designs are common during the summer. A popular autumn motif is the russet leaf of the Japanese maple; for winter, designs may include bamboo, pine trees and plum blossoms.

Old kimono are often recycled in various ways: altered to make haori, hiyoku, or kimono for children, used to patch similar kimono, used for making handbags and similar kimono accessories, and used to make covers, bags or cases for various implements, especially for sweet-picks used in tea ceremonies. Kimono with damage below the waistline can also be worn under hakama to hide the damage. Historically, skilled craftsmen laboriously picked the silk thread from old kimono and rewove it into a new textile in the width of a heko obi for men's kimono, using a recycling weaving method called saki-ori.

Parts of a woman's kimono

Doura - upper lining
Eri - collar
Fuki - hem guard
Furi - sleeve below the armhole
Maemigoro - front main panel
Miyatsukuchi - opening under the sleeve
Okumi - front inside panel
Sode - sleeve
Sodeguchi - sleeve opening
Sodetsuke - kimono armhole
Susomawashi - lower lining
Tamoto - sleeve pouch
Tomoeri - over collar
Uraeri - inner collar
Ushiromigoro - back main section

Kimonos can be expensive. A woman's kimono may easily exceed US $10,000; a complete kimono outfit, with kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks, sandals and accessories, can exceed US $20,000. A single obi may cost several thousand dollars. However, most kimonos owned by kimono hobbyists or by practitioners of traditional arts are far less expensive. Enterprising people make their own kimonos and undergarments by following a standard pattern, or by recycling older kimonos. Cheaper and machine-made fabrics can substitute for the traditional hand-dyed silk. There is also a thriving business in Japan for second-hand kimonos, which can cost as little as ¥500. Women's obis, however, mostly remain an expensive item. Although simple patterned or plain colored ones can cost as low as ¥1,500, even a used obi can cost hundreds of dollars, and experienced craftsmanship is required to make them. Men's obis, even those made from silk, tend to be much less expensive, because they are narrower, shorter and less decorative than those worn by women.

Kimonos range from extremely formal to casual. The level of formality of women's kimonos is determined mostly by the pattern fabric, and color. Young women's kimonos have longer sleeves, signifying their unmarried status, and tend to be more elaborate than similarly formal older women's kimonos. Men's kimonos are usually one basic shape and are mainly worn in subdued colors. Formality is also determined by the type and color of accessories, the fabric, and the number or absence of kamon (family crests), with five crests signifying extreme formality. Silk is the most desirable, and most formal, fabric. Kimonos made of fabrics such as cotton and polyester generally reflect a more casual style.

Women's Kimono

Many modern Japanese women lack the skill to put on a kimono unaided: the typical woman's kimono consists of twelve or more separate pieces that are worn, matched and secured in prescribed ways, and the assistance of licensed professional kimono dressers may be required. Called upon mostly for special occasions, kimono dressers both work out of hair salons and make house calls.

Choosing an appropriate type of kimono requires knowledge of the garment's symbolism and subtle social messages, reflecting the woman's age, marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion.

(黒留袖): a black kimono patterned only below the waistline, kurotomesode are the most formal kimonos for married women. They are often worn by the mothers of the bride and groom at weddings. Kurotomesode usually have five kamon printed on the sleeves, chest and back of the kimono.

(振袖): furisode literally translates as swinging sleeves—the sleeves of furisode average between 39 and 42 inches in length. Furisode are the most formal kimonos for unmarried women, with colorful patterns that cover the entire garment. They are usually worn at coming-of-age ceremonies (seijin shiki) and by unmarried female relatives of the bride at weddings and wedding receptions.

(色留袖): single-color kimonos, patterned only below the waistline. Irotomesode are slightly less formal than kurotomesode, and are worn by married women, usually close relatives of the bride and groom at weddings. An irotomesode may have three or five kamon.

(訪問着): literally translates as visiting wear. Characterized by patterns that flow over the shoulders, seams and sleeves, hōmongi rank slightly higher than their close relative, the tsukesage. Hōmongi may be worn by both married and unmarried women; often friends of the bride will wear hōmongi at weddings and receptions. They may also be worn to formal parties.

(付け下げ): has more modest patterns that cover a smaller area—-mainly below the waist-—than the more formal hōmongi. They may also be worn by married women.

(色無地): single-colored kimonos that may be worn by married and unmarried women. They are mainly worn to tea ceremonies. The dyed silk may be figured (rinzu, similar to jacquard), but has no differently colored patterns.

(小紋): "fine pattern". Kimonos with a small, repeated pattern throughout the garment. This style is more casual and may be worn around town, or dressed up with a formal obi for a restaurant. Both married and unmarried women may wear komon.

Edo Komon
(江戸小紋): is a type of komon characterized by tiny dots arranged in dense patterns that form larger designs. The Edo komon dyeing technique originated with the samurai class during the Edo period. A kimono with this type of pattern is of the same formality as an iromuji, and when decorated with kamon, may be worn as visiting wear (equivalent to a tsukesage or hōmongi).

Uchikake is a highly formal kimono worn only by a bride or at a stage performance. The Uchikake is often heavy brocaded and is supposed to be worn outside the actual kimono and obi, as a kind of coat. You therefore never tie obi around the uchikake. It is supposed to trail along the floor and this is also why it is heavily padded along the hem. The uchikake of the bridal costume is either white or very colorful with red often as the basis color.

Susohiki / Hikizuri
The susohiki is mostly worn by geisha or by stage performers of the traditional Japanese dance. It is quite long, compared to regular kimono, because the skirt is supposed to trail along the floor. Susohiki literally means "trail the skirt". Where a normal kimono for women is normally 1,5-1,6 m or 4,7-5,2 ft long, a susohiki can be up to 2 m or 6,3 ft long. This is also why geisha and maiko lift their kimono skirt when walking outside, also to show their beautiful underkimono or "nagajuban".

