Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kimono Seasonal Motifs, Flowers, and Colors: May

Here we are with the month of May, my birth month actually. :) In olden times, the months had different names than the simple ones they do now (Fifth Month, Sixth Month, etc.). May's old name was Satsuki ("the month of growing things"), and is also used as a girl's name.

(If you're looking to buy kimono, I recommend Rakuten for new ones, especially casual wear, and Ichiroya for nice vintage ones!)

The Month of May 


Kimono are lined. Fabrics include kotoshi chirimen or kawari chirimen, and for woven things mon-ishou silks (single-color fabrics woven with patterns in the background) are used. Rinzu silks feature refreshing patterns like flowing water or streams (ryuu-sui), waves (nami), running bamboo (sasa), or a mix of scattered nature and court patterns (go-sho-doki).

Running bamboo

Go-sho-doki pattern

Colors are bright tones while reflecting the season. With dyed patterns, it’s good to go with things like flowers that bloom in the beginning of summer, general evergreen plants (toki-wagi), seasonal scenery (fuu-kei), and dyed gradations.

For the first part of the month, wear lined kimono. Starting in the middle of the month, things like kimono that are unlined on the body part, lined “ro (gauze)”, and lined “sha (gauze)” silks can be worn to stylishly hint at the coming season.

A lined ro kimono

A lined sha kimono


This month, brocade-weave (nishiki-ori) fukuro obi use the same materials as spring obi, but through colors and patterns it’s good to give a sense of summer drawing near.

Rather than multicolored obi, go with monochrome or something like gold/silver brocade to create a cool brilliance. Other than things like tapestry-weave obi (tsuzure), for more lightweight wear you can use shioze or habutae silk obi painted with seasonal designs, or chirimen silk Nagoya obi with dyed patterns.

In the case of lined ro or sha kimono, a medium-weight summer obi is a good match.


Obiage and obijime are similar to spring ones, but the colors and patterns are brighter, losing their darker and more muted tones. Obiage are lightweight chirimen or rinzu. Obijime types include narrow maru-kara-gumi, kanze, or yurugi.

Maru-kara-gumi weave
Maru-kara-gumi obijime

Naga-juban are hitoe: choose light colors featuring things like summer flower patterns or gradation.

Collars are shioze habutae, tabi are lined white calico, and footwear is enamel (vinyl) in light colors.


Use tones, which are highly saturated colors mixed with neutral ones to dull them and make them softer. Examples include light purple (asa-murasaki) C4A3BF, wisteria purple (fuji-iro) AFB4DB, grey-pink (hai-zakura) E6D2C9, light blue (mizu-iro) AFDFE4, celadon (seiji-iro) 60B49F, and turquoise blue (toruko-buru) 40E0D0. 


Peony (botan), flowering dogwood (hana-mizuki), flowers and birds, young bamboo (waka-take), seasonal scenery, gradated patterns, and a mix of scattered nature and court patterns.


Flowering dogwood

Young bamboo

Flowers Associated with May

Paulownia (kiri), bitter orange (tachibana), lily (yuri), green maple leaves (ao-kaede), Japanese iris (hana-shoubu), rabbit-ear iris (kakitsubata), Siberian iris (ayame), pear flower (nashi-no-hana), bamboo (take) specifically young bamboo, deutzia crenata (u-no-hana), gymnaster savatieri (miyako-wasure).

Paulownia (in the bottom image
it's the bottom left circle)

Bitter orange


Green maple leaves

Various irises

Pear flower

See previous section for bamboo.

Deutzia (crenata)

Gymnaster savatieri

Patterns Associated with May 

Flower raft (hana-ikada), both the nock/fletching of an arrow (yahazu or yabane) and armor (yoroi) due to Boys’ Day being in May, hollyhock (aoi) patterns due to Kyoto’s famous Hollyhock Festival (Aoi Matsuri) in May, carriages (mi-kuruma), parade floats (dashi).

Flower raft

Arrow nock/fletching




Parade floats

Original Author Notes

Regarding lined kimono for “furo” (portable stove for boiling water used for summer tea ceremonies):

May is the season of bright green (plants).  With the passing of the 5th, the first day of summer, tea ceremony marks the boundary between spring and summer by switching out the hearth for the portable “furo”.

"Furo", the portable hearth
The tatami mat that replaces the hearth, fresher and greener than the mats around it, heightens the newness that comes with the first tea ceremony of the year to use the “furo” rather than the hearth.

