When we think about Japanese traditional dress, we can’t help but think about the kimono. Even if nowadays most people wear western-style clothes, it is still possible to spot a kimono-clad woman here and there, especially when attending important ceremonies like weddings.
Kimonos are traditionally worn by men and women.The ones worn by men are more austere and simple, and usually of dark colors; whereas women’s kimonos can be brightly colored, and they come in many different pieces that make wearing this garment an art in itself.
Read our short article and learn more about this stunning garment!
- Kimonos are worn by men and women during ceremonies or to relax in the evening.
- Women’s kimonos come in many varieties, each one for a different occasion.
- A kimono wouldn’t be complete without its accessories;for example, the obi, the big belt tying the dress together.
- Men’s kimonos are simpler and easier to wear.
- Across Japan, and especially in Kyoto, it is possible to rent a kimono for a day and take pictures in front of the most famous monuments.
Japanese Traditional Dress — Kimono
The kimono is the traditional Japanese garment, characterized by its T-shaped robes falling to the ankles, long wide sleeves, and attached collars. Nowadays, kimonos are usually worn by women at special occasions, and only some oldermen and women wear it on a daily basis.
Kimonos are made from a single bolt of fabric called tan (36cm wide and 115cm long), and they consist of four different parts: two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves. Following the tradition, every part of the kimono should be handmade using hemp, linen, silk, and satin.
The long history of the kimono began with Chinese immigrants, who brought along the traditional Chinese dress from which the kimonowas derived. However, during the Heian period, the kimono became stylized, and it developed its peculiar characteristics, especially during the Edo period.
Parts and Styles of the Kimono
Kimonos come in a great variety, with patterns, colors, and fabric suiting the right occasion and the sex of the wearer. A little bit of information will be useful to orientate you in the complex world of this elegant and beautiful garment.
Parts of the Kimono
Every different part of a kimono (there are more than 20) has its own name. The most important ones are these four:
- Obi, a wide belt used to tuck in the excess cloth so as to hide it from other people.
- Maemigoro, the front main panel (without the sleeves). It is divided into “right” and “left”.
- Okumi, front inside panel. It goes from the collar right down to the bottom of the dress.
- Ushiromigoro, the back main panel. It is sewn back-centered, and it consists of “right” and “left”. When made with wool, the ushiromigoro consists of one piece.
Kimonos for women come in an incredible wide variety, ranging from formal to casual. Formality is usually determined by the color, the fabric (silk being the most formal; cotton the least formal), and the kamon (family crest).
Furisode is the formal kimono worn by unmarried women, characterized by larger sleeves. Homongi is worn by friends of the bride during a wedding (its name means “visiting wear”). For tea ceremonies, iromuji is usually worn; while komon can be worn around the town.
The mourning kimono (for both sexes) is called mofuku.It is plain black, and it is usually worn by the family of the deceased. The most formal kimono for married women is called kurotomesode, and it is used by the mother of the bride.
Kimonos for men are simpler than those for women. They consist of only five pieces (whereas women’s ones have 12) and only a few inches of the sleeves are unattached from the body of the kimono.
Men’s kimonos are usually dark, and the fabric is usually matte. More casual kimonoscan have brighter colors. The most formal kimono for men is made with black silk and with five kamon on the chest.
Accessories of a Kimono
Formal kimonoscan have dozens of accessories. A common one is the geta, wooden sandals worn by both women and men (with a unique style worn exclusively by geisha). Hakama, is a skirt resembling a pair of trousers. Nowadays it is mostly worn by martial art practitioners and by women on their graduation day.
Haori is a hip-length kimono-like jacket worn by both men and women to add formality to their outfit. Hanten is the worker’s version of the more formal haori.
On important events, women can wear an under-kimono called hiyoku. If the kimono is made of fine silk, men and women will wear the nagajuban, a kimono-shaped robe that prevents the outer kimono to touch the skin and to stay clean.
