1 About Kimonos
2 Japanese Womenswear
3 Japanese Menswear
4 Further Kimono Information
5 Wearing and Folding Women's Japanese Garments - Including Video
6 Types of Women's Kimono. Geisha & Maiko
7 Japanese Eras (Periods)
8 Uses for Japanese Kimono Fabrics
9 Shibori and Tsujigahana Patterning Techniques - Including Video
10 Lots of Great Links To How To Wear Kimonos & Tie Obis
11 Types of Obi
12 Types of Kimonos - Picture Reference
13 Haori Kimono Jackets - Japan's secret treasure
14 Traditional Japanese Footwear (on my blog)
15 My Wafuku Blog, with lots of information and random other things of interest
There is also a lot of information on my Wafuku blog. This link opens in a new window, leaving this window open
On that Wafuku blog you will find lots of ways to be creative with your obi here
You can see ideas for new uses for obi and kimono textiles here and, further down this page, lovely ways to display obis
I also have furoshiki tying instructions here
You can see photos of the kimono that started wafuku.co.uk here
On this page you will find information about obi history, obi types, obi knots, obi accessories, obi display suggestions, how to fold a nagoya obi (for storage), how to wear the obi makura, obiage and obijime plus the names of the different parts of the obi.
Traditional clothing of the Edo period, (1600-1868), included the kimono and obi as we know them today. The obi did not, however, become a prominent part of a woman’s ensemble until the mid Edo period. It was then that designers, weavers and dyers all focused their talent on creating a longer, wider and more elaborate obi. Obi measurement was then standardised to 360cm long by 30cm wide.
Edo fashion was influenced by the design and style that courtesans and entertainers wear. Women of the samurai class continued to wear the simpler kosode kimono, tied together with an obi made of braided cords. Outside the samurai class, women experimented with a more elaborate kimono - the furisode, which is often seen on the Kabuki stage. Characterised by long, flowing sleeves, the furisode kimono was accented by a large, loosely tied obi.
For many years, the obi bow was tied either at the front or on the side. By the mid-Edo period, the obi bow was tied in the back position. It was said that this style started in the mid-1700s when a Kabuki actor, imitating a young girl, came on stage with his obi tied in the back. Another reason that the back position became more acceptable was that the sheer bulk of the wider obi became too cumbersome to be positioned in the front of the kimono.
The Meiji era, (1868-1912) witnessed a revolution in the textile industry with the advent of electric weaving looms and chemical dying techniques from the West. During this time, a woman's kimono ceased to be worn in the free-flowing style of the earlier days. The new fashion was to tuck the kimono at the waist to adjust the length of the kimono to the woman's height. These tucks and folds were visible and became part of the art of tying the obi.
For several decades now, Japanese women have found Western dress more practical, comfortable and economical than traditional Japanese kimono and obi attire. The trousseau of fine heirloom obi is no longer a part of modern Japanese women's lives. The decline in the kimono industry in Japan has resulted in fewer obis being produced each year.
As a fine obi becomes scarce, many of the best obis are considered collector's items. The most rare and expensive obi is the maru obi. Vintage maru obi is most valuable, as the patina of the gold thread resembles that of an antique tapestry. Newer maru obi, while it is still beautifully designed, does not have the lustre of the older maru obi, perhaps because of the use of synthetic material in combination with silk.
You will be paying top dollar for a high quality obi at antique shops in Japan. Some large department stores hold clearance sales several times a year. Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a used obi, while a new obi can cost several thousand dollars.
In general, the obi used depends on the type of kimono worn in any given occasion. Most formal are the metallic or colour brocade and tapestry, followed by dyed silk, woven silk, and non-silk obi fabrics. Brocade, tapestry and dyed silk obi are used for formal wear with the finest kimono, while obi made from raw silk, cotton or wool is used for everyday wear.