Men's Kimono

In contrast to women's kimonos, men's kimono outfits are far simpler, typically consisting of a maximum of five pieces, not including footwear.

Men's kimonos have sleeves which are attached to the body of the kimono with no more than a few inches unattached at the bottom, unlike the women's style of very deep sleeves mostly unattached from the body of the kimono. Men's sleeves are less deep than women's kimono sleeves to accommodate the obi around the waist beneath them, where as on a woman's kimono, the long, unattached bottom of the sleeve can hang over the obi without getting in the way.

In the modern era, the principal distinctions between men's kimonos are in the fabric. The typical kimono has a subdued, dark color; black, dark blues, greens, and browns are common. Fabrics are usually matte. Some have a subtle pattern, and textured fabrics are common in more casual kimonos. More casual kimonos may be made in slightly brighter colors, such as lighter purples, greens and blues. Sumo wrestlers have occasionally been known to wear quite bright colors such as fuchsia.

The most formal style of kimono is plain black with five kamon on the chest, shoulders and back. Slightly less formal is the three-kamon kimono. These are usually paired with white undergarments and accessories.

Almost any kimono outfit can be made more formal by adding hakama and haori.

(長襦袢, or simply juban) are kimono-shaped robes worn by both men and women beneath the main outer garment. Since silk kimonos are delicate and difficult to clean, the nagajuban helps to keep the outer kimono clean by preventing contact with the wearer's skin. Only the collar edge of the nagajuban shows from beneath the outer kimono. Many nagajuban have removable collars, to allow them to be changed to match the outer garment, and to be easily washed without washing the entire garment. While the most formal type of nagajuban are white, they are often as beautifully ornate and patterned as the outer kimono. Since men's kimonos are usually fairly subdued in pattern and color, and the nagajuban allows for discreetly wearing very striking designs and colors.

(肌襦袢) are thin garments similar to undershirts. They are worn by women under the nagajuban.

(裾除け) is a thin petticoat-like garment worn by women under the nagajuban. Sometimes the susoyoke and hadajuban are combined into a one-piece garment.

(下駄) are wooden sandals worn by men and women with yukata. One unique style is worn solely by geisha.

(袴) is a divided (Umanori) or undivided skirt (Andon) which resembles a wide pair of pants, traditionally worn by men but now also by women in less formal outfits, and is also worn in certain martial arts such as aikido. A hakama typically has pleats, a koshiita (a stiff or padded part in the lower back of the wearer), and himo (long lengths of fabric tied around the waist over the obi. Hakama are worn in several budo arts such as aikido, kendo, iaidō and naginata. Hakama are also worn by women at college graduation ceremonies. They can range from very formal to visiting wear, depending on the pattern.

(羽織) is a hip- or thigh-length kimono coat which adds formality. Haori were originally reserved for men, until fashions changed at the end of the Meiji period. They are now worn by both men and women, though women's kimono jackets tend to be longer.

(羽織紐) is a tasseled, woven string fastener for the haori. The most formal color is white.

(ひよく) is a type of under-kimono, historically worn by women beneath the kimono. Today they are only worn on formal occasions such as weddings and other important social events.

(簪) are hair ornaments worn by women in the coiffured hair style that often accompanies kimonos. These may take the form of silk flowers, wooden combs, and jade hairpins.

(帯) An obi is a sash worn with kimonos by both men and women.

(帯板) is a thin, fabric-covered board placed under the obi by women to keep its shape. It is also called mae-ita.

(伊達締め) is a thin, stiff sash worn under the obi to keep its shape.

Koshi himo
(腰紐) are thin sashes tied to keep the kimono in place while getting dressed.

(足袋) are ankle-high, divided-toe socks usually worn with zori. They also come in a boot form.

(草鞋) are straw rope sandals which are mostly worn by monks.

(浴衣) is an informal unlined summer kimono usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp. Yukata are most often worn to outdoor festivals, by men and women of all ages. They are also worn at onsen (hot spring) resorts, where they are often provided for the guests in the resort's own pattern.

(草履) are cloth, leather or grass-woven sandals. Zori may be highly decorated with intricate stitching or with no decoration. They are worn by both men and women. Grass woven zori with white straps, called hanao, are the most formal for men. They are similar in design to flip-flops.

Care of Kimono

In the past, a kimono would often be entirely taken apart for washing, and then re-sewn for wearing. This traditional washing method is called arai hari. Because stitches must be taken out for washing, traditional kimono need to be hand sewn. Arai hari is very expensive and difficult and is one of the causes of the declining popularity of kimono. Modern fabrics and cleaning methods have been developed that eliminate this need, although the traditional washing of kimonos is still practiced, especially for high-end garments.

A new custom-made kimono will be delivered to the customer with long, loose basting stitches placed around the outside edges[citation needed]. These stitches are called shituke ito. They are sometimes replaced for storage. They help to prevent bunching, folding and wrinkling, and keep the kimono's layers in alignment.

Like many other traditional Japanese garments, there are specific ways to fold kimonos. These methods help to preserve the garment and to keep it from creasing when stored. Kimonos are often stored wrapped in paper.

Kimonos need to be aired out at least seasonally and before and after each time they are worn. Many people prefer to have their kimonos dry cleaned, although this can be extremely expensive, it is generally less expensive than arai hari and may be impossible for certain fabrics or dyes.

Information source: “Kimono.” Article date: 10 Feb. 2008. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 12 Feb. 2008 <Kimono>.

Video - The following is of 宮沢りえ, Miyazawa Rie at a 2006 kimono show.





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