Kimono & Other Information
The Types of Women's Kimono
+ Geisha & Maiko
1 About Kimonos
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 usually worn by the mothers of the bride and groom at a wedding. 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 wear a kuro-tomesode, as she has one of the most formal roles, guests would wear lighter coloured kimono, not black
Iro-tomesode : a single-color (but not black) kimono, patterned only below the waistline. Iro-tomesode are slightly less formal than kuro-tomesode, and are worn by married women, usually guests who are close relatives of the bride and groom at a wedding. 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.
Tsukesage: a tsukesage has more modest patterns that cover less area, mainly below the waist, than the more formal homongi. They may also be worn by married and unmarried women
Iro-muji: single-coloured kimono that may be worn by married and unmarried women. They are mainly worn to tea ceremonies etc. 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 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
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.