The wearing of kimono is presented as a rather mystical, difficult-to-understand Japanese art that spans back thousands of years. Certainly the Japanese have been wearing distinctly Japanese clothing for quite some time and with considerable style. But though the kimono is presented as a ritualized garment with a very set way of wearing, the very-specific way kimono is worn today is a relatively new thing. This week, we’re going to do some very basic background on the parts of a kimono to give background for upcoming historical discussions such as “but how can you walk in something like that without falling on your face?” and “are you sure those are pants?”
Kimono have been relatively similar in form and manner of wearing since the Taisho Era (1912-1926).* Let’s take a quick look at a very basic modern women’s kimono.
As you can see, there are about five visible parts. There’s the main kimono, the light-and-dark blue checked robe. Then there is the obi, the gray band around the waist. Next there’s a collar under the main kimono, which is the most visible portion of the juban, or under kimono. Next, we’ve got tabi (socks!), and geta (shoes). We have several different options for shoes, but today we’re going with geta — my favorite, and arguably the third most fun thing you can wear on your feet.**
Going back to the juban underneath, you can see that the juban isn’t just a collar, but actually a full robe underneath the kimono. The juban can do a lot of things: it can protect the kimono from sweat, provide nice contrast where it shows at the neck, wrists, and back of the sleeves, and can keep you warm in the winter.
Now, let’s take a better look at everything else you’d be wearing if you were wearing a woman’s kimono.
Holy cow. Yes, all that stuff is there (but in hiding) when you put a kimono on. This is the simplest casual kimono (excepting a summer yukata) a woman would wear. With a more formal obi, there could be all sorts of other implements added to this pile.
It didn’t used to be that way – I have been told that back when today’s grannies were girls, only two or three of those ties were used to hold this whole business together. So why so many bits and pieces now?
Probably what happened is kimono went from being an everyday wearable garment to a special-occasion one – you’d want to look nice while wearing it. And looking nice in something that you weren’t necessarily comfortable in could take a little more effort. While in the Taisho Period you might be fine with a lot of under-collar showing, it became important to have the “right” amount of collar showing – leading to an additional collar-clip being added to your komono (小物), or ties, bands, clips, and other little things. Then if you were going to go through the trouble of wearing a kimono, you’d want to make sure you had a nice, smooth profile. So you added in a small towel to pad out the small of your back, and an extra wide, flat tie to make sure the little tie didn’t slip and everything stayed smooth. Next thing you know, you’ve got a big pile of komono!
So while on the one hand, all of these little things are actually helpful tools meant to get you dressed, they can look like a big pile of complication. Fear not, dear readers! These things can help you get a kimono on more quickly and easily than you expected. Through this blog we’ll discuss more about how to put on a kimono, different types of kimono and when they’re worn, what kind of kimono to get if you want to try one out, and the history and new trends (yes, new!) of kimono from yesterday and today.
* Time check! Japan uses a different calendar system. The Taisho Period (大正時代) was 1912-1926, followed by the Showa Period (昭和), 1926-1989. We are now in the Heisei Period (平成), 1989-present. The periods take their name from one of the names for the Japanese Emperor of each era.
** Ranking above geta are okobo, another type of Japanese shoe, and above that come moon shoes. Bouncy!