Knowledge: Types of Obi

Once you’ve figured out what kind of kimono is appropriate for your event or lifestyle, you’ll need to pair it with an obi. Deciding which kind of obi to wear can be even more overwhelming than picking the kimono. Hopefully this will help guide you in the right general direction!

Heko
Heko obi are very casual, and are used primarily by children wearing yukata. It’s starting to become more common for adults to wear them, but again they’re in a very casual context. They are the only obi that is very soft and flowing, and almost looks more like a delicate scarf than any other obi. They’re typically tied in loose, flowing bows.
Hanhaba
Hanhaba essentially means “half width”, and that is exactly what these obi are. Most obi need to be folded in half while wrapped around the waist, and start out at a measurement of approximately one foot or 30cm wide. Hanhaba obi are half this width, and are generally much easier to tie in all sorts of cute musubi (bows). They’re normally quite casual, but every so often you can find one made of finer, more solid fabrics that are more appropriate for slightly dressier kimono.
Tenga
These are a relatively new and not-so-common obi that are the size of hanhaba, but tend to have a lot of metallic brocade or embroidery and celebratory motifs. They can be worn with more formal kimono than a regular hanhaba would.
Nagoya
Nagoya obi have a very distinctive shape, they are narrow for approximately two thirds of the length and then they flare out to full width for the end. This makes them much easier to wrap around the waist, but still able to tie a slightly dressier musubi like otaiko or tsunodashi. They can vary from quite casual to quite dressy. Casual nagoya obi are often a solid colour with a small design embroidered or painted on the section that ends up on the front of the waist, and another coordinating design that ends up on the back of the drum bow. More dressy nagoya obi tend to have an all-over pattern and can often include metallic threads. Sometimes the wider end will also be long enough to tie a very formal drum like the niijudaiko. The type of kimono they can be worn with depends on the formality of the kimono.
Chuuya
Literally night-and-day obi, chuya have fallen out of favour. They were very much in style during earlier eras, and are typefied their reversible duality – pale sublte “daytime” designs on one side and dark or more vivid “nighttime” designs on the other. They may also be patterned on one side and solid black on the other. These obi are 12″ wide, like fukuro, and can be used in a fair number of musubi, but due to the fact that they are generally nearly 100 years old, they tend to be slightly fragile. They are also often softer and “floppier” than modern wide obi, which adds a bit of casual feel to an outfit.
Fukuro
The longest obi, and therefore the easiest to tie fun and funky musubi with. They are the same width, approximately 30cm, the entire length. They are generally patterned on only 60% of the obi – the parts that remain hidden are solid to save on weight and money. Higher-end fukuro obi may be fully patterned. They are generally worn with furisode, houmongi, and tomesode, but can also be paired with iromuji and tsukesage in certain situations.
Maru
Maru obi are are the most formal obi. They are fully patterned on both sides, and often contain a fair bit of metallic brocade. Patterns can be either very tiny scale (typically seen on much older maru obi) or quite bold and large (more modern). They can be worn with any formal kimono, however they are usually a bit shorter than fukuro obi, which makes tying furisode-appropriate musubi a bit of a challenge.
Tsuke-obi, also known as tsukuri obi or easy obi
These are kind of an odd duck. They are pre-tied, generally in two pieces. One narrow part ties snugly around the waist, and then a tied bow or knot tucks into the back. They’re used by women who don’t have a lot of experience dressing, women in a rush, or people who have to do frequent and quick costume changes like dancers or theatre performers. You can’t lump tsuke obi into one formality category, as they exist in nearly every level; from casual yukata obi to heavy gold fukuro obi in elaborate musubi to darari-style (see below) for dances and cosplay. Some people consider them “cheating”, but I consider them a good way to save a few minutes, or a good way to salvage an old or stained obi that would otherwise be unuseable. I am in the process of converting one myself, and will post the results once I am satisfied with them.
Darari
Darari, or dangling obi, are worn strictly by maiko, or apprentice geisha. They are more than twice as long as a regular obi, and will nearly always have the mon (crest) of the geisha house the maiko lives at on one end, to help identify where they are from. The patterns are always bold and vibrant, much like the maiko themselves. They are tied in a manner also referred to as darari, with two long hanging tails that remind me of folded butterfly wings.