The Cost of a Kimono
Highest-quality kimonos are extremely expensive. A woman kimono, complete with all accessories, can cost more than US$20,000. However, it is still possible to find more affordable kimonos that follow standard patterns, are not handmade, or are assembled from old kimonos. In some stores,you can find used kimonos for US$1.25.
Obi, the belt that goes around the waist, is still expensive. Second-hand obi can cost hundreds of dollars, as it is quite difficult to manufacture one. Men’s obi, simpler and smaller, tend to be less expensive.
Occasions for Wearing a Kimono
The bride, the groom, and the guests of a wedding usually all wear a kimono. The wedding kimono for men is called tomesode, the women’s one is known as shiromuku.
Hakama is the skirt worn by women at their graduation ceremony, while furisode and haori are respectively worn by women and men during the Coming of Age Ceremony, held in January. During summer festivals, it will be easy to see young women wearing a yukata, an informal kimono made with a light fabric (see below for more information).
As said above, there are also specific kimonos to be worn at funerals and during tea ceremonies.
How to Put on a Kimono
Women usually need to be helped to put on a kimono. The first thing to put on is the juban, a white garment that separates the kimono from the skin. When putting on the kimono, be sure that the back seam is centered.
Wrap the right side over your body and overlap it with the left side. When done, make sure the kimono ends at your ankle. Put the extra cloth under the koshihimo belt that goes around your waist. Put the datejime belt over this one, tying it in the front. Finally, tie the obimakura (outside belt).
The traditional washing method is called araihari: the kimono is taken apart, washed, and then re-sewn. Nowadays, most people prefer to dry-clean their kimono, which then needs to be aired seasonally. The kimono must also be folded in a specific way so to avoid wrinkles.
Unlined Cotton Kimono—Yukata
In Japan, summer festivals are everywhere, and people attending them like to wear traditional clothes. Yukata is the summer kimono made with cotton, ideal during the hot summer days.
It can be seen during outdoor summer events, like hanabi (fireworks) and bonodori festivals. They are also worn inside the ryokan, the traditional Japanese inns, and they also are commonly used as abath robe.
In the past, most yukata were made of indigo cotton, but nowadays it is easy to find different patterns and colors. Young people will wear bright colors, while older people will wear darker tones.
Of the many ornaments that come with a kimono, some, called kanzashi, are designed for the hair. These ornaments were generated during the Jōmon period (1000 BCE), when people used to wear stones in their hair to keep evil spirits away.
Nowadays, they are worn by brides, women adeptat tea ceremonies, and geishas. They are made from gold, silver, tortoiseshell, or silk (or even plastic). They come in numerous different shapes, the most famous one being the kogai: Two pieces made from tortoiseshell, representing a sword and its sheath, and usually sold along with a comb.
Traditional Zōri Sandals
The traditional flat Japanese sandals made of rice straw are called zōri, and they are usually associated with the formal kimono. For women, the most formal zōri are made of fabric, while men can wear their sandals with formal or informal dresses.
The thongs are called hanao; they are attached symmetrically in the middle of the sandal. They stretch quite easily, and sometimes they can be replaced so as to match the color of other accessories.
Kimono Experience in Kyoto
For those who want to feel what it is like to wear a kimono, but don’t want to buy one, it is possible to rent oneat an extremely reasonable price.
You can make an appointment with one of the many shops offering the service.They will help you choose the kimono you like the most, providing the dress, the traditional footwear, and any accessories you like. A patient member of staff will assist you throughout the process, helping you put on the kimono and fixing your hairstyle.
Once you wear the kimono, you are free to go around the city and take picturesque photos in front of the most special Japanese traditional monuments.
Kyoto Kimono Rental Yumeyakata Gojo and Rental Kimono Okamoto Kiyomizuzakaten are two of the best shops offering this kind of service. They are both open all day and have reasonable prices.
After renting the kimono, you can use the shops’ studio to havepictures taken by a professional photographer.
Prices are affordable. A couple can rent a kimono for about 5,500 Yen (about US$50); and formal kimonos like the furisode can be rented for 10,000 Yen (about US$90).
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