There are many different types of women's obi, and the usage of them is regulated by many unwritten rules not unlike those that concern the kimono itself. Certain types of obi are used with certain types of kimono; the obis of married and unmarried women are tied in different ways. Often the obi adjusts the formality and fanciness of the whole kimono outfit: the same kimono can be worn to very different situations depending on what kind of obi is worn with it.
Types of women's obi, to scale
The following diagram shows the main types of women's obi to scale. It's not very obvious but the fukuro obi is a little bit narrower than the maru obi. Only the sash section of the tsuke (two part) obi is shown. The tsuke's knot is separate and pre-shaped.
Women's Obi Types:
Darari obi is a very long maru obi worn by maiko. A maiko's darari obi has the kamon insignia of its owner's okiya in the other end. A darari obi can be 600 centimetres (20 ft) long.
Fukuro obi (pouch obi) is a grade less formal than a maru obi and the most formal obi actually used today. It has been made by either folding cloth in two or sewing two pieces of cloth together. If two cloths are used, the cloth used for to make the backside of the obi may be cheaper and the front cloth may be for example brocade. Not counting marriage outfits, the fukuro obi has replaced the heavy maru obi as the obi used for ceremonial wear and celebration. A fukuro obi is often made so that the part that will not be visible when worn are of smooth, thinner and lighter silk. A fukuro obi is about 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and 360 centimetres (11.8 ft) to 450 centimetres (14.8 ft) long.
When worn, a fukuro obi is almost impossible to tell from a maru obi. Fukuro obis are made in roughly three subtypes. The most formal and expensive of these is patterned brocade on both sides. The second type is two-thirds patterned, the so-called "60 % fukuro obi", and it is somewhat cheaper and lighter than the first type. The third type has patterns only in the parts that will be prominent when the obi is worn in the common taiko musubi.
Fukuro Nagoya obi or hassun Nagoya obi ("six inch Nagoya obi") is an obi that has been sewn in two only where the taiko knot would begin. The part wound around the body is folded when put on. The fukuro Nagoya obi is intended for making the more formal, two-layer variation of the taiko musubi, the so-called nijuudaiko musubi. It is about 350 centimetres (11.5 ft) long.
Hakata obi (obi of Hakata) is an unlined woven obi that has a thick weft and thin warp.
Hoso obi (thin sash) is a collective name for informal half-width obis. Hoso obis are 15cm (5.9 in) or 20cm (7.9 in) wide and about 330cm (10.8 ft) long.
Hanhaba obi (half width obi) is an unlined and informal obi that is used with a yukata or an everyday kimono. Hanhaba obis are very popular these days. For use with yukata, reversible hanhaba obis are popular: they can be folded and twisted in several ways to create colour effects. A hanhaba obi is 15 centimetres (5.9 in) wide and 300 centimetres (9.8 ft) to 400 centimetres (13 ft) long. Tying it is relatively easy, and its use does not require pads or strings. The knots used for hanhaba obi are often simplified versions of bunko-musubi. As it is more "acceptable" to play with an informal obi, hanhaba obi is sometimes worn in self-invented styles, often with decorative ribbons and such.
Chuuya obi or Hara-awase obi is an informal obi that has sides of different colours/designs. Chuuya is often spelled chuya and means daytime and night time; the earliest chuuya obis were bright on one side and black on the other, like night and day, hence the name. Chuuya obi were used by iki-suji ladies in ancient Japan; iki-suji means a kind of kimono expert, such as a Geisha. Chuuya obi are now obsolete and are collectors' items. They are fequently seen in pictures from the Edo and Meiji periods, but today it is hardly used. A chuuya obi has a (usually) dark, sparingly decorated side and another, more colourful and festive side, this way the obi can be worn both in everyday life and for celebration. The obi is about 30 cm (12 in) wide and 350 cm (11.5 ft) to 400 cm (13 ft) long.
