Geisha-inspired Meta-kimono outfit

I was so smitten with the kimono that arrived yesterday that I decided to put it on today, despite not having anywhere to go. Sometimes it’s nice to wear kimono just for the sake of wearing kimono – especially delicate vintage pieces.

There’s still a bit of ambiguity about what this piece actually is, but the general consensus on the Immortal Geisha forums is that it’s likely a vintage hikizuri. Because of that, I decided to go with a geisha-inspired outfit. Not a full on costume, but proper kimono with a bit of “flair”, if you will. I paired the kimono up with a red juban, a black and white hakata obi, and used a red shigoki obi in lieu of a momi (the red cloth geisha wear wrapped around their torso under the obi). I am really pleased with how this pulled together, and took far more photos than I usually do. Sorry about that!

Because of the formality, the styling choices, and the age of the kimono, this is not an outfit I’d feel particularly comfortable wearing out of the house, but I think it turned out well and I felt very pretty in it.

It’s not enough. We have to go deeper.

Why yes, that was indeed a reference to Inception as today’s subject line. Not only is it one of my favourite movies of the year (and possibly of all time), it is entirely relevant to the kimono I received this morning. If you’re familiar with Inception, the concept of a “dream within a dream” will be very familiar to you. So imagine someone like me, who dreams of kimono regularly, finding “kimono within kimono.”

When I first saw it on eBay I was completely smitten. It is a kurotomesode (short sleeved, five-crested black formal kimono), which is definitely something I don’t need more of. However, rather than the relatively typical celebratory designs of cranes, flowers, carts, fans, etc, the pattern on this kimono is… kimono! All around the inside and outside hem of this kimono are wooden racks with kimono out to dry, as well as bowls and tools for washing. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I knew I had to have it. It ended up going for a bit more than I’d hoped to spend, but was still well worth the investment.

Both the age and the usage of this kimono are a bit of a mystery. The design is very avante-garde and non-standard for a normal woman, and the hem is slightly padded, which weigh in the favour of it being a hikizuri of some sort. The length of the kimono is also longer than average for its apparent age, but not quite long enough to be proper hikizuri. It may have been made for a particularly short geisha, or possibly just a very stylish woman. It’s hard to say. The sleeves are lined in red, which is a typical element of Taisho and early Showa era kimono, but they are slightly shorter than average for that era. The body is also lined in white, not red, but that may have been replaced at some point during its lifespan.

Update, April 22, 2012 – Naomi recently discovered the existence of a motif known as tagasode, or “whose sleeves?”

Literally, “whose sleeves?.” Painting theme depicting beautiful kimono 着物 draped across a wooden rack, ikou 依桁. The subject was usually painted on folding screens *byoubu 屏風 and became popular in the late Momoyama and early Edo periods (16c and early 17c). Although the subject is highly decorative, the word tagasode has deep literary connotations and probably originated from a line in KOKIN WAKASHUU 古今和歌集 (905): “Iro yorimo/ka koso aware to /omohoyure/tagasode fureshi/yado no ume zomo 色よりも/香こそあはれと/おもほゆれ/誰が袖ふれし/宿の梅ぞも”. Tagasode often implies a beautiful woman whose absence is missed, since beautiful sleeves are thought to evoke the image of an elegant woman and the fragrance arising from her kimono.
In early examples, typical objects belonging to a room in the pleasure quarters or even a beautiful woman herself were depicted; a screen in the Burke Collection, New York (early 17c), includes a musical instrument, koto 琴, while two young women are painted on early 17c screens in the Nezu 根津 Museum, Tokyo. Variations on the tagasode theme became more removed from literary associations, and finally the kimono and stand remains as the only motifs depicted against gold foil background. There are many examples from the Edo period, often by unknown genre artists.

 

source – JAANUS, tagasode

Outside view
Meta-Kimono

Inside view
Meta-Kimono

Outer details
Meta-Kimono

Meta-Kimono

Meta-Kimono

Inner details
Meta-Kimono

Meta-Kimono

It’s absolutely beautiful up close – everything is covered in tiny and delicate patterns, from the kimono to the racks holding them up. The kimono are all outlined in gold couching thread which is in impeccable condition, no drooping or detached threads anywhere that I can find.

I seem to have a knack for finding kimono that are technically kurotomesode but have characteristics that may throw them off. My chidori and matsu hybrid kimono is another prime example. As for this piece, it may be an oddity, and I may not know who wore it or when, but I love it nonetheless.

Pretty new hanhaba obi

I realized recently that I had no hanhaba obi that were not hakata weave. I told myself I should probably remedy that and then promptly got distracted by bigger and shinier things. Such is life. Thankfully, I stumbled across the listing for this little beauty on eBay with less than a few hours to go, tossed out a bid, and won it for a song. The pictures portrayed it as sort of a flat purple with yellow which seemed cute but not particularly exceptional. Imagine my pleased surprise when I opened the mail to discover a rich, shimmering aubergine with bronze accents and a bronzey-gold back side. I am not sure what I’m going to wear it with yet, but it’s beautiful, multi-seasonal, and dressy enough to wear with more slightly formal kimono. I’m so pleased!

Dressy Hanhaba Obi

Dressy Hanhaba Obi Dressy Hanhaba Obi

Birthday dinner at Sakura

My birthday is on this coming Tuesday, but I hate having long, relaxing dinners (especially ones with alcohol involved) during the work-week, so I invited a few friends and my folks to come dinner at a restaurant I’d been wanting to try, Sakura on de la Montagne. I read that the waitresses and staff wore kimono, so I figured I would not stand out too much if I wore one too. What I was not anticipating is that the entire restaurant staff would be Japanese and dressed in simple komon and relatively informal obi. Enter one gigantic white person in a rather dressy kimono and even dressier obi, and hilarity ensues.

I chose to wear an outfit comprised of nothing but gifts, and I still cannot believe how perfectly everything worked out. I paired the pink Takara houmongi from Arian with the Stations of the Tokaido obi from Suara, and finished it off with a beautiful haneri from Naomi and obiage and obijime from my dear friend Jeff. Even the shawl was a gift – my grandmother crocheted it.

The restaurant was absolutely lovely. The decor was decidedly Japanese and we sat in a tatami room, but it was subtle and tasteful – not a cheesy theme restaurant, which unfortunately are the norm around here. The owner, Ishii Noriko-san, was incredibly kind and fussed over my outfit repeatedly. She’s offered to contact a Japanese tutor for me, and insisted I come back again in kimono. The food was delicious and the wait staff were all very kind. They allowed me to order off the “other” menu – the one intended for the Japanese clientele, and I had unadon. They also found out the dinner was for my birthday, and brought the table some delicious green tea ice cream (mine had a sparkler in it!) as well as a special box of yokan for me. I was incredibly touched.

My mother took a photo of Noriko-san and I. Doesn’t she look stylish? I loved her obi so much! This photo also does a great job of illustrating why clothing made for the average Japanese woman is so difficult for me to wear.

Uchikake in the front receiving room

Delicious courses of dinner – shrimp gyoza, salad, sushi, dessert.

Delicious unadon. This wasn’t on the regular menu, I had to special-order it from the “Japanese people” menu XD. I love me some grilled eel. Next time though, I think I will try the katsudon!

I was incredibly surprised and touched when Noriko-san came in with my special birthday yokan.

I also received some incredibly sweet gifts, Andy got me a DVD of a spy series I know he is very fond of, The Sandbaggers, and Leslie gave me two beautiful antique woodblock prints by Kunisada that she purchased in Japan quite a while ago. I was so touched. The whole evening was wonderful.

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!