Hakama

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japanese-hakama

- Hakama Collection -

Hakama are a type of traditional Japanese clothing. Trousers were used by the Chinese imperial court in the Sui and Tang dynasties, and this style was adopted by the Japanese in the form of hakama from the sixth century onwards. Japanese hakama are tied at the waist and fall approximately to the ankles.

It was traditionally worn by Japanese nobles of earlier times, especially the samurai, and took its present form during the Edo period when both men and women could wear the hakama.

There was also another which was a tubular skirt (without legs); and a third which was a longer version of the second worn by servants or visitors of the shōgun (or some other important personage). The excess cloth was folded and placed between the legs to prevent him from hiding a weapon, and in case of attack hindering his escape.

Nowadays only one type of hakama called joba hakama is used, mostly worn as part of the kimono for special occasions. Also by practitioners of iaidō, kendō, aikidō and kenjutsu, although they reserve it for those of higher rank (yudansha), and dress it differently: in iaidō, kendō and kenjutsu the knot remains in the back, while in aikidō it is left in front (for practicality, to perform backward falls).

The hakama is fixed with four strips (himo); two long ones coming from each side of the front and two shorter ones coming from the back which has a rigid trapezoidal part called koshi-ate (腰板). Underneath that on the inside is the hakama-dome (袴止め) (a spoon-shaped component sometimes referred to as a hera) that is placed under the obi and helps keep the hakama in place.

There are several ways to knot the hakama: the "warrior's way" called shin musubi (right knot) which is a simple square knot with the ends of the himo facing inward so they do not move when walking, and the "common method" or jumonji musubi (ten knots) which resembles the kanji representing that number. In the case of women, it can also be tied with the "butterfly knot" or cho musubi which is used by the jinja maiko.

It has seven pleats on the front, five on the front (three on the right and two on the left) and two on the back.

Hakama Origins

The Chinese imperial courts of the Sui and Tang dynasties all wore the hakama. The Japanese adopted this traditional mode of dress from the Chinese. The existence of the hakama can be traced back to the 5th century.


Clay figurines wearing a similar outfit have been found by archaeologists, possibly dating the age of these artefacts to between 250 and 538 AD. It was even mentioned in the Kojiki, Japan's "Records of Ancient Affairs".

The hakama is part of the "keikogi" outfit worn by those who train in aikido, kendo, kyudo and iado; basically some areas of Japanese martial arts. It was not until the 12th century that this outfit was properly documented, when samurai warriors or "bushi" who trained in Aikido (and wore it by default) took on powerful roles in the government of the country. After the 14th century, the hakama began to be worn only by men.

At the beginning of the Edo period - which was from 1603 to 1868 - samurais had a standard outfit consisting of a hakama, a formal kimono and a heavily shoulder-padded kataginu. This combination of uniforms was called "kamishimo".

The hakama was chosen by the samurais as clothing when they rode their horses because it protected their legs. They had to wear special versions of it when they appeared before the shogun, and these versions had long extensions at the back and front, making it difficult for any rebellious samurai to execute the shogun.

Currently, the hakama is worn by Japanese men on special occasions such as weddings, pompous celebrations and funerals. University professors, as well as Shinto priests, usually do. Women also wear it, but less often.

Female Shinto shrine guards (the Japanese call them "miko") wear a white top or kimono tucked into a red hakama.

Both genders usually wear the hakama at school graduation ceremonies or when attending an academic ceremony. Women wear the hakama just below the bust line, while men tie it around the waist.

Hakama Types

There are two types of hakama, the umanori ("divided"), more like pants, and the bakama ("undivided"), more like a skirt. Traditionally, the umanori hakama was exclusive to men and worn by nobles, warriors, farmers and carpenters.

Some claim that one of the purposes of the hakama was to conceal the movement of the feet, to better surprise the opponent. This explanation is not unanimous: samurai wore leggings that remained visible under the cloth.

Moreover, when he was not in armor but was preparing for a fight, the samurai would pull up the hakama by wedging it at the level of the belt, just as he would attach the sleeves of the kimono by a strip of cloth, the tasuki.

It was actually essentially a cavalry pant (馬乗り, hakama umanori), but there are hakama with no leg separation (行灯袴, andon bakama).

Nowadays, the very large hakama is used in some martial arts such as aikido3, kendo, kinomichi, iaido, kenjutsu, aikijutsu, aikibudo, ju jitsu, nihon kempo, shinkendo, naginatajutsu and more rarely judo. For ju jitsu, it is used in koryū (ancient schools) primarily, not in modern styles.

In this context, it is sometimes referred to as keikobakama (literally "training hakama"). The hakama used for martial arts are made of cotton, silk or, most often, polyester or a mixture of these three fibers. Cotton is heavier, while synthetic fibers glide better on the ground and are more resistant to fading, which can be important for martial arts like iaido or aikido. Quality hakama have thick, overstitched straps to prevent them from twisting on themselves.

Sumo wrestlers do not use hakama in competition but are required to wear it during official ceremonies.

Hakama is also a ceremonial garment (wedding, graduation, etc.). Women wear hakama that match their kimonos, in bright colors or patterns, while men's hakama are usually striped1. The ceremonial hakama is made of silk, which makes it fragile, expensive and difficult to maintain.

The color of the hakama can be determined by the activity. Thus, aikido hakama is always plain, black or indigo, sometimes electric blue for cotton hakama or white for beginners in some dojos. In other disciplines, the wearing of other colors, especially white is accepted (for iaido).

The gray color is reserved for the sensei. During Shinto ceremonies, the Shinto kannushi wears a white hakama, the male assistants light green hakama, the female assistants red-orange hakama (the traditional red clothes are a symbol of virginity in Japan).

Hakama Symbolism 

According to some legends, the seven folds represent the seven virtues that a samurai should possess: jin ("benevolence, generosity"), gi ("honor, justice"), rei ("courtesy, etiquette"), chi ("wisdom, intelligence"), shin ("sincerity") chu ("loyalty") and kō ("piety")-Other sources speak instead of the terms yuki ("courage," "valor," "bravery"), makoto ("sincerity," "honesty," "reality"), meiyo ("honor," "credit," "glory"). This symbolism is not clearly established and its origin has no reliable source.