The kimono is a traditional Japanese garment and the national garment of Japan. The Japanese kimono is a T-shaped wrapped garment with square sleeves and a rectangular body, and is worn with the left side wrapped over the right, unless the wearer is deceased. The kimono is traditionally worn with an obi, and commonly worn with accessories such as geta sandals and tabi socks.
Kimonos reach down to the lower parts of the body, such as the shin with "tita" necklines and wide sleeves. There are various types of kimonos worn by men, women and children. The cut, color, fabric and decorations vary according to gender, age, marital status, time of year and occasion. The kimono is worn by covering the body in a wraparound gift-like manner and fastened with a wide sash called obi.
In the past, the kimono was made of a rustic material, but as Japan was influenced by Chinese and Korean culture, silk was introduced, making the kimono a sumptuous costume. Nowadays, most Japanese people wear western clothes but they usually wear kimonos on special occasions such as weddings, ceremonies or traditional festivals. Accessories to accompany the kimono are geta (wooden slippers) or zori (low sandals made of cotton and leather) and tabi (traditional socks that separate the thumb from the rest of the toes to fit the sandal).
Kimono aficionados in Japan go so far as to take courses to learn how to correctly put on a kimono. The classes cover the choice according to the season, the patterns and figures to choose according to each occasion, the combination between underwear and accessories of a kimono, the training to place each underwear sending subtle messages, and the selection and testing of the obi, among other topics. There are also clubs devoted to kimono culture, such as the Ginza Kimono.
The original name of the kimono was gofuku (呉服 literally "clothing of the Wu (呉)"), because early kimono were strongly influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing, known today as hanfu (漢服 kanfuku in Japanese).
From the 5th century Chinese culture began to be widely adopted by the Japanese, through Japanese embassies in China. During the 7th century Chinese fashion, and especially the female lap collar, gained great popularity in Japan. During the Heian Period (794-1192), kimonos became highly stylized, although one called Mo continued to wear an apron half over it. During the Muromachi Period (1392-1573), a one-piece kimono called Kosode, formally regarded as underwear, began to be worn without hakama pants over it, and these were worn held up by an obi.
During the Edo period (1603-1867), the sleeves began to grow in length and to be worn by single ladies, and the obi became wider, with various styles of fastening. Since then, the basic shape of the men's and women's kimono has remained essentially unchanged. Kimonos made with traditional techniques and fine materials are considered great works of art.
The formal kimono was replaced by European clothing and the yukata (it is for men only), for everyday wear. After an edict by Emperor Meiji, police, railwaymen and teachers wore European clothing.
European clothing became the uniform of the navy and boys' schools. After the Great Kantō Earthquake, Kimono wearers were commonly victims of theft. The Tokyo Women's and Children's Clothing Manufacturers' Association (東京婦人子供服組合) promoted the use of European clothing.
Between 1920 and 1930 sailor attire replaced the one-piece hakama as a school uniform for girls. The 1932 fire at the Nihonbashi store in Shirokiya is said to have been the catalyst for the decline of kimonos as everyday wear (although this is suggested to be an urban myth).
The national uniform Gokumin-fuku (which was a variation of European clothing) was mandated for men in 1940. Nowadays people usually wear clothes of European origin, and yukata on special occasions.
The kimono is made of folded and sewn rectangles of cloth, but never cut; it is straight, falling down to the feet or ankles, depending on the formality of the ensemble and the person wearing it. Its particularity consists in its very long sleeves, which can go to the ground for the kimonos of young women (furisode).
The kimono is always worn on the left side on the right side: on the one hand it allowed to hide a weapon (tanto), on the other hand, the dead are dressed crossing in the opposite direction. It is held in place by a wide belt called an obi which allows to distinguish certain groups in society; usually tied in the back, it was tied in the front for prostitutes.
The fabrics are varied , such as linen or silk, but also ramie, mulberry fiber, hemp and the weaving methods are also very numerous: taffeta, twill, satin, damask satin, crepe4 or gauze. The choice of fabrics and the fact that they are layered or woven allows the production of clothes adapted to the seasons.
Kimonos offer vast surfaces that do not take into account the anatomy of either the man or the woman, and these surfaces are the preferred medium for Japanese artistic expression
Ancient kimonos are decorated with traditional motifs (pine, bamboo, turtle, dragonfly, wheel, cherry trees, peonies, mallows, irises, rocks, running water, waves, landscapes including some famous views, games of go, etc.) which are symbols of virtues for some and also allow the inclusion of motifs which are, themselves, scenes which are sometimes very complex, such as screens, portable curtains, fans and paintings on a vertical scroll, which put these images into abyme.
The decoration also allows for the introduction of simple geometric motifs, such as squares, rhombuses, the cross-hatched pattern of a curtain made of unrolled bamboo slats, or complex ones such as ceremonial knots (noshi).