*Darari obi image used with permission courtesy of Christina Stoppa/GoldenPhoenix/Kurokami

*Thanks to Ichiroya for the permitted use of their images. Originally these items were all available for purchase and the images linked back to the sale listings, but they have been sold!

Knowledge: Types of Kimono

Kimono can be an overwhelming thing to get into, especially since there are so many different types of kimono. To the beginner, they may all look similar, but a basic knowledge of the types of kimono and appropriate situations for wear is always handy. I have explained this very slightly in the Kimono Terms Glossary but in this entry I will elaborate further, with photo examples, and suggestions on where to wear each type. I will be doing a similar entry about obi shortly, which will help elaborate on the types of obi mentioned in this entry. (edit: Here is the corresponding entry about obi)

Do keep in mind that as with anything in life, there are always exceptions to the rule. There exist many types of hybrid or unique kimono that can be a combination of one or more of these styles. These are the most common and standard acknowledged varieties of kimono, but if you find one that doesn’t easily fit into one of these categories, that does not necessarily mean it’s not a true kimono.

Yukata
These are the most casual and probably the most comfortable to wear. They are made of cotton and generally have fun, vibrant, all-over prints. In Japan, very casual yukata are worn in ryokan (traditional hotels), onsens (public bath houses), and around the house. These typically are white with a simple indigo print, and are usually short enough not to drag on the floor. Yukata intended for festivals are often longer, and folded at the waist, and made of a more substantial cotton with brighter and more detailed prints. These types are a great place for beginners to get into the hobby, as they are fun, funky, and require the least amount of accessories – all you need is an undershirt, bike shorts, a few cotton ties, and a narrow obi. You can wear them to festivals, fireworks, picnics, barbeques, or any other fun summer activity. Imagine anywhere you’d wear jeans and a cute t-shirt or a casual cotton sundress. Appropriate obi to wear include hanhaba (hira) obi or heko obi.
Komon
Komon are the most casual level of “real” kimono. They are characterized by all-over patterns that can be either large or small in scale. They are typically quite informal, but can be made slightly more formal with small bits of metallic print or embroidery and in a pinch can be dressed up with a slightly nicer obi. However, they’re still the most casual of kimono. Appropriate situations for wear include lunch with friends, shopping in a high-end district, a trip to a museum. Similar to a nice pair of slacks or a day dress. Komon can be paired up with a variety of obi, including nicer hanhaba obi and nagoya obi. If the kimono is quite dressy or the obi is quite casual certain fukuro obi might work, but this is rare and safer to avoid if you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the rules.
Iromuji
By far the most versatile kimono in any woman’s wardrobe – think of iromuji as the “Little Black Dress” in your closet. With the right accessories they can go from running errands to a tea ceremony to the opera to the wedding of a friend. These kimono are one solid colour, but often made of very textural rinzu silk, which is woven in such a way as to have a tone-on-tone pattern. Patterns can include flowers, plants, textures, landscapes, really the possibilities are endless. Iromuji can also come with one, three, or five family crests – one crest is by far the most common. The more crests a kimono has, the more formal it becomes. A one-crested iromuji is probably the best investment you will ever make if you plan to wear kimono frequently. Due to the versatility of the kimono, many types of obi are appropriate, depending on the situation and formality. Anything from a dressy hanhaba obi, to nagoya, to fukuro are all acceptable.
Tsukesage
Tsukesage are generally a solid colour with designs in a few very specific locations – along the hem, the front panel, the sleeve, the shoulder, and the collar. They can be quite vibrant or relatively subdued, and work in a variety of situations. Dinners out, trips to the theatre. They’re good for when you want to dress up a bit and stand out, but not very formal events. Tsukesage do not come with crests, so they are not particularly appropriate for ceremonial events. Suitable obi are nagoya, and fukuro if the kimono has enough dressy elements.
Houmongi
