Gothic Landscape Houmongi

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Every so often, you come across a piece that you know you’re just meant to have. Sometimes it’s immediate, and you splurge and buy it. Sometimes you’re not that lucky, and you miss the opportunity. Take solace in the knowledge that eventually, it will find its way back to you.

This curious piece came up for sale, and at the time I didn’t have the money for it. It was purchased by a member of the Immortal Geisha forums, and I happily admired it from a distance, when she posted photos of herself wearing it. Time passed, and she got engaged, and sadly had to sell parts of her collection to fund the wedding. This time, I was ready. I swooped in like a bat in the night (can you tell the mood of the kimono is rubbing off on me? Either that, or the fact that I am currently watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold while writing this) and snapped it up when she put it up for sale.

Damn, was it ever worth the wait. I am fascinated by this kimono. It’s got swirly wrought iron gas lamps, Victorian-style buildings, and what appear to be a series of small grave markers. It reminds me of London in the late nineteenth century.

I wonder if the artist who designed and painted this piece had the same scenes in mind – and if so, what possessed them to make such an odd and unexpected kimono? If not, what were they trying to evoke with this piece, and what would I see if my Western-minded bias were not getting in the way?

Sadly, I’ve not had the opportunity to wear this yet. The woman I bought it from bundled it with a funky shimmery blue-green obi that has a pattern reminiscent of paving stones, and they coordinate very well, but I can’t help think this kimono would look particularly amazing with my equally weird blackbird obi. Crows flying over London, surveying their territory. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the obi re-lined soon, and be able to put together an outfit that does both pieces justice.

Katsura Rikyu: Imperial Villa of the Moon

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Katsura Today I was lucky enough to attend the Festival Internationale des Films sur l’Art (International Festival of Films on Art) showing of a lovely little documentary, Katsura Rikyu: Imperial Villa of the Moon.

I went with my mother and our friend Leslie. I’d sort of wanted to wear kimono, but my grandmother is currently in the hospital and we stopped by for a visit before the film, and it’s snowing and muddy out right now, so I settled on haori over western clothing. I paired my black haori with red urushi kiku with a red cowl-neck and some dressy jeans, and felt comfortable and not overdressed. It was nice.

The film itself was visually breathtaking, but sadly light on content. It was a short film about the Katsura Imperial Villa, focusing on the architecture and gardens.

From Wikipedia:

Its gardens are a masterpiece of Japanese gardening, and the buildings are even more important, one of the greatest achievements of Japanese architecture. The palace includes a shoin (“drawing room”), tea houses, and a strolling garden. It provides an invaluable window into the villas of princes of the Edo period.

As they are some of the most stunning and well-preserved examples of traditional Japanese imperial architecture, I was hoping for more substance. There were many lovely detail and overhead shots of the beautifully and accurately restored interior of the main building, outbuildings, and meticulously manicured and landscaped gardens. However, the narrator repeatedly left me hanging. Every time he’d get involved in a subject – be it the history of the Prince Toshihito, the type of rare cypress used as support beams, or the way the walls were painted in a manner to take advantage of shifting moonlight – every time, I’d get engaged and interested, and rather abruptly, the subject would change.

The whole documentary feels almost like a summary of a longer series. I enjoyed it immensely, it was a lovely little gem of Japanese aesthetic, and it was stunning to watch, I just wish it had gone into more depth. I would recommend it to anyone interested in traditional architecture and gardens, but not as a source of serious or academic information or resources, simply as a lovely and relaxing bit of eye and brain candy.

*image courtesy of Wikipedia

Happy Accidents

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At this point I have enough kimono and obi that when I buy new items, I try to justify them by pairing them with an item I already own. Lately though, I’ve been making ridiculous impulse purchases with no real forethought about coordination. The first such purchase was a purple komon with silver lamé designs of nadeshiko (pinks), hagi (bush clover), and waves. These are all typically high-summer designs but the kimono is thick and fully-lined, so it’s likely for winter, to evoke the warm feeling of summer.

The auction photos made it look like a fairly soft, dusty purple with some faint silver patterns, so imagine my shock when it arrived and was a bright, vivid, grape soda colour with incredibly reflective and irridescent designs all over! My first thought was “Wow!” My second thought, however, was “what on earth am I going to wear this with?!” Thankfully, one of my other recent impulse purchases was a vivid, fire-engine red reversible hakata obi. It arrived yesterday and today, after a horribly long and harrowing work-week involving threats at my store, the police, and my grandmother being hospitalized, I decided it was high time to relax with kimono.

I paired them up with my blue and red shibori obiage and a blue, red, and pink hakata obijime. A red vintage juban with a white and silver haneri and silver zori and some glittery red lipstick and nail polish completed the ridiculously metallic outfit. One thing I did not bother doing was binding my breasts, so I apologize for the less-than-smooth line. I was only wearing this outfit as a test run, not actually going out, and I’m currently experiencing some… um… time-of-the-month tenderness that makes binding somewhat uncomfortable.

It was very windy in the yard today!

I am very pleased with how these play off each other. They’re both dramatic enough to hold their own but not so busy that they clash. I’d never intended to pair them up, but it was serendipity that they arrived so close together.

