The Japanese kimono is one of the world’s most fascinating garments, not only because of its beauty but also because of its history, as well as its longevity. While the kimono is an ancient garment with a history going back to Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), it has stood the test of time amazingly well and is still regarded as one of the most attractive (and comfortable) forms of clothing ever created.
In the beginning, kimono (the word in Japanese is the same in its plural form) were simpler in style and were worn with trouser-like skirts known as hakama. Sometime later the hakama was discarded, and the obi, a wide sash, was added. It wasn’t until the Kamakura period ( 1185-1333) that color combinations became fashionable, and today’s formal kimono still reflect colors and designs based on themes, seasons and even family and political ties.
Since ancient times, Japanese men and women have typically worn heavier silk kimono in the fall and winter, and lightweight linen and cotton kimono in the spring and summer.
A simple kimono, such as a household kimono or man’s casual kimono, is worn much like a robe. A classic formal kimono (such as the style that’s synonymous with geisha entertainers) is a much more complicated affair, enhanced with an elaborate obi, a wide sash that is tied around the middle and enhanced with a makura, an obi bustle pad in the back. A cord, known as an obijime, is tied in front to keep the obi in place.
Is the kimono still being worn in Japan? The answer is a resounding yes. The kimono is still a staple costume in many types of traditional Japanese theater, including classic kabuki and noh. In real life, however, most Japanese restrict their kimono-wearing to special events and festivals, such as the November 15 children’s festival Shichi-Go-San, or Shogatsu (January 1-4), the Japanese New Year.
However, you can still see the kimono being worn in the streets of Kyoto, Japan’s center of kimono culture — although chances are that most of the people wearing kimono will be tourists. Kyoto is also the site of Japan’s famed geisha schools and teahouses, and tourists spend hours waiting for a glimpse of these talented kimono-clad performers. According to those in the know, if you want a photo, the best place to wait is in the historic Gion district at around 5:45 pm, when geisha are on their way to their evening engagements.
While in Kyoto, you can purchase a kimono from one of the town’s many specialty kimono shops, as well as rent them by the hour. When you do, be sure to pick up the proper tabi socks (with a separate big toe) and zori (kimono sandals) to complete your outfit. You can even get a geisha makeover, complete with fancy kimono, makeup and studio photos of yourself, for a reasonable price.
Each year, thousands of people in the US learn Japanese online, teaching themselves Japanese words and vocabulary via websites. If you’re wondering how to learn Japanese online or how to read kanji, be sure to visit Nihongo Master, which offers a wide range of Japanese language lessons for every level. While you learn, Nihongo Master online also entertains you with manga-style comics and puzzles, making lessons not only more fun but easier to relate to and remember.
One of the best ways to learn Japanese is to take a language trip, where you can immerse yourself in the written and spoken language — as well as the culture — of this fascinating country. If you love the history of kimono, you can make it a kimono trip as well by taking a journey to Kyoto. For many, a trip to Japan isn’t complete without seeing at least one kimono-clad geiko (the Kyoto word for geisha) or maiko (apprentice geiko), either in performance or walking to a gig. While you’re there, be sure to treat yourself to an authentic kimono from one of Kyoto’s many kimono shops. It’s the best possible souvenir you could bring home from a trip to Japan.