Heko obi (soft obi) is a very informal obi made of soft, thin cloth, often dyed with shibori. Its traditional use is as an informal obi for children and men and there were times when it was considered totally inappropriate for women. Nowadays young girls and women can wear a heko obi with modern, informal kimonos and yukatas. An adult's heko obi is the common size of an obi, about 20 centimetres (7.9 in) to 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and about 300 centimetres (9.8 ft) long.
Hitoe obi (means "single-layer obi"). It is made from silk cloth so stiff that the obi does not need lining or in-sewn stiffeners. One of these cloth types is called Hakata ori. A hitoe obi can be worn with everyday kimono or yukata. A hitoe obi is 15 centimetres (5.9 in) to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) wide (the so-called hanhaba obi) or 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and about 400 centimetres (13 ft) long.
Kobukuro obi is an unlined hoso obi whose width is 15 centimetres (5.9 in) or 20 centimetres (7.9 in) and length 300 centimetres (9.8 ft).
Kyo-bukuro obi (capital fukuro obi) was invented in the 1970s in Nishijin, Kyoto. It lies among the usage scale right between nagoya obi and fukuro obi, and can be used to smarten up an everyfay outfit. A kyo-bukuro obi is structured like a fukuro obi but is as short as a nagoya obi. It thus can also be turned inside out for wear like reversible obis. A kyo-bukuro obi is about 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and 350 centimetres (11.5 ft) long.
Maru obi (one-piece obi) is the most formal obi. It is made from cloth about 68 cm wide and is folded around a double lining and sewn together. The ornate pattern is along the entire length and on both sides. Maru obis were at their most popular during the Taisho and Meiji-periods. Their bulk and weight makes maru obis difficult to handle and nowadays they are worn mostly by geishas, maikos and others such. Another use for maru obi is as a part of a bride's outfit. A maru obi is about 30 centimetres (12 in) to 35 centimetres (14 in) wide and 360 centimetres (11.8 ft) to 450 centimetres (14.8 ft) long, fully patterned and often embroidered with metal-coated yarn and foil work.
Nagoya obi, or when differentiating from the fukuro Nagoya obi also called kyu-sun Nagoya obi, the nine inch nagoya obi) is the most used obi type today. A Nagoya obi can be told apart by its distinguishable structure: one end is folded and sewn in half, the other end is of full width. This is to make putting the obi on easier. A Nagoya obi can be partly or fully patterned. It is normally worn only in the taiko musubi style, and many Nagoya obis are designed so that they have patterns only in the part that will be most prominent in the knot. A Nagoya obi is shorter than other obi types, about 315 centimetres (10.33 ft) to 345 centimetres (11.32 ft) long, but of the same width, about 30 centimetres (12 in).
Nagoya obi is relatively new. It was developed by a seamstress living in Nagoya at the end of the 1920s. The new easy-to-use obi gained popularity among Tokyo's geishas, from whom it then was adopted by fashionable city women for their everyday wear.
The formality and fanciness of a Nagoya obi depends on its material just like is with other obi types. Since the Nagoya obi was originally used as everyday wear it can never be part of a truly ceremonial outfit, but a Nagoya obi made from exquisite brocade can be accepted as semi-ceremonial wear.
The term Nagoya obi can also refer to another obi with the same name, used centuries ago. This Nagoya obi was cord-like.
Odori obi (dance obi) is a name for obis used in dance acts. An odori obi is often big, simple-patterned and has patterns done in metallic colours so that it can be seen easily from the audience. An odori obi can be 10cm (3.9 in) to 30cm (12 in) wide and 350cm (11.5 ft) to 450cm (14.8 ft) long. As the term "odori obi" is not established, it can refer to any obi meant for dance acts.
Sakiori obi is a woven obi made by using yard or narrow strips from old clothes as weave. Sakiori obis are used with kimono worn at home. A sakiori obi is similar to a hanhaba obi in size and extremely informal.
Tenga obi (fancy obi) resembles a hanhaba obi but is more formal. It is usually wider and made from fancier cloth more suitable for celebration. The patterns usually include auspicious, celebratory motifs. A tenga obi is about 20cm (7.9 in) wide and 350cm (11.5 ft) to 400cm (13 ft) long.