Similar to tsukesage, but slightly more formal. Rather than having separate design elements on each panel, there is a continuous design across the entire hem and generally across the shoulders. They can also have one crest on the back, which further helps to make them a bit dressier. Houmongi are often worn to weddings, especially fancier ones in large reception halls or hotels. To me, the houmongi is the “quintessential kimono”, the kind most people picture a woman in a lovely kimono, or the kind often bought to hang on walls as art. The best obi for houmongi is usually fukuro or fukuro-nagoya, but maru obi and certain nagoya can work well too.
Furisode
Furisode actually refers to sleeve length, rather than the pattern layout. “Sode” means sleeve and “furi” means swinging. Furisode have very long, swinging sleeves. They are generally worn by young, unmarried women. Furisode can come in different pattern layouts; komon, houmongi-style, and even iromuji style. They also come in several sleeve lengths; ko-furisode – which are the shortest and can be worn almost like regular kimono, chuu-furisode (also listed as chuburisode) – which are slightly longer and generally a bit more formal, and ooburisode – the longest and generally the most formal. Kimono worn for coming-of-age day, weddings, etc, have ooburisode sleeves. Furisode also typically require fancy obi musubi (obi knots) to balance the volume and style of the sleeves, so the only proper obi to be worn with them in normal settings are fukuro or maru obi.
Irotomesode
Iro means colour, and tome-sode means short sleeves, so logically iro-tomesode would be a coloured, short-sleeved kimono. Design-wise, they have a fairly ornate continuous pattern around the hem, and nothing above the waist. They are often crested, anywhere from one to five crests, and are worn by both married and unmarried women for formal or ceremonial events. They’re not as common as they used to be, and the ones that end up on the market most often are vintage. Acceptable obi would be fukuro or maru.
Kurotomesode
Similar to irotomesode, but black. These are the most formal kimono for married women. They are worn by the mothers of the bride and groom at weddings, black-tie events, children’s graduation, etc. They are appropriate for anything celebratory or ceremonial. They show up on the secondary market quite frequently, because in modern times they are one of the most often-used kimono, as women tend to only wear them now for “big” events. Appropriate obi are fukuro or maru with celebratory motifs, usually with plenty of gold.
Kakeshita, also Hanayome
These are unique wedding kimono. They are meant to be worn trailing (see hikizuri, below) by a bride at her wedding. The overall wedding ensemble is very specialized and complicated, with many significant accessories and a specific dressing style. There are licensed salons and studios in Japan that deal solely in dressing brides for their weddings. The designs are typically very vibrant and colourful, and often have lots of flowers and cranes or other celebratory motifs. They will also generally have a lot of gold foil or couching (outline embroidery).
Uchikake
Uchikake are not what people generally think of as a kimono, they are not worn over an underrobe and tied shut with an obi. They are part of a traditional bridal ensembled, and worn trailing over the rest of the ensemble, including the kakeshita and the obi. They are more like very elaborate over-robes, and although historically they were common for the upper class and nobility, they not something that are worn in modern day in any other circumstances (aside from theatre performance). However, they do look stunning when hung on a rod as a decorative accent in the right decor.
Mofuku
Mofuku is mourning wear. This is a kimono (and obi) of solid black, worn by the family of the deceased at a funeral. A mofuku kimono will be solid black with a white lining and five white crests. These often turn up on the secondary market, but I personally believe it to be in incredibly bad taste to buy one of these and wear it for any other circumstance. These kimono were worn by people mourning the loss of someone very close to them, and the associations to the Japanese can be very negative. It’s becoming more common to see mofuku accessories (obiage, obijime) being worn with regular outfits, but the kimono itself is one of the items that I don’t think will ever escape the negative stigma. Mofuku kimono are always worn with solid black nagoya obi, black obiage and obijime, white haneri, white tabi, and black zori.
Hikizuri, also Susohiki
Hikizuri and susohiki actually refer to the way that the kimono is worn, it means basically “trailing skirt”. These kimono are worn by geisha, dancers, and other traditional stage performers. They can be nearly any of the styles listed above – komon, irotomesode, kurotomesode, etc. Maiko (apprentice geisha) wear furisode hikuzuri. Kakeshita, the wedding kimono mentioned above, are also technically hikizuri, and this is probably the only time an average woman will wear a kimono of this style. They are best purchased for collecting purposes or cosplay, not for wearing out to events.

