Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Kimono 着物

Contemporary Geisha in trainning.

Kimono (着物) literally translated to “putting on something” or “something worn.” The kimono is a traditional clothing from Japan. Initially the kimono was influenced by the Chinese Hanfu through the extensive trading and cultural exchanges between Japan and China (approx. 5 centure C.E.).

All traditional kimonos are sewn by hand and often hand decorated. Formal kimonos are made strictly from the finest silks, and can be three to five layers, depending on the cost. Kimonos can be used for various functions including: casual wear, formal wear, for weddings, and also are the proper clothes worn by traditional Geisha.

Memois of a Geisha

From my experiences, I’ve come to admire the beauty of kimonos. In my opinion they are the most feminine and beautiful woman’s clothing ever invented. Although, the challenge is getting into one. It typically takes a woman over an hour with the help to two to three assistants to help her get properly fitted and tied up. There are many steps to putting on the kimono, and the more layers the more difficult the process becomes. Since kimonos are so tight, the obi (Japanese sash which holds the kimono in place) often would be tied as tight as a corset. Kimonos restricted a woman’s movement by about 87% and she had to take small steps. These small graceful steps would make the illusion that a woman could seemlessly glide like water over any surface. To go up steps in a kimono is almost impossible. When I accompanied Sayaka’s little sister to her photo shoot after her seijin-shiki (成人式), or traditional coming of age ceremony, we had to help her up and down the stairs due to her immobility.

Sleeves on kimonos hold great significance. Traditionally young virgins would wear kimonos which covered nearly every part of their body from head to toe. Only the face was permited to be visible, and even then, it was painted white. Only a small portion of flesh on the neck was allowed to be shown, for traditional and ceremonial reasons. However, as the woman was fully covered down to her fingertips this small piece of flesh on the back of the neck (no bigger than your thumb) often added a subtle seductveness to the kimono dress. Once a woman was married, her kimono’s sleeves would be shortened to just above the wrist, and the length of the sleeve is synched so it doesn't taper down her sides. This shortened length allowed others to know that she was unavailable, and also distinguished her as a full woman. From what I gather, Geisha always wear long sleeved kimonos (because they are more elegant), yet when they become full Geisha the kimono collar changes from red (denoting youth) to white (womanhood).

A wedding kimono (notice the shortened sleeves)

Men can wear kimonos for special ceremonial occasions such as his wedding or the famous Sumo wrestlers formal kimono –which must be custom made to fit the large men. Men’s kimonos are often subdued colors, plain, and have little to no patterns. Women’s kimonos are often bright colored and have many intricate and beautiful designs. Even the all white wedding kimono is hand stitched with the finest silk embroidery.

Today, you can see women wearing kimonos while waiting for the subway, or just crossing the street. The younger Japanese generation wear kimonos to formal events such as their high school and college graduations, and also the turning of age ceremony called seijin-shiki (成人式).

Sayaka's blue Kimono (far right) cost more than my car! Sayaka is the only one wearing a traditional kimono. The rest of the dresses are hakama only.

For a closer look at the make-up and parts of the Japanese kimono I have included the accompanied list, borrowed from Please note that hakama and yukatas are worn by both men and women on a regular basis, and are informal. Many times foreigners not accustomed to Japanese culture will mistake hakama or yukatas for kimonos, but kimonos are more elaborate and more expensive. A high quality kimono can cost anywhere from $10,000 (American dollars) to $36,0000. The five layer kimonos used in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” were priced around $36,000 to $40,000 dollars, however, they were altered to look more cinematic. Real kimonos do not have low neck lines like the ones in the movie. A traditional kimono’s neck line will cut off just at the nape of the neck, whereas wedding kimonos cover the neck entirely.

Kimono (Japanese: 着物, literally "something worn"

Women's kimono

Most Japanese women would be unable to properly put on a kimono unaided, since the typical woman's outfit requires twelve or more separate pieces that must be worn, matched and secured in prescribed ways. Professional kimono dressers still help women put on kimono, usually for special occasions. Kimono dressers must be licensed, and while they often work out of hair salons, many make house calls as well.

The choice of which type of kimono to wear is laden with symbolism and subtle social messages. The specific choice relates to the woman's age and marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion. In descending order of formality:

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

Furisode (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 kimono for unmarried women. They have patterns that cover the entire garment, and are usually worn at coming-of-age ceremonies (Seijin Shiki) and by unmarried female relatives of the bride at weddings and wedding receptions.

Irotomesode (色留袖): a single-color kimono, 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 a wedding. An irotomesode may have three or five kamon.

Notice how the Obi (sash) is folded to look like a flower.

Hōmongi (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, such as galas.

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

Iromuji (色無地): single-colored kimono 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.

Komon (小紋): fine pattern in English. Kimono with a small, repeated pattern throughout the garment. Somewhat casual: may be worn around town, or dressed up with a nice obi for a restaurant. Both married and unmarried women may wear komon.

Edo komon (江戸小紋): Edo komon 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).

Yukata (浴衣): 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.


Jen said...

Sayaka looks very beautiful!

Off topic - do you know that if you type (accidentally), you go to a site called amazing bible stories. It's a bit of a strange coincidence considering the content of your other blog...

Tristan Vick said...

Yeah, that's neat. That other Blog of mine is a time hog. The research it takes to do that one has really stinted this one, for the time being.

But the moment I get back to Japan with my digital Camera... God help me! I'm going to photograph everything... and then this Blog will bloom with the beauty of Japan expressed only the way 6 megapixel digital glory can!!!