Tsuke obi (also ccalled tsukuri obi or kantan obi) is any ready-tied obi, often in two parts, the sash and the knot, making it very easy to put on. It was first invented to aid women with arthritis who could no longer pull hard enough to tie their obi knots but it became popular with other women too, because it is so quick and convenient. The tsuke obi is fastened in place by ties. Tsuke obis are normally very informal and they are mostly used with yukatas but also available as more formal two-part nagoya obis.
In a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony, a bride will wear a white obi on her white kimono. In the Edo era, a widow may dress in all white to signify that she will not remarry. Thus, some very old, white obi may not have been used for weddings. The bride will change into numerous outfits on her wedding day, often brightly coloured ones as well as the white Shinto one.
Women's Obi Accessories:
Obiage is a scarf-like piece of cloth that covers up the obimakura and keeps the upper part of the obi knot in place. These days it is customary for an unmarried, young woman to let her obiage show from underneath the obi in the front. A married woman will tuck it deeper in and only allow it to peek. Obiage can be thought of as an undergarment for kimono, so letting it show is a little provocative.
Obidome is a small decorative accessory (obi 'brooch') that is fastened onto obijime at the centre front of the obi. The obijime threads through it and, when an obidome is worn, the obijime is tied at the back, inside the rear knot, instead of at the front. It is not used very often nowadays.
Pocchiri is a maiko's especially ornate obidome. These maiko obidome are very decorative and very large. Once they graduate to full geisha/geiko, they no longer wear an obidome at all.
Obi-ita is a separate stiffener that keeps the obi flat, as it stops it creasing when one bends. It is a thin piece of cardboard covered with cloth and placed between the layers of obi when putting the obi on. Some types of obi-ita are attached around the waist with cords before the obi is put on.
Obijime is a cord, about 150 centimetres (4.9 ft) long, that is tied around the obi and through the knot, and which doubles as decoration. It can be a woven string, or be constructed as a narrow sewn tube of fabric. There are both flat and round obijimes. They often have tassels at both ends and they are made from silk, satin, brocade or viscose. A cord-like or a padded tube obijime is considered more festive and ceremonial than a flat one.
Obi-makura is a small pillow that supports and shapes the obi knot, it acts as bustle padding. The most common knot these days, taiko musubi, is padded out at the top with a makura.
Formal obis worn by men are much narrower than those of women (the width is about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) at its most). The men's obi is worn in much simpler fashion than women's: it is wrapped around the waist, below the stomach and tied with a simple knot in the back.
Men's obi types:
Heko obi (soft obi) is an informal, soft obi, free flowing and usually made of shibori (tye-dyed) fabrics, traditionally silk. It is tied very informally. The adult's heko obi is as long as a normal obi at 300cm (9.8 ft) to 400cm (13 ft), but relatively wide at up to 70cm (28 in). Adult men wear the heko obi only at home but young boys can wear it in public, for example at a summer festival with a yukata. On men it is tied to sit just below the belly at the front and tied slightly higher on the waist at the back.
Kaku obi (stiff obi) is another obi used by men. A formal kaku obi is about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) wide and 400 centimetres (13 ft) long and depending on its material, colours and pattern is suited to any and all occasions from everyday wear to a close relative's funeral. A kaku obi typically is made of hakata ori which has length-wise stripes and woven pattern based on Buddhist symbols and is worn tied in the simple kai-no-kuchi knot.
A Netsuke is an ornament suspended from the top of the obi and worn mostly by men. A pouch or container (remember, kimono have no pockets) can be attached with a cord and the netsuke stops the cord pulling out of the obi, securing the pouch that hangs below the obi.
