Japanese kimonos are often grouped together in one single heap but, in reality, there are a number of different types. What are they and does anyone still wear this traditional dress?
Traditional Japanese dress or 'kimono' are rarely seen in modern Japan although they have been around for over 1000 years. On special occasions such as the 7, 5, 3 Festival, the Coming of Age Festival or weddings, the beautiful heavily embroidered women's kimonos and the formal men's pleated trousers can be seen. However, most Japanese now prefer the convenience of Western-style clothing.
Kimonos do not have pockets, so money and other small items are often carried in the sleeve in a small lacquered box or in a material pouch.
Women's kimonos are the ones most well known because of the usually bright colours and their decorativeness. When kimonos were worn everyday, their colours were more subdued unless it was a special occasion. The fabric, colour, sleeve length, and the details of the obi and how it is tied varied according to the wearer's age, social status, marital status and season. For example, married women had short sleeves while young, unmarried women had long, draping sleeves. While this is still true to some extent, kimonos are now usually only worn on special occasions.
Around the waist of the kimono, a wide band or belt is wrapped and tied into a simple (or complicated, depending on the occasion) design at the back. This belt is called an 'obi' and can be made from cotton or silk. The pattern and colours on the obi are usually chosen to compliment those on the kimono.
Perhaps the most impressive of the kimonos are those for weddings, which have a white silk underdress and a heavy silk overdress in red or orange with gold, white and multicoloured embroidery in the forms of cranes and flowers. These lavish works of art are extremely expensive (as are most kimonos) so they are often rented instead of bought.
One type of kimono that is still very commonly seen is the 'yukata' or summer kimono. This light cotton kimono is worn in summer at the Bon Festival and also just to keep cool in the hot summer evenings. Hotels often leave yukata in the room for guests to wear, particularly if the hotel has a hot spring bath. Yukata are usually blue and white but can be found in other colours.
Men's dress is much more subdued than women's and consists of a kimono and 'hakama' or pleated skirt-trousers. This dress is also worn for certain martial arts such as kendo. A jacket can also be worn with this costume. The jacket, called 'haori', is worn open but with a braided or knotted cord holding the edges together.
Putting on a Kimono
Getting dressed in these traditional clothes is a skill that few modern Japanese possess. Instead, they go to a special shop to have their hair and makeup done, and to be helped to dress. You can take classes to learn how to dress yourself and others but the classes are expensive and you also need to buy kimonos and accessories to do the course.
If you want to try one on yourself, just remember one thing - kimonos are put on with the left over the top of the right side, as the opposite is the tradition for dressing corpses!