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Learn About Kimono

What Are Kimonos?

When we say "kimono", we are referring to various types of traditional Japanese clothing. Kimonos are thought to have been first worn more than 1000 years ago, during the Heian Period (794-1192.) During the kimono"s more than 1000 year long history, many different techniques for weaving and dyeing fabric, as well as many different patterns and shapes, have been developed. I would like to introduce some of these to you.

The materials, and the weaving and dyeing techniques.

All kimonos are made from fabric that is roughly 37.5cm wide and 12.5m long (known as "tanmono.")
Often, this fabric will be made from silk, but you can also find versions made from linen or cotton. How the fabric feels to the touch or how comfortable it is to wear will depend on which fabric is used, and which techniques are used for weaving.

The tanmono fabric (that is used to make kimonos) is made at over 100 different places throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north, to Okinawa in the south. Different dyeing or weaving methods are used depending on where the fabric is made, and each place has a special name for their own fabric.

Some of the most famous examples are: Yukara-ori from Hokkaido, Kaga Yuzen from Ishikawa, Edo Komon from Tokyo, Nishijin-ori from Kyoto, Oshima Tsumugi from Kagoshima, and Bashofu from Okinawa.

The best thing about kimono is that each one has been lovingly weaved and dyed by skilled craftsmen from each area, and these differing techniques mean that each kimono feels different when you touch or wear it.

Types of Kimono

Kimonos can be broadly split into three different groups: furisode kimonos, traditional kimonos, and yukata kimonos.

Furisode Kimonos

FurisodeFurisode kimonos are the most extravagant of Japanese kimonos, and they are known for their attractive and gorgeous appearance. The most obvious feature of furisode kimonos is that, compared to other types of Japanese kimonos, they have very long sleeves, and they often have more flamboyant embellishments with larger patterns. Furisode kimonos are named depending on how long the sleeves are: kimonos that have sleeves about 114cm long are called long furisode kimonos; those with sleeves about 100cm long are called mid-length furisode kimonos; and those with sleeves about 82cm long are called short furisode kimonos.

Furisode kimonos are worn for weddings, enrollment ceremonies, graduations, or other formal occasions or parties. Apprentice geisha and young geisha also sometimes wear furisode kimonos; the lavish designs of these kimonos help to fascinate their customers.

Incidentally, it is said that in the old days, when a girl liked a boy, she would gently shake the long sleeves of her furisode kimono at him, in order to let him know that she liked him. This action is said to be one of Japan"s oldest expressions of love.

Traditional Kimonos

Traditional kimonos can be split into several groups depending on their design, the methods used to dye and weave the fabric, and where they were made.

Tomesode Kimonos

TomesodeTomesode kimonos are the most formal type of kimonos, and are defined by the large pattern which appears only on the bottom half of the kimono, near the hemline, on both right and left sides. If the tomesode kimono is black, it may be decorated with up to five different family crests; for any other colors, up to three family crests can be shown. The more family crests on the kimono, the higher the social standing of the wearer. Tomesode kimonos are worn by the parents of the bride and groom at a wedding ceremony or reception.

Homongi Kimonos

HomongiIf you were to translate "homongi" into English, you might say, "visiting dress." The pattern on homongi kimonos stretches over the seams, so that if you spread the kimono out flat, it looks like a canvas with a large pattern drawn on it. Because the patterns are designed without thinking about where the seams are, homongi kimonos have very elaborate patterns, and they are the most popular type of traditional kimono. They are worn when attending a celebration or visiting the home of a customer.

Tsukesage Kimonos

TsukesageTsukesage kimonos are similar to homongi kimonos, but with slightly more toned down designs. The patterns do not extend over the kimono seams, so compared to homongi, the patterns are often more compact, and these kimonos are worn in more casual situations. We recommend tsukesage kimonos for attending small parties, going to the theater, or when attending a tea ceremony.

Komon Kimonos

KomonKomon kimonos have a small pattern that is repeated over the entire kimono. These kimonos are called various different names, depending on where they were made.
Komon kimonos are often worn when going to a casual party or tea party.

Tsumugi Kimonos

Tsumugi kimonos are the most magnificent of the woven kimonos. They are often worn when attending traditional arts classes or other hobby related gatherings, when going out to dine with friends, or for going out to casual events or tea parties.

Yukata Kimonos

YukataOf all kimonos, yukata kimonos are the most casual and easy to wear type. They were originally intended to be worn after bathing.

Yukata kimonos are perfect for spring or summer, but they can also be worn during fall or winter if you are indoors, meaning you can enjoy wearing a yukata kimono all year round.

In Japan, you will often see people in yukata kimonos at spring or summer events, such as firework displays, Bon dance festivals, or summer festivals. There are many different styles and varieties of yukata kimonos, from traditional patterns to more colorful designs, and yukata kimonos are the most popular type of kimono in Japan, worn by both men and women, young and old.

Why are women's kimonos so long?

During the long, more than 1000 year history of kimonos, there have been several suggestions as to why women's kimonos are so long. Below I will explain the most likely theory.

Long ago, women in the upper classes (made up of the aristocracy, the warrior families, and the court nobles) would traditionally wear kimonos that were long enough to reach the floor. They would compete to see whose kimono would be the most lavish, the most flamboyant, and the most elegant.

You might think that such a long kimono would get in the way during daily life, however, these women had servants who would attend to their every need. Therefore, they had no trouble going about their everyday lives, despite the long lengths of their kimonos.

Fast forward to the Edo Period.
The Edo Period was a very peaceful and prosperous time for Japan, when the merchant and townspeople classes began to play an important role in society.

Up until then, normal Japanese women, from the same section of society as the merchants or townspeople, had only been able to dream about wearing such elegant kimonos as the women in the upper classes, whose long kimonos gracefully fell all the way to the floor. These normal women began to copy the upper class women, and the long style became popular. This is said to be the reason why women's kimonos are so long in length.

However, there were also times when wearing a kimono long enough to reach the floor was actually a hindrance in the lives of the women in the merchant and townspeople classes: when they were doing housework. Unlike the women in the upper classes, normal women had to do chores such as shopping, cleaning and cooking. The long kimono was difficult to move around in, and so it was around this time that women started to use a koshi himo, or a cord tied around the waist. They would use this cord to roll up their kimonos at the waist, in a method known as "ohashori."

In this way, long women's kimonos became the norm, and thanks to the use of ohashori, Japanese women were able to implement an smart system where the same kimono could be worn by any number of different women, regardless of whether they were the same height or not.

Due to this, it is possible for mothers to pass down precious kimonos to their daughters, and for modern women to wear vintage kimonos from long ago.