Sanjaku obi (three foot long obi - but it is not the Imperial foot measurement of 12 inches) is a type of men's obi. It is named after its length, three old Japanese feet (about 37.9 cm / 14.9 inches). The obi is sometimes called simply sanjaku. During the Edo period it was popular among the people as the obi for yukata-like kimonos because of its ease of use. According to some theories, the sanjaku obi originates from a scarf of the same length, which was folded and used as a sash. A sanjaku obi typically is shaped like a kaku obi, narrow and with short stitches. It is usually made from soft cotton-like cloth. Because of its shortness, the sanjaku obi is tied in the koma musubi, which is much like a square knot.
Shigoki obi was utility wear in the time of trailing kimonos, and was used to tie up the excess length when going out. Nowadays the shigoki obi's only function is decorative. It is part of a 7-year-old girl's outfit for celebration of shichi go san. Most often it is red or vermillion, sometimes bright green, with tasselled ends. You can see an woman wearing one on a white kimono in a photo on many of my women's kimonos' detail pages.
Heko obi A soft obi, like men's heko obis, but in bright colours, usually tie died. Tied in a soft, simple bow at the back.
Tsuke obi (pre-tied, 2 part) is a popular obi used for children because of its ease of use. There are even formal tsuke obis available for children. These obis correspond to fukuro obis on the formality scale.
The word for knot is musubi/musuba. The main ones are described below but there are many others.
Obi Knot Types:
Asagao musubi (morning glory flower)is a knot suitable for yukata. As its name suggests, it resembles the Japanese morning glory. The knot requires a great length of obi so it can be usually only be made for little girls.
Ayame musubi (iris) is a very decorative and complex knot that resembles a blossom of iris. It is considered suitable for young women in informal situations and parties. Because of the complexity and conspicuousness of the knot it should be worn with more subdued, preferably monochrome kimono and obi.
Bara musubi (rose) is a contemporary, conspicuous knot. It is suitable for young women and can be worn to informal parties. Because of the complexity of the knot, a multi-coloured or strongly patterned obi should not be used. The patterns of the kimono should match the knot representing an occidental flower.
Chouchou musubi (chouchou means butterfly, sometimes wirtten as chocho) A version of the bunko musubi, tied using the hanhaba obi, which is a single layer obi. Most ready-made obis (tsuke/tsukure obis) are made with the butterfly knot.
Darari musubi is a knot nowadays used only by maikos, dancers and kabuki actors. It is easily distinguishable by the long "tails" hanging in the back. In the past also courtesans and daughters of rich merchants, among others, would have their obis tied in this manner. A specific darari obi, about 600 centimetres (20 ft) long, is needed for making this knot in full length.
There also exists a half-length version of the darari musubi, the so-called handara musubi. According to tradition, a minarai (a maiko-to-be in training) wears her obi in this style. Maikos wear this knot for specific dances.
Fukura-suzume musubi (puffed sparrow) is a decorative knot that resembles a sparrow with its wings spread and is worn only by unmarried women. It is suitable for formal occasions and is only worn with a furisode. Traditionally, the fukura-suzume musubi worn with a furisode indicated a woman was available for marriage.
Kai-no-kuchi musubi (clam's mouth) is a subdued obi which is often worn by men. Sometimes older women or women seeking a somewhat masculine air to their outfit tie their obi in this knot.
Koma musubi (square knot, literally "foal knot") is often used with haori strings and obijime. The short sanjaku obi for children is also tied in this way.
Taiko musubi (often translated as drum but that is incorrect, as it is not actually named after the taiko (drum), it is named after the Taiko Bridge, where it was first worn by some geisha, on the bridge's opening day, and afterwards caught on and became popular amongst all. Even in Japan, most incorrectly think it was named after the drum) is the most used musubi these days. It is simple and subdued and resembles a box. The taiko musubi is suited for both old and young women in almost any occasion and goes with almost any kind of kimono and in some cases even with yukata. Only furisodes are considered too formal and youthful to be worn with the taiko musubi.
