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Kimono & Other Information


Various types of women's kimono: The choice of which type of kimono to wear is laden with symbolism and subtle social messages. The specific choice relates to the time of year, woman's age and marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion: 

Kuro-tomesode : a black kimono patterned only below the waistline, kuro-tomesode are the most formal kimono for married women. They are worn at attending formal, auspicious occasions. Kuro-tomesode usually have kamon (family crests), on them too. The most formal kimono is absolutely plain black, with 5 kamon, next is the kuro-tomesode; black with crests and hem pattern. At a wedding, the mother of the bride would certainly wear a kuro-tomesode, as she has one of the most formal roles, guests would wear lighter coloured kimono, most likely not black. 

Iro-tomesode : a single-color (but not black) kimono, patterned only below the waistline. Iro-tomesode as formal as kuro-tomesode, and are worn by both married and unmarried women, especially worn at weddings by guests who are close relatives of the bride and groom at a wedding but worn at any attending auspicious occasion. An iro-tomesode may have also have kamon (crests) 

Homongi: literally translates as visiting wear. Characterized by patterns that flow over the shoulders, seams and sleeves, homongi rank slightly higher than their close relative, the tsukesage. Homongi may be worn by both mature and young women; often friends of the bride will wear homongi at weddings and receptions. They may also be worn to formal parties, such as a gala. They are considered party wear.

Tsukesage: a tsukesage has more modest patterns that cover less area, mainly below the waist, than the more formal homongi. The pattern does not join up over the seams, it is in separate sections. They may be worn by married and unmarried women. Tsukesage are worn at semi-formal events like fancy dinners and reunions and such.

Iro-muji: single-coloured kimono that may be worn by married and unmarried women. They are mainly worn to tea ceremonies etc but can be worn at all sorts of circumstances, often with the choice of obi design signifying the meaning of the kimono and occasion . The dyed silk may be figured (rinzu, similar to jacquard, or damask silks), but has no differently coloured pattern .

Komon: 'fine pattern' in English. Kimono with a usually small, repeated pattern over the entire fabric. Somewhat casual: may be worn around town, to the theatre or dressed up with a nice obi for a restaurant. Both married and unmarried women may wear komon. Komon kimonos and iro-muji kimonos are becoming more and more rare, as they are not made much anymore; the few kimono makers left now tend to make only very formal, ornate kimonos, which are still worn by some Japanese women on special occasions, and lightweight cotton yukata kimonos, which are often worn to Japanese summer festivals or as house and bath robes. Very few people in Japan wear kimono all the time nowadays, so almost no one buys kimonos such as komon or iro-muji anymore and kimono makers have virtually stopped making them. 

Edo komon: Edo komon is a type of komono characterized by tiny dots arranged in dense patterns that form larger designs. The Edo komon dyeing technique originated with the samurai class during the Edo Period (also called Tokugawa period, from 1603 to 1867, when men also wore colourful patterns on external clothing, unlike later when men's wafuku became more subdued externally). A kimono with this type of pattern is of the same formality as an iro-muji, and, when decorated with kamon (crests), may be worn as visiting wear (equivalent to a tsukesage or homongi) 

Yukata: informal unlined summer kimono usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp. Yukata are most often worn to outdoor festivals, by men and women of all ages. They are also worn at onsen (hot spring) resorts, where they are often provided for the guests in the resort's own pattern. Yukata are worn as house robes and bathrobes too 

Dancing kimono: these are called odori kimono and are often made of synthetic silk. They are more easy-care than silk. Many of them are tomesode kimono, with wonderful, striking designs and embroidery on them, no less beautiful or precious than the silk ones. What a jinken or synthetic kimono may lose in luxury by not being pure silk, it regains by being more easy-care and hard wearing, the same can be said for yukata, cotton kimono. Knowing one can wash the kimono makes it more relaxing to wear 

Furisode kimono: furisode literally translates as swinging sleeves-the sleeves of furisode average between 39 and 42 inches in length. Furisode are the most formal kimono for unmarried women. They are usually worn at coming-of-age ceremonies (Seijin Shiki) and by unmarried female relatives of the bride at weddings and wedding receptions 

Uchikake kimono: a striking, wonderfully ornate and very heavy kimono, worn open as a coat by a bride, over her wedding furisode kimono. Uchikake have plump, padded hems and are very long, the end is carried by bridesmaids as the bride walks. the wedding furisode worn beneath the uchikake also has a padded hem, but to a much lesser extent. Uchikake are often covered in sumptuous embroidery and the quantity of fabric and amount of embroidery makes them very weighty. One I had weighed over 5 kilos; my adult daughter put it on, so I could photograph it, and she could only hold her arms out for a maximum of one minute at a time, as the sleeves were so heavy with all the metallic, golden thread embroidery. Uchikake have exceedingly deep sleeves, like furisode kimono, and this is the last time a woman wears such deep sleeves, as married women don't wear sleeves of the extreme depth of furisode ones. An uchikake used to be any kimono worn on top and left open as a coat but nowadays they are really only worn at weddings and, as such, have evolved into very ornate, long and heavy garments which cost a king's ransom


