Japanese kimonos, how and when to wear them
The kimono is an iconic garment that was worn for thousands of years by all Japanese. The word means ‘a thing to wear’ (ki- “wear” and -mono “thing”). The Japanese use the garment everywhere: at home, to work in the fields and at events.
It is mainly an outfit for ceremonies such as weddings and festivities like New Year or a coming of age ritual. Every year on May 29th, the kimono day is celebrated. Japanese worldwide share their love for the kimono by wearing it. Thus ensuring that this millinery tradition will be kept alive for future generations.
Choosing a kimono and accessories
Choosing the correct type of kimono requires knowledge of the symbolism of the garment. For example, the way it is worn and the different accessories send subtle social messages. Thus revealing the woman’s age, her marital status and the type of occasion are all revealed by her dress.
Traditional ceremonial Japanese clothing
During a traditional Japanese style wedding, the bride changes her kimono several times. First, she wears a unique white wedding kimono (shiro-muku) for the ceremony with a headpiece (tsuno-kakushi). Later she switches to a colourful kimono with long sleeves (iro-uchi-cake) for the reception.
Married men attending a wedding as a family member wear a formal black kimono called tome-sode. Single women dress in a furisode. This is also a traditional kimono but with long swinging sleeves.
Coming of age
Every year, on the second Monday of January, Japan celebrates the coming of age ceremony (seijin-shiki) for those that have turned twenty. It is a big celebration, and most of the young Japanese girls wear a furisode on this day.
The kimono comes with all kinds of rituals, features and methods. One of the essential items is an obi. A belt tied with a knot, the so-called ‘musubi’. Tying and securing the knot requires additional accessories such as a small cushion, string (obijime) and a scarf-like item(obi-age).
The pattern on the belt varies according to the season. For example, cherry blossoms in spring, water in the summer, maple leaves in autumn and bamboo in winter. The accompanying footwear is a Japanese sandal that is similar to flip-flops, called zouri. The sandals are worn with special cleft socks called tabi.
As Western dress becomes more and more popular, knowledge of how to dress in a kimono is slowly disappearing from Japanese society. It is complex and expensive. That is why whole families rely on the help of a specialist to rent and dress, thus ensuring the old ways are respected.
Wearing a kimono
A kimono wraps around the body.
Always with the left over the right side, except at funerals, when the opposite is true. The garment is fastened with an obi, which is fixed at the back.
The clothing consists of several parts, in summer, three layers, four in winter. Since the formal kimono is made of delicate fabric, one wears layers.
First comes a kimono-shaped undershirt (hada-juban), covered by a kimono-shaped cloth (naga-juban). This clot protects the kimono from direct skin contact. Lastly, the kimono itself. The naga-juban gives the traditional layered style.
Washing and storing of the clothing
Even for storing a kimono, there is a correct folding method to ensure that the garment is preserved and kept from creasing.
In the past, a kimono was often completely taken apart for washing and then stitched back by hand. This traditional washing method is called arai-hari. An expensive and laborious method, which is one of the main reasons for the declining popularity of the kimono. Modern fabrics and cleaning methods make it easier to wear a kimono.
How much should you pay?
A decent kimono, preferably made out of silk – is outrageously expensive, think $10,000 and upwards. And this is the price without accessories!
Fortunately, the size is flexible due to the absence of elastic zippers and buttons. Thus, an additional kilo or so won’t break the bank. You won’t need to buy a new one each time you reach another weight milestone. Furthermore, these garments will last for generations because of the flexible size and because of the quality of the material used.
Also, suppose your tourism budget is on the small side. In that case, you can still bring a nice souvenir from Japan. For example, buy a yukata, a casual and cheaper cotton kimono, typically worn in summer to celebrate Hanabi-taikai (fireworks festival). Or a Natsu-matsuri, worn during the summer festival or in onsen (hot springs) after having a bath. It can be worn direct without layers.
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