Nowadays the taiko musubi is usually associated with the taiko drum, but the origin of the name does not relate to the instrument. The knot was created at the time of the festive opening ceremony of the Taikobashi bridge in Tokyo in 1823. Some geishas attending to the event tied their obis in a new, conspicuous way that was thought to resemble the shape of a "playing card", ichimai karuta). The knot was a variation of a simple men's knot used then. The knot worn by trendsetting geishas was later adopted by other women. By the creation of the taiko musubi, the accessories obiage, obijime and obimakura were also established. These accessories belong to most kimono outfits used today.
Nijudaiko musubi (two layer drum) is, as its name suggests, a version of the common taiko musubi, worn with the formal fukuro obi. Fukuro obis are longer than the more commonly used Nagoya obis, so the obi must be folded in two during the tying of the knot. The knot has an auspicious double meaning of "double joy".
Tateya musubi (standing arrow) resembles a large bow and is one of the most simple musubi worn with furisodes. According to the kitsuke authority Norio Yamanaka, it is the most suitable knot to be used with the honburisode, the furisode with full length sleeves.
Washikusa musubi (eagle plant) is basically a bow which resembles a specific plant thought to look like an eagle taking flight.
Below you can see some lovely ways to display obis. The ends have been bound into fan and bow shapes and laid across the front
Below is an interesting multi obi hanger someone has had made. It looks as though it is made out of a single piece of half cm thick plywood, cut with a jigsaw. It could, of course, be made with only two or three sections instead of four.
In that picture it appears to have three fukuro obis, folded in half before being hung on it, and, aat the end, one nagoya obi. It would be lovely with all fukuru or maru obis, unfolded, so they hung twice as long.
Have you opened up your Nagoya obi and at a loss about how to fold it again? Here are folding instructions for a Nagoya obi
I have put together the instructions below, to show you how to do it. You can drag the image to your desktop to keep a copy for use without having to come online for it.
Further down this page you also will find instructions for wearing an obi makura, obiage and obijime.
You can fold it up smaller, if you prefer, just do 4 folds at the last step instead of 3, then it is smaller but thicker
Whether a normal Nagoya obi, like the one above, or a tsukure Nagoya obi, you need an obi makura (bustle pad), for inside the top of the taiko knot, to pad it out, an obiage to hold the makura and the top of the knot section in place and an obijime to hold the centre section of the obi knot in place.
Makura means 'pillow' and an obi makura is bustle padding that's worn inside the top of an obi's taiko shaped rear knot, to pad out the top of it. The obiage holds the makura in place, though sometimes makuras also have ties.
An obiage is an obi 'scarf', worn through the rear knot, over the makura, and tied at the top of the sash at the front, then tucked partially behind the sash. The obiage helps hold the makura and the obi's rear knot in place. This pink obiage has shibori work; shibori is a very fine tie dye patterning that not only decorates it but makes it stretchy, so it is much longer than this photo of it unstretched makes it look. You can see how the shibori work pulls the patterned sections in, making them narrower than the sections without it.
An obijime is an obi cord, worn through the centre of the obi's rear knot and around the centre of the sash, tied at the front with the ends tucked into itself at the sides. It helps hold the obi's rear knot (musuba) and the sash in place.
The diagram below shows how they go together on an obi with a taiko musuba (square taiko knot).
Names of obi sections
The next diagram shows you the names of the parts of a nagoya obi both untied and tied into an otaiko musubi (taiko knot). Despite the fact that the knot is called taiko, meaning drum, and the base of the knot is described as the bottom of the drum, the obi musubi's name taiko is not because of the Japanese drum, it was named after the Taikobashi bridge in Tokyo because some geisha wore this new design of musubi at the bridge's initial opening ceremony, in 1823, and this particular style then became fashionable and known as the taiko musubi and has remained very popular ever since.
The picture below shows an extended obi makura, known as azuma sugata, also known as a karyou makura, which aids in tying a variety of obi knots, such as fukurasuzume knots (sparrow knots), like the ones you see below it. These obi knots are especially popular with furisode kimonos