Book Review – Kazari: Decoration and Display in Japan 15th-19th Centuries

Kazari: Decoration and Display in Japan 15th-19th Centuries, edited by Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere
ISBN-10: 0810967480
Amazon.com listing

A very kind and generous friend of mine recently sent me this book she found while tidying up. Knowing my interest in Japanese culture and arts, she figured I would appreciate it more than a used bookstore would, and I am incredibly grateful. While this may not relate directly to kimono (though there are some gorgeous examples in the book) I figured some of my readers might be interested in this.

This book is a beautiful, lush photographic catalogue of Japanese decoration from the 15th through to the 19th century. It collects all aspects of decorative items, from paintings to dishware to kimono and shares them in large full-colour photographic plates. The texts are in-depth and interesting without being ponderous or overly academic, and the author makes a concentrated effort to explain terms transliterated from the Japanese. There are essays for each category and further elaboration when these categories overlap.

As interesting as the text is though, it is definitely the photographs that make this book worth the value. It is a large, hardcover volume, similar to a coffee-table art book. The photographs are huge, sharp, and full of detail. The book is far too large and the spine far too stiff to fit well into a standard flatbed scanner, but I have scanned a few pages as an example. I apologize for the shadow and blur in the centre.

I would recommend this book for:


– Anyone interested in the history of decorative arts in Japan as a whole.
– Anyone looking to learn of the evolution of practical and graphic design.
– Anyone looking for some lovely Japanese eye candy.

I would not recommend this book for:


– Anyone looking for procedural how-tos for Japanese art.
– Anyone interested in books specifically about kimono.

 

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Uchikake-cuchi-coo.

Have you ever come across something that you knew you were never going to use or wear, but for one reason or another had to have anyways? Yeah, that’s how I ended up with Japanese wedding attire.

Uchikake are technically any sort of ceremonial decorated over-kimono (not to be confused with things like haori or michiyuki, which are everyday outerwear). They were commonplace with the upperclass as well as high-class courtesans up until the Edo era, and started losing popularity from then on. At this point, they are pretty much exclusively worn by a bride on her wedding day, over top of a full trailing furisode and obi ensemble. They can be white, as mine is, or brightly coloured with celebratory motifs. Their primary characteristics are the heavy, padded hem and long length (as they are meant to be worn trailing) and often a front decorated with knots or other ornamentation. They are worn over the kimono and obi, and so are not overlapped or folded at the waist. This allows for much more elaborate decorations.

I have no plans to get married any time in the remotely near future, and even if I did I would not wear this piece. I may consider wearing a dressy kimono for the reception, or part of it, but this is too ornate for my tastes, and too “thematic” for any sort of ceremony I’d feel comfortable with.

However, when I was working in the computer lab at a college several years back, one of the professors overheard me discussing my collection, and told me his wife had purchased a kimono as a decoration while they were vacationing there in the 80s, and had tired of it. It was currently living in a garbage bag in their closet, and would I be interested in seeing/buying it?

I said yes, expecting it to be some sort of tourist trappery with hideous embroidery. Imagine my shock when he pulled this poor baby out of the bag!

I offered him a price that to this day I still feel guilty for. If I’d purchased this online, the money I gave him would just about have covered the shipping costs, and nothing else.

This is a modern piece, I’d guess 1970s or later, but it’s still lovely.

The base is a pattern of peacocks and art-nouveau style flourishes, which is a refreshing departure from the typical crane motif.

The peacocks themselves are rather smug-looking, which always makes me chuckle.

It also has some beautiful knotwork at the wrists, and a lovely false-layered effect that evokes the twelve-layered Juunihitoe of Heian court outfits.

Maybe one day I’ll do a courtesan-inspired photoshoot or something and get a chance to drag this beast onto my shoulders again, but for now I am content to simply admire it.

Hakuna Hakata

First off, happy new year to anyone reading this! I hope the coming year is safe, healthy, happy, and filled with beautiful things.

But now onto the actual point of this entry – my love affair with hakata-ori (hakata weave). Guess who watched The Lion King recently? XD I don’t know many people who collect kimono who don’t appreciate the supple, geometric beauty of hakata textiles. I do know one, but she’s silly.

Hakata is a beautiful distinctive woven textile from the city of Hakata in the Fukuoka region of Japan. It’s typically a single thickness, similar in texture to gros-grain ribbon. Generally it’s decorated in a geometric design in a contrasting colour, symbolic of Buddhist treasures. However, more organic or fanciful hakata does exist! I recently missed out on the chance to bid on a white and red hakata obi with fish on it. 🙁

Other terms for hakata weave can include honchiku or honchikuzen and hira-ori, so if you are searching online, try looking for these terms as well.

For women, hakata tends to evoke a more casual feel, although geiko commonly wear them with more formal kimono. Men, however, are lucky and the bulk of men’s kaku obi are made of this sort of textile.

My personal collection of hakata textile is small, but I hope to change that eventually. All of the hanhaba obi I own at the time of this entry are hakata. I also own several fukuro-width obi of various formality levels.