Netsuke and obi-kazari

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When it comes to kimono, there is not much leeway for jewelry. Necklaces are typically hidden by the collar, brooches would potentially damage the fabrics. Subtle bracelets, a watch, and a ring or two are typically considered acceptable, but if you want big, flashy, statement pieces, the place to go is for obi decorations.

The most common sort of these would be obidome, brooches worn on the obijime. I only have one “real” obidome, and have already written about it. Obidome are possibly one of the most expensive items in a kimono wardrobe, often made with pearls, diamonds, and other rare gems. World-renowned Japanese Jewelry designers such as Mikimoto have been known to make them, and the prices typically reflect this. It’s also rather rare that they trickle down into the secondary Western market, which helps to drive the prices through the roof, even for pieces that don’t have gems or precious metals in them.

However, there’s no reason they (like many other kimono accessories) cannot be improvised! Here are a few easily attainable items I’ve been known to use in lieu of true obidome.

Vintage Agate Brooch

This was a brooch belonging to my grandmother. It’s a large oval chunk of agate with a filigree frame. I’ve got to be careful about this one, since I do pin it to the obijime, but as long as I’m delicate, there’s no permanent damage.

Vintage Leaf Scarf Clip

This is a vintage scarf clip, typically used to hold a silk scarf around your neck without damaging it. The clip mechanism is great for snapping onto a wide, flat obijime. I’ve been meaning to buy more of these, as they are cute, versatile, and very easy to use.

Handmade brass belt buckle

This is a brass belt buckle my grandmother had made when she was younger. The designs on it remind me of typical Japanese motifs, maybe plum and chrysanthemum. It fits well over the knot of a rounded obijime, and looks like it was meant to go there.

Glass leaves

I honestly have no idea what these are intended for. They were on leather cords when I bought them, so I suppose they could be used as necklaces? In any case, they fit well over smaller obijime and add a lovely bit of sparkle to a casual outfit. Unfortunately, they’re glass and they do dangle down so there’s always the risk of clipping them against a table or counter, so I don’t wear these out much.

The other alternative I’m rather fond of are netsuke. Traditionally, netsuke were worn only by men, and used to hold inro (medecine/tobacco pouches) in place on the obi. It is becoming more common for women to wear them though, particularly “cute” ones, with casual outfits. I have a fascination with all things marine, cephalopods in particular. I’ve never seen an octopus or squid on a kimono, however they do show up on netsuke with some regularity, so this is a way for me to inject a little bit of my obsession into my outfits.

Large Octopus Netsuke

Big goofy octopus made of boxwood. Mass-produced replica of an older design, but still awesome.

Goldfish Netsuke

A cute little bubble-eye goldfish. Also mass-produced boxwood.

Catfish and Ball Netsuke

This is slightly older than the previous two, made of a darker, heavier wood. It also has an ivory inset on the other side with an artist’s mark stamped into it. I’m not sure what the ball is supposed to represent, but I think it’s cute.

Tiny Octopus Netsuke

This was a surprise gift from Christy, and it made me squeal with glee. It’s another octopus, but it’s absolutely tiny and delicate and ridiculously adorable. I love how it looks sort of like a grumpy old man. I’ve not worn it yet, but I can’t wait to!

My first furisode – because being a girl both rocks and sucks sometimes.

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I was already in my early twenties when I started collecting kimono, and in my mid-twenties when I became serious about it. I’d always told myself I would never buy a furisode, particularly an expensive one, because I was already borderline too old for them, and I don’t go to dressy enough events to justify one. It’s funny how things change.

I’ve already mentioned Vintage Kimono in Boulder in another entry, but that was actually not my first trip there. I go to Boulder with some frequency, as my best friend lives there. The first time I went, I insisted he take me to “this place that sells kimono”, and he was kind enough to come with me.

I’d promised myself I was not going to go overboard, and asked him to help me with some restraint. I tried on a few things, put them back, found a haori I’d decided I was going to get, and thought I was done. And then I saw this:

Until this point I hadn’t even found a furisode that interested me – most of them were too gaudy, too youthful, or too colourful. This one drew me in from the moment I saw it. The muted, dusty colours, the relatively (by furisode standards) subdued layout, the gorgeous ruffly peonies. I figured I’d just throw it over my shoulders and imagine myself in it, and be done with it.

So I carefully took it off the rack, and draped it over my shoulders. I looked at my friend. At this point I should probably explain that while he is my best friend and confidant, I am also very much in love with him. I know it’s entirely possible for a man and a woman to be just friends but unfortunately I was not that lucky, and this is where being a girl sucks sometimes. When I posed for him while wearing it, he made this goofy half-smile and said “It looks nice on you” and my heart just melted into a pile of hormonal goo. I knew it was coming home with me, no matter that I had no place to wear it, and could barely afford it. To this day, it’s still one of my favourite pieces, both for its appearance, and because of the memories I have of purchasing it. I’ve only tried it on a few times, since dressing myself in furisode is more complicated and convoluted than it’s worth, but I vow that I will wear it out to an event or party at least once before I turn thirty. I will also wear it better than I did here – these photos were taken before I started properly binding my bust, and I know I folded the hem way too short.