Interesting secrets of the kimono


Jinbaori Kobayakawa Hideaki, which he wore at the Battle of Sekigahara. In Japan, clothing was an important distinctive mark of a military leader on the battlefield. The commanders wore a sleeveless jacket over their armor – jimbaori, on the back of which the coat of arms – mon, clearly visible from afar, was always embroidered. Tokyo National Museum
The rich man’s child has many dresses,
He will never wear them out,
The rich have in their chests
Good is rotting
Precious silk is missing!

And the poor man has no simple dress,
Sometimes he even has nothing to wear.
This is how we live
And only you grieve
Can’t change anything!

Yamanoe Okura’s song about love for the son of Furuhi

Clothing culture. More than a month has passed since the publication of the material “Clothes of the Ancient Jews: Everything According to Religious Canons” dated August 1, 2020, as I am already reminded, they say, the topic has been forgotten, that I would like to continue reading about clothes of different countries and peoples. This is interesting to many.

But which topic should you choose? Logically, one should write about Ancient Rome, but then I remembered that the series of articles about the armor of samurai, which went on in the summer and which one of the readers of “VO”, also suggested to me to continue, was not finished yet. And so I thought about it and decided: why don’t these two cycles intersect in this case? After all, the kimono is also the clothing of the samurai, like many modern Japanese people. In addition, it is both men’s and women’s clothing of the tradition, which the Japanese, despite all the Western borrowings, have successfully carried through the centuries, but that there are centuries – millennia!


Typical Japanese kimono. Tokyo National Museum

Well, now, perhaps, it is worth asking a purely rhetorical question: well, who today does not know that the national dress of the Japanese is a kimono? And not only knows, but also imagines how it looks from films and books. But the point is that the kimono, like any other national dress, has its own, even small, but “secrets”, and sometimes very amusing! And today we will tell you about them.

Let’s start with the fact that for us a kimono is exotic, but for the Japanese it is the most common “wearable thing”. Moreover, this word can be translated from the Japanese language, only the word “thing” will have a somewhat special meaning in this case, “second bottom”, as, indeed, everything in Japan. The fact is that before the word “kimono” the Japanese meant any clothing at all, even if it was just a loincloth. But there was also the kimono itself, which since ancient times was not only clothing, but also an important indicator of the social status of the one who wears it, which people judged by its cut, fabric, and even by its belt. Well, looking at a woman dressed in a kimono, one could immediately tell whether she was married or not. Moreover, by the kimono it was easy to identify even the area where its owner or possessor was born. After all, both men and women wear them, and they look different in different areas. That is, they have one word, but the clothes are different!


Kimono made of several pieces of fabric. Tokyo National Museum

So just as in our country the word “clothes” unites many varieties – from underpants to a fur coat, so the Japanese word “kimono” means a wide range of various clothes. And first of all, this is a yukata (today it is a very comfortable and informal dress for wearing at home), furisode (can be translated as “wide sleeves”), which is clothing for unmarried girls, tomesode is already a dress for married women), then homonogi ( also a kimono, but used at official receptions and as a “weekend” dress for women), uchikake (very beautiful kimono of the bride), “coat of arms” – komon, from the word “ko” – surface, and “mon” – coat of arms, today may be evening), as well as a special iromuji dress, worn only to participate in the tea ceremony. As with us, it is customary to appear at funerals in Japan in all black, but there is a special kimono for this – mofuku (a kimono specially for participation in mourning ceremonies). Susohiki are the kimono of geisha and maiko – geisha apprentices, and many other varieties of it. So a kimono, even for a Japanese, is all very, very difficult.


Katabira is a summer kimono. Tokyo National Museum

Today many young Japanese women more and more often marry in a European manner and accordingly buy outfits for this. However, more recently, a Japanese woman for a wedding ceremony had to wear a completely luxurious kimono called uchikake, which weighed more than four kilograms, and besides, on a lining padded with cotton wool! Well, on top it was sheathed with silk or brocade, certainly with amazingly beautiful embroidered designs or completely covered with appliqués. The theme of the drawing could be cranes against the background of clouds and bamboo leaning over the waves, dragons soaring in the azure of the sky, which the Japanese consider to be symbols of wisdom and longevity, and very often sakura or plum flowers. The plots of these drawings can be enumerated indefinitely. However, the wedding kimono itself was supposed to be very modest and white, but the “colored” uchikake, like a hummingbird, was for him just something like a chic “wedding coat”. That’s how it is!


Also katabira. Tokyo National Museum

Men’s kimonos always had shorter sleeves and not as wide as those of women, and also differed in a simpler (if there was one, because traditionally men’s kimono is one-color!) And a strict pattern. Its cut was also simpler, but still the main difference between a man’s kimono and a woman’s was in its material. Men’s kimonos were made of matte fabric, not shiny like women’s, and their palette had to consist of cold and dark colors. For example, dark blue, dark green, dark brown and mourning black – these were the “most” masculine colors. It was possible to decorate a men’s kimono with a dull and not striking ornament – this was quite acceptable, but only no flowers and fluttering butterflies were allowed there. Although, again, men were allowed kimonos and bright colors, but only as informal clothing. In this case, the kimono could be sewn from light purple, grassy or blue fabric.