*Thanks to Ichiroya for the permitted use of their images. Originally these items were all available for purchase and the images linked back to the sale listings, but they have been sold!!

Traveling down the Tokaido Road

This is an entry that’s been a long time in coming. It may get a bit verbose, and I apologize. If you’re not interested in personal ramblings and art-related discussion, feel free to skip it.

My interest in kimono stemmed from an interest in traditional Japanese aesthetic in general, which I believe I inherited from my grandmother. I have always been fond of traditional woodblock prints; landscapes in particular.

The Tokaido Road is a highway connecting the New Capital, Edo (tokyo), with the Old Capital, Kyoto. There are 53 famous way-stations along this road, plus the start and end points. Edo-era artist Hiroshige Ando became so enamored of the views of these stations that he produced several series of prints, known as the “Stations of the Tokaido“. There are four editions of these, each from slightly different vantage points and during different times of year. The most famous, however, is the Hoeido Edition, and is the one I will most often be referencing here.

About a year ago, I found an obi on Ichiroya of a snow-covered cabin in the mountains. As soon as I saw it, I felt an immense pull and a desperate desire to have it. As I’ve mentioned before, my best friend lives in Colorado, and I often go visit him (sometimes buying kimono while I’m there), and I initially chalked the nostalgia the obi made me feel to my love of the mountains there. Naomi‘s darling husband Arian took pity on me and my obsessive infatuation, and bought me the obi as a gift.

The more I thought about it though, the more visually and emotionally familiar it felt. It took me a while, and a great bit of help from Erica, it finally hit me. It was a creative interpretation of Station 15, Kambara, with the people removed.

This discovery, unfortunately, created a torrent I’ve since been unable to stop. I dove headfirst into more detailed research of the Stations of the Tokaido, mostly on the internet, but in my own bookshelves as well. I’d actually purchased books about Hiroshige years before, and one that’s always come in handy is Hiroshige In Tokyo, by Julian Bicknell. Armed with a new wealth of information and a new obsesson, I dove in. I made the unfortunate discovery that these prints are a fairly popular motif for kimono and related items – obi in particular. With that knowledge in hand, I have begun to amass a “collection within a collection,” if you will.

Since that first obi, I have acquired several more, and a decorative dance fan. My ambition is to eventually have items with all the stations on them, but that is a long-term goal for when I have much more expendable income!

I am not sure, but I believe this is an interpretation of Station 14, Yoshiwara. As always, if you have further information or can read the text on it, by all means let me know.

This one is also very special to me – I have mentioned before my love of hakata, so when I found an obi that was both hakata weave and several stations, I knew I had to have it. I saved up, and the day I was ready to purchase it, someone I know online bought it for herself. I’m not going to lie, I was devastated. Through her own kindness, and the helpfulness of Yuka at Ichiroya, the obi found its way to me. I love it to bits. It contains stations Kuwana, Mariko, and Hakone.

The last obi is another one of Hakone. I already had the hakata one at this point, but I loved the soft pastel colours on this one and it was a bargain, so I couldn’t pass it up.

The last item I currently own is not an obi, but rather a nice, solid dance fan. It has the starting point (or station 0 if you will), Nihonbashi Bridge.

I am, in fact, so obsessed with this that I am currently coveting a particular nail polish – NARS Tokaido Express. Those of you who know me well are aware that I also have a passion for doing my nails and ferreting away a huge collection of nail polishes (I have over 200 at this point). When I found this polish, I knew I had to have it! The fact that it’s a gorgeous rich espresso brown with purple and gold shimmer doesn’t help! Unfortunately, it’s an expensive designer brand and actually more expensive than several of my cheaper kimono! I will have it eventually though! Probably much sooner than the kimono-related goal.

