Thursday, December 17, 2015

Notes on Kimono

First, let me tell you that I'm far from expert on Japanese culture. These are merely some notes I accumulated while researching how to draw kimono, combined with some of my illustrations. Hope you will find them useful.

Kimono is a Japanese traditional garment. It is a long T-shaped robe with straight seams and wide sleeves, that is wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right, and secured with a sash. There are kimono for both men and women. These days it is commonly worn by women and mostly on formal occasions only. The rest of this article will be about women kimono.

Women kimono, when worn, is more or less cylindrical in shape. The breasts and buttocks are hidden, only slight curves may be visible. Some padding may be used around waist to help achieve the shape. The kimono itself is quite long. The extra length is folded and tacked in around waist area until the kimono is about ankle length.

Typical kimono is made of silk and usually also lined. When worn the neck in front is open no lower than a collarbone. The neckline at the back is slightly lowered. The more open neck is considered sensual and provocative. Geisha, for example wears the neckline quite low at the back.

Nagajuban is a special undergarment shaped like kimono but made of cotton or other easily washable material and usually of white color. It is worn under the kimono and only nagajuban's collar is visible. It may be substituted with two-piece set or even with only cloth stripe for collar.

Obi is a really wide sash-like belt that is wrapped around torso on top of kimono and essentially is what holds the kimono together. The obi is tied at the back in most cases. There are many different types of the obi knots to suit the occasion and style. The obi sits very high on the torso. Young girls wear it partially covering breasts. Note that the obi position subtly shifts down with age. The older the woman, the lower the obi. The extra material fold is always visible right below the obi. 

Obiage - optional scarf-like sash which is knotted and tied above the obi and through the obi knot at the back, and tacked into the top of the obi leaving obiage knot slightly visible. Obiage mostly used for formal kimono. Unmarried woman will show slightly more obiage than the married one.

Obijime - a decorative cord that's wrapped around the obi and through the knot. They're often made of silk or satin and can be flat or round. Young unmarried girls often have elaborate obijime knots to show their availability for marriage. Married women use more discreet knots.

Zori - traditional sandals, similar in design to flip-flops. They can be made of cloth, leather, vinyl and woven grass. Can be worn with socks for most types of kimono.

Geta are wooden sandals most often worn with yukata, with no socks. One unique tall style called okobo is worn solely by geisha or more often by maiko - geisha apprentice.

Tabi are ankle-high, divided-toe socks, usually white in color and worn with zori. 

There are many types of women kimono. Here I will describe only a few common ones.

Furisode - a formal kimono for young unmarried girls with very wide, almost floor-length, sleeves. Furisode are amongst the most elegant and expensive form of kimono. A young woman typically receives furisode from her parents in time for coming of age ceremony, at 20 years old.

Homongi - is a formal kimono that replaces furisode when a woman marries. Its sleeves are considerably smaller than furisode but still wide enough. It's interesting to note that older women wear slightly smaller sleeves. Another detail to change with age is roundness of the sleeve corners. The older the woman, the less rounded the sleeves.

Tomesode is the most formal kimono for married women. Its distinct characteristic is having pattern only below waist. Kuro tomesode (black tomesode) are often worn for wedding ceremonies by married female relatives of the bride or groom.

Yukata - the most informal kimono. This one is usually made of light cotton instead of silk and is not lined. Yukata literally means bath clothes, although its use is not limited to after-bath wear. It is a kimono of choice for hot weather and summer festivals. Yukata are often provided in Japanese hotel rooms. The collar of undergarment worn with yukata is not visible, unlike in all the other kimono styles. Geta wooden sandals with no socks are usually paired with yukata. Zori on bare feet can also be used.

Hope you enjoyed these notes on kimono! If you are interested in finding out more, here are some reference links. They will contain more detailed information and illustrations:

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