A BIT OF HISTORY
Kimonos were first introduced as early as 8th century A.D. The dress type that we generally refer to as to the most stereotypic Japanese clothing is actually a Chinese invention that was brought to the land of the Rising Sun by merchants.
It became widely spread during the Muromachi period (14-16 century) and was used as everyday dress till the middle of 19th century when western formal wear was introduced. By emperor’s decree European style became mandatory for policemen and officials. At this time Nipponese started calling their traditional dress kimono to distinguish it from other garments. According to classic technology Japanese clothing is sewn from a big piece of fabric about 4 meters long and half a meter wide. No jewelry is used to decorate the canvas, yet fine handcraft is valued extremely high.
Can a kimono cost as much as a new car? How do you take care of traditional Japanese clothing? Why do people require help of an expert to put on an authentic dress? We present a list of facts every fan of nippon culture should now.
• Kimonos nowadays are produced from a wide variety of materials including cotton, polyester, sateen etc. Despite synthetic fabric is easier to take care of, traditional kimonos woven from silk are still valued much higher;
• Price for an authentic Japanese dress varies from ~500 yen (less than 10 dollars) for a second hand item to over $10,000-20,000 for a brand new set produced according to traditional technology. Hand craft is still an essential part of the industry today. A luxurious outfit with intricate embroidery may very well cost over a million yen!
• Kimonos are colored in two different ways – either fabric is woven from colored threads or the whole cloth is dyed. If garment starts fading, it can be turned inside out and the dress will look good as new;
• Maintaining the outfit is an issue. Silken kimonos should be cleaned in a very special way. Traditional method (called ‘arai hari’) requires the stitches to be removed from the dress – the pattern is sewn back afterwards. Though wide use of modern materials allows to avoid this step in most cases, traditional clothing still requires ‘arai hari’ to be performed on a regular basis for the dress to preserve its qualities;
• Traditional Japanese garments should be stored in special tatoshi paper to avoid damage.
WEARING A KIMONO
Kimonos are nowadays worn mostly for certain occasions:
• Shiromuku is mandatory for the bride during wedding ceremony – white clothing symbolizes a new beginning. The groom wears a black kimono made from silk (‘habutae’), a pleaded skirt called ‘hakama’ and a black half-length coat (‘haori’). Just married couple will often go through several costume change during the ceremony;
• Yukata is meant for summer festivals – a bright dress heavily decorated with floral patterns;
• Homongi is used for formal visits – its surface is covered by one pattern from feet to shoulders;
• Classic outfit is also required to attend ikebana class or tea ceremony.
Traditional kimonos for women consisted of up to 12 layers in the middle ages; mens’ dress only had 6. Nowadays manufacturers opt for a simpler solution: an imitation of layers is produced by attaching different accessories to the clothing. Left side of the dress should always be over the right side.
Even though things have become less complex, it is still impossible to put on a kimono without help. Qualified specialists help clients put on their dress at hair salons and at home. Business schools offer brief courses on the basics of kimono handling.
Important part of the garment is a belt called obi – a piece of linen cloth about 30 centimeters wide and 4 meters long heavily decorated to match the dress. Obi should be tied at the back – the knob can’t be tied or untied without help. Length and width of the dress can be adjusted using the decorative belt – part of the garment can be folded under the ‘obi’.
SYMBOLIC MEANING OF KIMONOS
In the past different kimono designs signified the owner’s social position. For instance, during the Edo period (1603-1868) when Tokugawa warrior clan ruled over Japan, samurais’ cloth was a part of military uniform, unique to each domain.
Despite it is not the case nowadays, some rules are still followed in conservative Japanese society. For instance, a woman can wear a furisode with long sleeves only till she’s married – afterwards she has to wear a tomesode instead. It’s easy to distinguish them: only bottom half of the tomesode is decorated.
Kimonos have a deep symbolic meaning for Japanese people. A baby gets its first kimono when it is between 30 and 100 days old – family visits a local shrine to thank gods for their gift. Boys are dressed in black and white, girls wear a brightly colored garment instead. Traditionally kimono is also used for coming of age ritual – young men and women who just turned 20 visit a local temple on the second Monday of January to celebrate adulthood.
Japanese people have developed a very keen sense for color combinations. No matter what the occasion is, kimono should be worn in harmonic color and with appropriate pattern. For example, soft colors that symbolize rebirth are meant for spring; you are expected to dress in deep navel colors for summer occasions.
First kimonos were sewn over a thousand years ago – and they are still an important part of traditional Japanese culture. If you are a fan of exotic eastern outfits, you should definitely visit Nippon and rent a kimono for a casual stroll around the town of your choice!