Cream ro hakata fukuro


A soft creamy-white synthetic ro hakata. It’s technically fukuro, but the only ro kimono I currently own is a komon, and when folded in half this obi could easily pass for being something more casual. That’s part of the magic of hakata.

Green and gold hakata fukuro


Proof that you can indeed dress up hakata. This is a rich slightly blue-leaning green with white and soft gold weaving. It’s not yellow, it’s definitely gold-coloured, and definitely too dressy-feeling for a casual outfit. It has the perfect blend of vintage “laissez-faire” and modern dressy feeling for the vintage furisode I wear it with.

53 Stations of the Tokaido hakata nagoya


This is a particularly special piece to me. Within my kimono collection, I collect items with the 53 Stations of the Tokaido motifs. I found this one online and as soon as I’d saved enough money to purchase it, I found out someone I know online had beaten me to the punch. Through the kindness of said person and Yuka and Ichiro at Ichiroya, it found its way into my grubby little hands. Geometric hakata, organic hakata, and Tokaido motifs! Gleeeee!

Last, but definitely not least I have the two non-traditional hakata obi Naomi sent me in a box of goodies. I’ve yet to coordinate these with an outfit, but I will soon!

Pale and dark pink fukuro


Two soft, dusty shades of pink with white, black and yellow accents. I love how fun this one is. Definitely on the more casual end of things, I’m considering pairing it up with the purple yabane komon I bought on my birthday.

Orange and pink fukuro

This is such a fun and unexpected colour combination. A similar dusty pink to the previous one, mixed with a bright reddish orange and vivid green. I honestly have no idea what I’m going to wear this one with, it’s a challenge!

That’s it for my hakata, for the time being, but damned if I won’t be getting more eventually!

It wasn’t a rock! It was a rock lobster!

This weekend I was invited to a holiday party at a friend’s. Initially, I’d planned to wear kimono but the bottom dropped out of the thermometer and it was nearly -15 so I scrapped those plans. I waffled about what to wear for nearly an hour, had a mini-breakdown, and decided to go with the kimono anyways, since I’d be in a warm car and a warm house for the bulk of the evening. Boy am I glad I did!

I decided to pair my awesome spiny lobster nagoya obi with my red and white yabane komon. I added a black and gold haneri, a red obijime, and a black obiage with red polka-dots. Unfortunately not visible in any of the photos are black tabi and red and gold zori. I pulled together what I feel is a rather Mamechiyo Modern style outfit.

Closeup of the awesome obi:

And my hamcat:

To keep warm, I put on my huge ridiculous snowboots and an adorable brown fleece wrap with pompoms. It looked cute, fit over the kimono, and kept me toasty warm. I think I am going to need to invest in more of these!

The outfit got a great reception from many of the party guests, including someone who had recently attended a Japanese wedding and said my outfit brought back fond memories for him. I also matched the hostess’ decor!

The coolest part by far though, was meeting a couple of awesome fans of Japanese culture and chatting with them. Emilie is interested in getting into kimono and I hope to help her along with that, and Nick already owned a yukata that he ran home to change into when he saw my outfit! In the freezing cold weather! We couldn’t resist geeking out for a few pictures 🙂

When fandom hand-gestures collide! Turns out we’d both watched the new Star Trek movie the night before. Clearly, this kooky kimono meeting was fate XD. Pardon the wonky Vulcan gesture on my part – my pinkies have been dislocated so many times due to my own clumsiness that they don’t move correctly.

All in all, it was a great evening. It’s one of the first times I’ve worn kimono out to a large gathering of people unfamiliar with my hobby, so I’m quite pleased with the positive reactions! Expect more pictures of social events in the future!

Back in black, birthday-style.

In my entry about my birthday purchases, I mentioned that I’d gotten one other special piece that I was going to devote an entire entry to. Well, I finally had some free time today to devote to putting an ensemble together and dressing in that piece. Without further ado, allow me to present my kurotomesode/houmongi hybrid mystery kimono!

At first glance, it looks like a subdued kurotomesode, and that is where it was hanging at the kimono showroom. At first I was going to skip over the whole rack, having no real need for more formal items, but I can never pass up a good ogle. While I was rummaging, I noticed something a bit out of the ordinary about this particular piece – there were designs on the sleeves! Kurotomesode, the most formal kimono for married women, is typefied by several things. They are fully black, they have five white crests (three in the back, two in the front), they often have a white second layer known as a hiyoku, and they have designs on the hem only. This one fit all the criteria, but was thrown off by the decorated sleeves.

For the ensemble, I was inspired by the subdued, chic look of geiko in their formal outfits. I paired it up with a warm gold fukuro obi I received as a birthday gift, a white obiage with red shibori clouds, a green and gold obijime to highlight the green in the kimono. Underneath it all I wore a red juban with a lushly textured white and silver haneri. I also put my pearl necklace on, since it was a birthday gift and I felt it was subtle and classy enough not to look out of place.

Full view of the kimono

Close-up of the hem designs

Inside the hem, and the white hiyoku

Design on the sleeve