On Being a Behemoth – Size challenges and how to work with what you’ve got

This article is part of a series on size challenges while collecting and dressing in kimono. Please read Part I

Part II – Tips and Tricks for Dressing

In the first entry of this series, I discussed the importance of buying what fits. However, when it comes to buying vintage, one-of-a-kind textiles, this is obviously not always an option. Sometimes a piece comes along that’s just so stunning that you have to have it, even if it’s not the best fit.

Thankfully, if you can’t make it, you can usually fake it. There are enough tools and tricks out there to help you achieve as smooth and clean a baseline as possible.

Problem 1 – Bosoms a’plenty
This is a problem I suffer from greatly, as do many of my kimono-wearing friends. They’re just not designed for someone with melons like these! The first, and most ideal solution for this is, is a kimono bra. They are available on sites like Rakuten or JShoppers. However, these are again made with smaller Japanese frames in mind, and if you’re as heavily-endowed as I am, it may be a challenge finding one that will fit.

Another solution is sarashi, a cotton binding cloth that is wrapped around the torso. These give a great smooth line from bust to hip while remaining breathable.

One suggestion I have heard of but not tried myself is a <url=”http://sites.google.com/site/binderreviews/resources”>Female-to-Male Transgender Binder Top. These are designed explicitly with the idea of flattening the bust as much as possible, for women making the transition to living as men. I imagine they would work well, as they are built for support and all-day comfort while supposedly remaining invisible. The only issue is that all the ones I have seen come up quite high in the back, which is counter-productive to having an elegantly low kimono collar. If anyone has tried this method, please let me know! I would love to hear from you!

The quickest method, and the one I used to use most often, is the rubber datejime/elastic brace method. This requires a fairly common kitsuke accessory, the rubberized “easy datejime”. I place one of these over my juban with a sports bra underneath. It serves to flatten and hold down my bust.

This solution works well enough, and here are a few outfits for comparison. The plaid ensemble on the left is using this easy method, whereas the flowered ensemble on the right is not – it’s ro, a sheer summer weave, and the fluorescent vivid green of my rubber datejime was way too visible! You can see how much smoother my bust is in the plaid outfit, compared to how it descends and curves over the front of the obi in the flowered one.

The main issue with this method is that the datejime can slip over the course of a long day. I’ve since replaced it with an elasticized velcro abdominal/back support, easily available at any medical supply. I simply wear it above the bust, and it functions almost exactly like sarashi, with the added benefit of extra back support.

Problem 2 – Baby Got Back
Thankfully I don’t have quite as much of a problem with this, but it’s still an issue. The kimono was not designed with hips or a bottom in mind. Once again, your best bet is to find one with a decent hip wrap. If that’s just not feasible, there is an easy and inexpensive way to make sure your kimono doesn’t flap wide open in the front, exposing you in a dramatic and embarrassing way. Simply take a kohrin(kohlin) belt and clip it to the outer flap of your nagajuban, wrap it around your knees, and clip it to the inner okumi panel of the kimono. If you don’t have a kohlin belt, a single suspender from the closet or the thrift store works just as well. Just be sure it’s got plastic grips on the teeth – metal ones might pull or tear vintage silk!

Problem 3 – Big Waist, Little Obi
Vintage obi. They’re beautiful, but they’re also almost always too short and too floppy to work with conveniently. Thankfully this is a problem that plagues the Japanese too, as pretty much everyone was smaller around the waist back then. There’s also the matter of kimono going out of fashion due to the difficulty of putting one on, which led to the development of plenty of tools to help dress.

One great such tool is the obidomekanagu, or obi clip. If you have an obi that’s too short to tie comfortably in a knot before tying your musubi, these are a tiny little pink godsend. Rather than tie the two ends together, you simply clip them together with this tool, nestled snugly in the small of your back, and tuck your obi-makura into the curve at the top. It holds everything into place, and gives you ten to fifteen centimetres of leeway.

Hopefully at least one tip here will help you be a little more comfortable and confident in your kimono! Please let me know what you’d like to see in the next entry of this series, or if you have any tips of your own.

