Guest writer: Meeploo#0005
You may or may not remember my last article on shrines from a few weeks ago. Since then, my inner history fanatic side started to take an interest in the kimono. Kimonos were what defined the Japanese style throughout generations and they are very historically significant. After researching more and more about kimonos, I realized how fascinating the history of these unique garments actually are.
What is a kimono?
The word “kimono” was originally used to refer to clothing as a whole but now it is used to specifically refer to traditional Japanese clothing. Kimonos as we know them today are traditional garments. They are very unique and actually have a lot of intricate symbolism. The kimono is well known for its symbolism; style, motif, color, and even the very material combine to create this sumptuous and elegant garment that we all know today as a kimono. The kimono also has a variety in size/types. Basically A piece of fabric 12 to 13 meters (39 to 43 feet) long and 36 to 40 centimeters (14 to 15 inches) wide is cut into eight pieces. These pieces are then sewn back together to create the basic form of the kimono.
Kimonos often have complex and deep levels of meaning. Cranes are commonly used and are believed to have lived for thousands of years so they symbolized longevity and good fortune. Specific motifs were used to indicate virtues or attributes of the wearer, or relate to the season or occasion such as weddings and festivals where it bestows good fortune on the wearer.
Colours are another important part of the Kimono since they have strong metaphorical and cultural meanings. Dyes are believed to embody the spirit of the plant and also carry over any medicinal properties that they may have over to the kimono. For example the color blue comes from indigo which is used to treat bites and stings, so wearing blue fabric is thought to serve as a repellent to snakes and insects.
The Nara and Heian Periods
The Nara period took place in 710 to 794. In this period, the kimono was the Japanese word for clothes as a whole. Japanese people would wear ensembles consisting of one piece garments or a top and bottom garment. It was later in the Heian period that things started to evolve. The Heian period lasted from 794 to 1192 which was significantly longer than the Nara period.
In the Heian period, a new kimono making technique was developed called the “Straight line cut method”. This technique involves cutting pieces of fabric in straight lines and sewing them together. In making these changes it became significantly easier to make kimonos and also came with other luxuries such as, being easily foldable, being suitable for any weather, could be worn in many layers in the winter for warmth, and could also wear some that are more comfortable in the summer. These luxuries are what helped kimonos become apart of everyday Japanese life.
Actually, over time the practice of wearing multiple layers of kimonos became a fashion in Japan. They started to pay attention to the different colors and how well they went together as a combination. Each color combination represented either seasonal colors or their political class. It was during this time that what we now think of as traditional Japanese color combinations developed.
The Edo and Meiji Periods
The Edo period took place from 1603 to 1868. During this period, the Tokugawa warrior clan ruled over Japan, leaving the country split up into feudal domains.The samurai of each domain wore colors and patterns that were easily recognizable. In these uniforms were kimonos; the kimono makers got better and better during these times due to making all the kimonos for the samurai. Kimonos became an artform and were now very valuable, as parents handed them down to their children as family heirlooms. On a side note, During the Kamakura period (1192-1338) and the Muromachi period (1338-1573), both men and women wore brightly colored kimonos. Warriors dressed in colors representing their leaders, and sometimes the battlefield was as gaudy as a fashion show. During these periods which came before the Edo and Meiji period, they had already started to dress in vibrant colors to support their leaders.
The Meiji Period took place in 1868 to 1912. During the Meiji Period, Japan was heavily influenced by foreign culture.The government tried to get the people to adopt western clothing and habits. The government officials were required to wear western clothing by law for official function in this period. However, this law is no longer in effect. For ordinary citizens, wearing kimonos on formal occasions were required to use garments decorated with the wearer’s family crest, which identified his or her family background.
Nowadays, you won’t see kimonos everywhere you look. They are rarely worn in everyday life and instead worn for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, festivals, and more. Although they aren’t worn too often they are still as unique and wonderful as they were years ago. Kimonos will forever be something unique that have an intriguing history behind them.
Hope you all enjoyed my second article! I also hope that your knowledge on kimonos has grown somewhat through reading this and maybe made you curious to learn even more. I know I’m certainly more curious about the history of things in Japan that aren’t widely discussed. I still believe that the history of things are quite fascinating and hope you all share similar feelings!