All these motifs are scattered or grouped, even superimposed, but with large empty spaces that make these compositions "breathe".
Japanese painters created catalogs of kimono designs (hinagata bon), like Moronobu and Sukenobu, from the first quarter of the 18th century. These catalogs were published every year.
Special editions were made for the most popular designs. After the customer had chosen the design from the catalogs, the salesman would write down the order in a notebook. Then he would make a life-size drawing, specifying all the details, and he would send this drawing to the craftsmen with the fabric.
Decorative practices are numerous: the dye8 can be applied directly with a brush or stencil, or by reserving, protecting certain areas that will remain white, either by knotting, or by binding the fabric with a thread - shibori uses seams, knots and pinches - or by applying the color inside the areas limited by clay, wax or by a net of rice glue.
This is the yuzen process, which allows the outline and inner lines of the pattern to be drawn. The yuzen allows to paint in these limited areas, possibly applying gradations and according to the lines of the pattern, inside these areas, which will remain white (the rice glue being washed after fixing the dyes).
The yuzen also allows to protect large areas that will not take the dye applied to the piece of fabric.
The images used on kimonos often have complex layers of meaning. The most popular bird depicted on kimonos is the crane. It is said to live for a thousand years and to inhabit the land of the immortals. It is a symbol of longevity and good fortune.
Certain motifs have been used to indicate virtues or qualities of the wearer, or relate to the season or occasion such as weddings and festivals where it brings good luck to the wearer.
Colours also have strong metaphorical and cultural meanings. Dyes are seen as embodying the spirit of the plants from which they are derived.
It is also believed that any medicinal property is transferred to the coloured substance. For example, blue is derived from indigo, which is used to treat bites and stings, so wearing blue fabric is considered a repellent against snakes and insects.
With the introduction of the concept of the five elements from China to Japan in the 6th century, colours took on a cosmological dimension. Fire, water, earth, wood and metal are associated with certain directions, seasons, virtues and colours.
Black, for example, corresponds to water, the north, winter and wisdom. Colours also have a strong poetic meaning. Purple, for example, is a metaphor for undying love, the symbolism deriving from the fact that gromwell (murasaki), the plant from which the dye is extracted, has very long roots.
Perhaps the most popular colour for kimonos is red, derived from the safflower (benibana). Red represents youthful glamour and allure and is therefore suitable for young women's garments.
The richest source of kimono motifs comes from nature. Flowers such as peonies, wisteria, bush clover and hollyhocks often appear on garments. Many of them, for example cherry blossom, chrysanthemums and maple leaves, have seasonal significance.
Pine, bamboo and plum are collectively known as the Three Friends of Winter (shōchikubai) and are symbols of longevity, endurance and renewal.
The pine is an evergreen tree and lives for many years, the bamboo bends in the wind but never breaks, and the plum is the first tree to flower every year. The plum is especially popular for winter kimonos because it suggests that spring is not far away.
Birds, animals, butterflies and dragonflies also appear on kimonos, along with other motifs from nature, such as water, snow and clouds. Some kimonos depict entire landscapes with mountains and streams.
In the past it was common for a kimono to have a separate complete process to be washed, and sewn again to be worn, because the stitches must be taken out for washing.
Traditionally kimonos must be sewn by hand. This traditional washing process is called arai hari, and is very costly and difficult, so it is one of the causes of the decline in popularity of kimonos. Modern fabrics and developed cleaning methods eliminate this process, although traditional kimono washing is still practiced, especially on higher value kimonos.
Today, you can find kimonos made of silk, cotton, wool or synthetic materials. Depending on the type of kimono fabric, the care of the garment will differ. For example, cotton and synthetic kimonos are the easiest to wash, as they can be washed by hand or in the washing machine, using short programs.
It is important not to mix the garment with others, not to use a tumble dryer and not to select high washing temperatures. If hand-washed, it is also recommended not to rub the garment excessively. In the case of wool kimono, it can be taken to the dry cleaner. In case you want to iron the kimono, avoid direct contact with the iron, using a cloth or cloth.
New custom-made kimonos are shipped to the consumer with long, loose spray stitches around the outer edges. These stitches are called shitsuke ito, sometimes replaced by storage stitches. They help prevent bunching, folding and wrinkling and keep the layers of the kimono aligned.
Like many other traditional Japanese garments, kimonos have specific ways to be stored. These methods help preserve them and prevent them from wrinkling when stored. Kimonos are commonly stored wrapped in a paper called tatōshi.
Kimonos should be aired at least seasonally, and before and after wearing. Some people prefer to dry clean their kimonos, although this can be extremely expensive, it is generally cheaper than washing them by arai hari, besides the latter method is not possible on some fabrics or dyes.