Another extremely important detail of the men’s kimono was the image of the “kamon”, the family coat of arms of its owner, applied to it. If the kimono was ceremonial, then there should have been exactly five such coats of arms on it – on the shoulders, on the chest, and also on the back, but if the kimono was everyday, then usually three were enough. To participate in the solemn event in the past it was considered and is now considered decent attire in a strict black kimono, on which five white kamons are embroidered. But if the kamons were embroidered with gold thread, then this was already seen as a sign of bad taste, excess, an unworthy man, and even more so a samurai.


Jinbaori with a large monom on the back, 18th century. Tokyo National Museum

Today in Japan, the kimono is still more of a woman’s clothing than a man’s, and is worn mainly by older women. Although you can see young people in traditional clothes. Although wearing a kimono is a very expensive pleasure. This is because a hand-made kimono (which is a “real” kimono in every way) costs $ 10,000 and even more! Of course, there are as many inexpensive factory-made kimonos as you want, and you can also buy second-hand, already quite cheap ones. But only a handmade kimono is a symbol of your position in society. And if you want to belong to his elite, shell out money only for such a kimono, and forget about cheap ones!


Embroidery on a kimono. Tokyo National Museum

However, such a kimono is also expensive because the fabric from which it is sewn is also handmade, and it is dyed by hand. There are many ways: for example, take and simply tie the fabric in knots and then dip it into the dye. So, by the way, earlier in the USSR, “boiled” jeans were once made! But this method is something very simple, you will not surprise anyone with this. It is considered much more difficult to apply the pattern directly to the kimono itself. It turns out that it signs, like a painting. However, this finish is still far from the limit of skill. Embroidery of kimonos with multi-colored silks is considered to be an expensive and truly decoration. At the same time, the threads are taken so thin that you might think (unless, of course, you look closely at it!) That in fact this is a painting, and not embroidery!


Kimono kosode, 17th century. Tokyo National Museum

However, the most interesting thing about a kimono is not the embroidery, not the colors, or even the quality of its fabric. The main and most interesting thing about it is the cut. Because the kimono is made from an uncut piece of fabric (called “tan”) measuring about 35 cm in width and – this is already a truly amazing thing! – 11 meters long! At the same time, the kimono is traditionally made without the help of scissors, and is folded like the famous Japanese origami. It seems that it is very difficult, but in fact, such “folding” clothes are very comfortable. It can be easily adjusted to any size, no matter whether it is worn by a fat person or a thin one. Although there is a drawback in this. To wash the kimono, the seams on it need to be ripped open, and then sewn again again. But there is nothing to be done about it. Moreover, geisha kimonos were glued with fish glue! Because of this, they quickly fell into disrepair, and new ones were very expensive, which is why you had to pay so much for the services of geisha.


Edo-era kimono of the 17th century. Tokyo National Museum

In addition, the best kimonos were made from natural silk, which was also not cheap, and they were also worn with silk brocade and satin. Of course, synthetics have successfully replaced natural fabrics in the “new generation” kimono. But natural fabrics do not give up their positions as before, therefore both cotton and silk in Japan, as before, are in price!


Lions and peonies. Festive kimono with three monks. Tokyo National Museum

And you also need to be able to choose a kimono. Yes, let the imagination of the artists who painted it and the embroiderers who embroidered it be truly flawless. But the question is: will it suit you? Will it fit the oval of the face, skin color, hair, figure? .. And will it be just a beautiful picture or already something “with a deep meaning”? They try, of course, to choose the latter, but this does not always work out! True, there is a hint: the seasonality of the pattern is what should be taken into account first of all when choosing a kimono. For a spring kimono, it is advisable to choose sakura flowers, but images of maple leaves on a kimono should be kept in autumn. Winter kimono should be embroidered with an ornament of evergreen pine branches or plum flowers, which bloom in Japan in February. In summer it will be nice to see water and fish – everything that is associated with coolness on a hot summer day.


Furisode XVIII century. Tokyo National Museum

Another important “secret” of kimono beauty is obi. Obi is a long (up to 6 meters!) And wide enough (30 cm, although then it is folded in half) fabric belt. It used to be the same for both women and men, but today the obi is an exclusively feminine luxury kimono accessory. There are many ways to tie it, although it used to be tied in the front, but today the knot should be at the back. And already because of this alone, you alone, without an assistant, or even without a couple of assistants, will not be able to put on a festive kimono. It is better then not to put it on at all, than to put it on incorrectly and demonstrate it to everyone.

As with everything in Japan, there is a certain secret meaning in tying an obi. The obi of married and unmarried women are tied in different ways, and this is how they are distinguished. The color of the obi is also important, and so is its material. So, “maru obi” is tied on identical occasions, and sakiori, a belt made from strips of worn clothes, is quite acceptable for a woman and only emphasizes her zeal and virtue. But you can’t wear it outside the house! Men’s obi are usually very simple, but they are decorated with netsuke key rings, which also have important symbolic meaning.


The woman cuts off the hem of her kimono so as not to disturb the sleeping cat. Old Japanese engraving, illustration for “Notes at the Headboard” Sei Shonagon

Since the kimono is nothing more than a long piece of fabric, it is quite possible to cut it into pieces when it is frayed, and it is very rational to recycle the fabric. That is, it is 100% waste-free clothing. From it you can order a haori (kimono jacket), a kimono for a child, a bag, and the simplest thing is to take it as a simple piece of fabric and wrap a bento (traditionally a Japanese lunch box) in it. This attitude to things in Japan has been the norm since ancient times, so the old and torn kimono was never thrown away there. So it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that by dressing in their kimonos, the Japanese once again show how wise they are and how they care about the environment!

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