Men's kimono: Men's kimonos are less varied and simpler in design. The formal version is the montsuki, usually, though not always, black habutae silk with mon (crests), the mon signify the formality of the occasion. 5 mon is the most formal, followed by 3 or 1. The style of mon also signifies the extent of formality but that is a whole other topic in my Kimono Information section. Men also have informal, daywear kimono, most often in muted shades of brown, blue or grey silk or top quality wool fabric. Men's kimonos are usually plain with perhaps a small, faint woven pattern throughout the fabric, however their haori kimono jackets, which they wear over their kimono, often have absolutely exquisite designs on their linings. This is known as 'hidden beauty'.

There was a time that men, especially rich ones, wore more very brightly coloured and patterned garments, the richer they were, the more gaudy they tended to be but, as extremely rich merchants could often afford to totally outshine nobles and samurai, who were often much less rich and less able to afford such ostentatious garments, laws were introduced to limit the wearing of boldly patterned and brightly coloured men's garments by men who were not nobles or samurai. Commoners, by law, could wear only muted, restrained garments and were also not allowed to wear certain colours, so the rich merchant class took to showing their taste and wealth by having exquisite, incredibly expensive textile art on the haori linings. In time, these rich commoners became proud of their more subtle, tasteful appearance and the hidden beauty on their haori linings, compared to the gaudy, over the top designs worn by the showy nobles. While there may no longer be such restrictions, tradition and taste has retained the preference for subdued men's garments and, for those who can afford it, the hidden beauty on some haori linings.

There are, of course, also some slightly more colourful kimono designs for men, not just the very muted kimonos, and some have lovely designs on the outside, although these would not usually be worn as day to day wear, more likely at some event or just at home.

The most usual kimono worn by men nowadays is the yukata, both as comfortable summer kimonos and as house and bath robes.

Another couple of differences with mens' kimonos are seen in the sleeves and the kimono length. The sleeves are attached to the body almost all the way down their depth, with maybe just 2 or 3cm at the bottom not attached, whereas women's kimono sleeves are only  attached at the top of the kimono body and hang loose for much of their depth. This is because women wear very deep obi which sit high on the body whereas men wear fairly narrow obi and wear it quite low on the torso, so the sleeve does not get in the way of it and can therefore does not need to hang free from the kimono body to make room for it. Men's kimono are also much shorter than women's ones because men do not wear their kimonos with an ohashiori (which is a big fold over of fabric made around the waist, with the obi worn on top of it) whereas women's kimono are worn with this length shortening fold , so they are extra long to allow for this.

wafuku - vintage geisha photo

Geisha and Maiko

Maiko are apprentice geisha, not all geisha are maiko first, as one has to be under a certain age when entering the profession to become a maiko. A geisha who was a maiko first has extra kudos. Geisha are artists and hostesses, the word geisha actually means artist; their arts are musicianship, singing, dancing plus the art of conversation.

These days, geisha actually prefer to be called geiko, it does not carry the stigma of the misconceptions about geisha behaviour. Both names mean 'artist'. I continue to use the term geisha, as, in the west, we know what that is but are unfamiliar with the term geiko. Maiko are much more ornate in appearance than geisha, they are to have the appearance of china dolls and they may say little at the functions they attend, having not yet fully learned the art of conversation. Maiko attend functions to look pretty and to be attentive to the guests but also to learn by example from the geisha in attendance. At functions, the geisha make and serve tea or keep the guests glasses filled with sake, though maids provide and deliver the food, not the geisha, they are not maids. If asked to, they will also perform their arts for the guests.

When entertaining, the guests are often kneeling at the outside of a sort of U shaped table, while the geisha kneel at the inside; this means that, for much of the time, while they attend to one guest, some of the others only see the back of the geisha. For this reason, the back view of the geisha must be as beautiful as the front view. The obi plays a large part in ensuring this, as it is primarily what is seen of her clothing at the back as she kneels.

Geisha were always the leaders of fashion changes in the details of kimono. Nowadays they are not so much the innovators of fashion trends but instead are now custodians of an old and dying tradition. Kimono play a significant role in maiko and geisha lives and mind bogglingly vast sums are spent on them.

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