Kimono

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Setsuko Ishida

    Main guest

    Kimono stylist Ishida has lent her expertise to countless TV shows and commercials, magazines, and movies, styling for some of Japan’s top acting talent. Alongside such work, she also hosts classes on color coordination, as well as workshops aimed at popularizing kimono by dispelling the garments’ image as merely formal wear.

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July 25, 2017

Kimono

*You will leave the NHK website.

In this edition of Japanology Plus, our theme is kimono, the quintessential Japanese garment, described in the show “a wearable canvas for traditional Japanese art, craft, and design.”

But there is much more diversity to kimono than that single word may seem to suggest. And while for a century or so Western clothing has been the norm in Japan, kimono are much more than a relic of times gone by.

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Peter sports a sober mauve-gray kimono chosen for him by expert guest Setsuko Ishida.

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Accessories are used to add a personal touch or hidden meaning to a kimono ensemble. 

With various varieties still worn on numerous ceremonial occasions, and traditional clothing -- sometimes with a modern twist -- also starting to find favor among those looking for an alternative to mainstream fashion norms, kimono retain a place in contemporary Japanese lifestyles.

When it comes to formal kimono, the appearance is determined by various factors, including the event in question, and the wearer’s age and gender.

An unmarried younger woman might wear a colorful, long-sleeved furisode to the wedding of a relative, or to Seijinshiki, a coming-of-age-ceremony that is organized in municipalities each January for local 20-year-olds to celebrate their passage into adulthood.

A married woman, meanwhile, would sport a short-sleeved tomesode kimono, which traditionally comes in more subdued overall shades -- black for the most formal occasions -- but with an accent of color provided by dyed or embroidered motifs (including the family crests we learned about in part four of this series of Japanology Plus), obi sashes and other accessories.

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Tomesode (left, formal kimono for a married woman) and furisode (formal kimono for an unmarried woman) can be distinguished by overall color palette and the length of their sleeves.

With the exception of the flashy combinations sometimes sported by sumo wrestlers (and let’s face it -- who’s going to tell them to tone things down?), men’s formal kimono are typically more sober still: ash gray, chocolate brown, navy blue or woodland green.

Their sleeves are shorter than women’s, and below the waist they frequently sport hakama trousers (usually worn by men, but also by young women at university graduation ceremonies). The ensemble is typically finished with a haori jacket worn over the top.

The healthy growth of children aged three and seven (in the case of girls) and five (for boys) is celebrated each November at Shichi-go-san (literally “seven-five-three”) ceremonies, another chance to wear kimono, again differentiated by age and gender.

The younger girls usually wear kimono with shoulder tucks and no obi, and an outer vest known as a hifu. Boys wear hakama and a brightly decorated haori, while seven-year-old girls are kitted out in a more standard kimono and obi.

Though, traditionally, kimono for various occasions would be owned and handed down through families, with the fabric being repaired and even repurposed as the garments aged, nowadays many people rent outfits for one-off formal events.

That reflects just how much a kimono costs to buy, and especially one that features such artisanal techniques and lavish materials as Yuzen-dyed silk, snow-bleached Echigo-jofu linen, the intricately woven patterns of Yuki-tsumugi, or the subtly stenciled komon designs once favored by samurai. Prices for top-quality kimono can run to the equivalent of thousands of US dollars, although these days it is often possible to pick up a bargain at the many furugi-ya (used clothes) stores in Japan’s larger cities.

One commonly owned exception to this norm is the yukata, a casual kimono that is often worn by men and women alike at onsen (hot spring) resorts, or when they go to watch displays of fireworks."

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Colorful yukata are a popular choice of garb for summer holidays at hot spring resorts.

This writer’s own first experience of kimono came at the age of eight, when globetrotting family friends returning from a trip to Japan presented my twin brother and me with embroidered haori by way of souvenirs. Naturally thrilled with our new threads, we promptly took to the neighborhood streets to show them off. Unfortunately, our fashion sense proved a little advanced for the other local children, and we soon returned home to get changed with jeers of “karate kids” ringing in our ears.

Fortunately, the Japanese themselves have generally been more supportive of my forays into traditional dress. I must cut a rather incongruous figure as I totter to fireworks displays in a half-mast yukata and wooden geta clogs that bring my height close to two meters, but my worries are frequently eased by total strangers offering compliments such as “Kakko ii!” (Cool!) and “Niau!” (That suits you!). Anybody wondering why I’ve chosen to live here so long? What a country.

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Bolts of fabric used to make kimono.

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Motifs inspired by nature are common in kimono designs. 

Also appearing

Koji Okuno

Works for an NPO striving to convey the appeal of traditional Japanese culture to ordinary Japanese. In this edition of Japanology Plus, Okuno gives Matt guidance on how to wear a yukata. 

*You will leave the NHK website.