On Being a Behemoth – Size challenges and how to work with what you’ve got

Part I – Shop Smart

The subtitle of this blog, as you may have noticed, is A giantess’ adventure in tiny vintage silks. What you may not be aware of though, is how giant I really am. The photos I post are typically alone, and don’t offer much to scale against. I’d like to take a few entries to discuss the challenges of size in the hobby of kimono, since one of the regular excuses I hear for awkward or sloppy kitsuke is “Oh, I’m too big” or “Oh, I’m too curvy.” This first entry will focus on the kimono themselves, and shopping smart.

To start off, how big are we talking here? I am five feet ten inches tall. That’s 1.78 metres. I weigh roughly 175 pounds, or 79 kilos. My bust measurement is a cumbersome 46″ (117cm) around at the widest part. My bra size is currently averaging a 34F, though I recently bought a bra in a G-cup. Yes, you read that right. My waist is a reasonable 28″ (71cm) or so, and my hips are just passing the 40″ (104 cm) mark currently. My inseam when purchasing jeans is just over 35″ (89cm) high, from floor to groin. While this sounds like a figure most women would kill for (tall, long legs, big bust, small waist, rounded hips) it s by far the worst possible scenario for kimono.

So how then, do I manage to pull off wearing garments from a country where the modern national height average for women is 5’2″, or 1.58m, and a bra cup size of B is considered “large”?

The first, and easiest answer is to “buy big”. Modern everyday kimono are being made larger, to accommodate the fact that even women in Japan are significantly taller and wider than they were 50 or 100 years ago. However, this is not always an option, especially if you’re looking at older, one of a kind pieces. My best advice for this would be “don’t compromise.” That Taisho-era piece at a great price is still not a worthwhile investment if it’s so narrow at the hips that you can’t walk in it. If you truly have your heart set on vintage pieces, try looking for hikizuri – kimono meant to be worn trailing by either brides, geisha, or stage performers. Older ones are generally about the right length to be worn “normal style” by taller, modern women. In this outfit, I am wearing a vintage bridal hikizuri, which should have been worn without a fold at the waist and left trailing behind me. However, it’s just the perfect length for me to fold and wear normally.
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When buying a kimono, the length should be the same as your height, the wingspan should be from wristbone to wristbone, and the hip wrap should be your own hip measurement multiplied by nearly 1.5 to get a full hip-to-hip overlap. Since I know there is no way I will ever accomplish this, I aim for kimono a minimum of 60″ or 150cm long, a wingspan of 50″ or 127cm, and a hip wrap of 45″ or 114cm. There is no sure set of measurements that are acceptably “too small”, it’s always going to relate to how comfortable and familiar you are with kimono to begin with, but for me, those dimensions are workable.

With tall height comes the all-important question – is ohashori truly necessary, if you find a kimono that’s wide enough but possibly too short? Nowadays, especially when it comes to wearing vintage pieces, the general consensus is that it’s not entirely necessary, especially for casual, everyday wear. So long as the rest of your kitsuke is entirely impeccable, and you’re ready and willing to back up and explain that it was a conscious descision, very few people (aside from perhaps notoriously fussy author of the Book of Kimono, Norio Yamanaka) are going to fault you.

Naomi has taken the time to scan some wonderful instructions on how to put on a kimono that is too short for full ohashori. Please click the small images for a link to her Flickr, where the full-sized ones are contained.

So there you have it – even Japanese kitsuke books are giving explicit instructions on how to dress, proving it’s not vital. Personally, I would not feel comfortable in a formal kimono (anything above an iromuji & fukuro obi combo) with no ohashori, but for everyday wear or going out to a casual dinner, it’s perfectly fine! A well-fitting kimono is ideal, but that’s no reason to leave things in the back of your closet or tansu. Work with what you’ve got! As soon as I get a few things in the mail I am going to be posting an outfit I’ve got planned out with a too-short kimono.

Since this is the first entry in a series, feel free to leave suggestions on how you accommodate a larger figure, or mention other things you’d like to see me discuss. The next entry I’ve got percolating is going to talk about foundation garments and padding, and why they’re so important.