Monday, February 11, 2013

Kimono Culture

As you may remember from my last post, I’m kind of a kimono fanatic. This stems from my long time fascination with geisha culture, which places particular importance on what geisha or maiko wear. So I thought I would share with you a little about kimono, and what makes them so awesome.

Kimono literally translates as “thing to wear”, but really only refers to the traditional, robe-like style of Japanese clothes you are probably familiar with. There are various types of kimono. The kind with the short sleeves that most women wear are generally just referred to as kimono, but may have specific names relating to their patterns. The beautiful, elaborate kimono with long sleeves are called furisode, and they are only worn by young women who have not married. They are often worn at the coming-of age-ceremonies that Japan holds for everyone who turns 20 in that year. (One is considered to be an adult at age 20 in Japan.) This kind of kimono is worn by maiko, apprentice geisha from Kyoto. In addition, they are used by maiko and geisha who specialize in dancing, because the longer sleeves emphasize the delicate movements. There are specific kinds of for mourning as well as marriages. There is also a summer Japanese robe called a yukata, which is thinner and easier to put on. Men’s kimono are often much simpler, usually in dark shades of blue, grey, green, and brown.

(A furisode kimono, worn by a kabuki performer. This is a photo borrowed from a friend.)

(Me and Justin at the kabuki performance. You can see how Justin's kimono is much simpler than mine. Note: My obi is a yukata obi because I didn't have time to learn how to wear the regular obi.)

Kimono are somewhat complicated to put on, and involve numerous pieces. It takes practice and specific instruction, and most people need help to put on fancier kinds of kimono. All kimono are a “one size fits all” deal, and they are made to fit through lifting and folding. Although the robe is all one piece, there are various necessary accessories that go with it. One such addition is the undergarments. Because kimono are expensive and made of fine silk, it is important to keep them as clean as possible, so they are not to be worn against bare skin. The most obvious accessory is the obi, or the belt that goes around the middle. These belts are usually very decorative and beautiful. Beneath the obi are many unseen accessories. There are a few simple cloth ties, used to hold up the hem of the kimono and to keep all the folds in place. There is also often a stiff rectangle of thin plastic to smooth out any wrinkles behind the obi. There are special collar inserts used to help keep the collar stiff. There are also various decorative accessories, such as an obi-jime, which is a thin, cord-like tie that goes around the outside of the obi, and is tied in pretty knots. The obi may be tied in a multitude of ways, each with its own particular set of steps. Luckily, a yukata is much easier to wear. You only need a couple ties underneath, and the obi is thinner and much easier to handle. However, keep in mind that yukata are very informal.

(My obi and a closeup of the wave pattern.)

(My purple yukata. You can see my obi-jime, which is pink, in the middle of my yellow obi.)

The art of pairing a kimono with its obi and obi-jime can be very deep, and it is something geisha must master. The color palate must be carefully considered. Obi should always stand out from the kimono, and not be too matching. Sometimes the obi will be the color of a small detail included in the kimono. For example, my yukata is mainly purple with pink flowers. The pink flowers have little yellow dots in the middle, so I chose a yellow obi. It stands out, but still goes with the outfit. Alternatively, obi are chosen based on pure color contrast and will often not be any shade involved in the kimono. You can think of this as choosing colors from a color wheel. Blue is on the opposite side of orange, so these colors look well together. However, Japanese aesthetics differ from our Western concepts, so the color wheel rule does not always work, but it is a good starting point. One must also consider the time of year. Seasons heavily influence which colors and patterns are appropriate to wear.

(Me and my roommate, wearing yukata. My roommate, Mai, chose a pink obi, but a green one would have worked as well, because of the green leaves in the robe.)

Kimono are very expensive. They can easily set you back a couple hundred collars, especially after buying all the accessories. However, they are also often sold to second hand stores, which is where I bought my kimono. I bought a green one that had a barely noticeable stain near the bottom for around $25, and then a beautiful orange kimono that had a tiny tear in the shoulder that had been sewn up for about $15. The problems were barely noticeable, and they were absolutely gorgeous. I also purchased a gold obi, which was another $20, I think. I haven’t bought all the necessary accessories, but I would say if you went to one of these thrift shops, you could easily buy a full set for around $100. Yukata are cheaper and often sold in complete sets, new, for around $50 or $70.

(Above: My second hand green and orange kimono, which closeups of the detailing. My gold obi works well with both of these.)

All this may sound complicated, but if you have a passion for the unique Japanese aesthetic, I highly recommend looking around to see if you can find a set you like. Even if you don’t wear them back home, they make beautiful wall pieces if you can find a way to mount them.  (Don’t use nails. Please.) My kimono and obi are definitely one of my favorite souvenirs I brought back with me, and I can’t wait for another chance to wear them.

Do you like kimono or other kinds of traditional clothing from around the world? Do you dream of owning your own complete kimono set? What kind of color combos sound appealing to you? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

1 comment:

  1. I have never owned my own kimono but I worked with a student teacher from Japan and we co-taught a unit on Japan together. She allowed me to wear her kimono and taught me to tie a proper obi bow (soooo complicated!). Kimonos are beautiful - too bad we don't wear them here in North America!