May kimono are lined. Take care to use utensils and arrange the room in a summer-like fashion. Also, remember that winter and spring kimono give a different feeling than summer ones. Avoid creating a heavy look by choosing fresh colors, light fabrics, and simple designs.

The beauty of a kimono lies in its colors and patterns, but how it fits with the obi chosen can also change the impression it gives. While May and October obi like dyed obi and such are light to begin with, we also want their patterns and materials to give a sense of the season. White obi with painted flowers like peony, iris, green maple leaves, wisteria (fuji), and clematis (tessen) might be good for a light feeling.



Also, it’s a popular season for “open-air” tea ceremonies. On days where you’re likely to sweat, it’s good to wear “dou-bitoe” kimono. “Dou-bitoe”, or “chest-single-layer” kimono are kimono where the bottom half, back sleeve edge, and sleeve cuff edge are lined, leaving the chest area and sleeves unlined. When worn, dou-bitoe look like regular lined kimono.

A dou-bitoe kimono

From mid-month on, naga-juban change over to ro and collars become shioze as more ways to dress cooler.

With things like sha lined kimono, even if they get a little water on them they won’t shrink so they’re very handy for long trips or time spent in the “mizu-ya”, the room next to the tea ceremony room where utensils are washed. Even though they’re made of sha, because they are sewn as lined kimono there is no problem (I believe the author means there is no problem with the formality level).

Translator Footnotes

Nothing special this month, but yes, I did use Date replica armor for the armor picture. Go Sendai! XD

Translator Notes

Nothing special this month.

(Notes below repeated from previous months)

-The original author repeats several points, so with certain common terms I am using the Japanese name on first mention only. If you’re unsure of something, feel free to ask and I can clarify.

-The number next to the color name is that color's hex code as used in HTML. Keep in mind the exact shade may vary as well, from what I've seen cross-checking traditional color-name sites with actual kimono vendors.

- As a note, this is my translation of a tea ceremony kimono site. The tea ceremony world, I have learned, is among the strictest when it comes to following proper seasonality rules, so bear in mind that these rules are more stringent than the general thinking for daily and casual kimono wearers.

It’s great if a daily wearer can put together an outfit following all of these rules, but very few will look at you funny if you can’t, as it’s hard and can be expensive to collect all the proper pieces. I’m translating this site more as part of my efforts to add to the world of English-language kimono information for those who don’t speak Japanese.


Sana E said...

Hi! I'm a big fan of your work! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us. I just have some questions: I live in New Zealand where the weather is the opposite - we have summer here at the end of the year (Christmas time) and a cold rainy winter in June, July and August. My graduation is in May which is end of Autumn/beginning of winter. My boyfriend and I want to wear kimono. He is Japanese but doesn't know what to wear and hesitant to call his parents back home! So we come to you!

It is a semi formal university event and I am the graduate but he will also graduate at masters level around the same time/season. So I want to wear hakama - I am unmarried and in my 20s. Do I follow the seasonal motif of Japan or New Zealand? Can I wear other kimono types with hakama or only ko furisode? I'm planning to buy a vintage kimono from ichiroya & a hakama from rakuten- is this a good idea? Should hakama be of a certain quality? I found so many for sale online. For men, what's a semi formal kimono exactly? They all look the same to us! Thanks so much! I hope to hear from you soon :)

Christina said...

Thank you so much and congratulations to you both!

I'll try to help but I'm no professional: From what I have seen and heard, the rules get a lot looser when kimono are worn outside of Japan precisely because of things that you mention (different climate, nature, etc.).

However, graduation means a very specific outfit in Japan for women, the furisode/hakama pairing you've chosen.

So I think a hakama/kimono choice in general, pan-seasonal motifs (if you see more than one season on a kimono it marks it as year-round) would probably be a safe choice if that's what you would like to do.

Ko-furisode is the typical choice for the kimono in that pairing, but I've also seen the more formal longer-sleeved type of furisode worn as well.

The only issue with mixing the silk kimono from Ichiroya and the (likely) polyester hakama is that ideally you don't mix fabrics. You could go the other way and just buy a full graduation set from a vendor on Rakuten: both pieces will be polyester but they'll match and be easier to care for.

Some Japanese girls go for easy-care (and much cheaper) polyester graduation outfits so the fabric itself isn't an issue for the event.

Men almost always go for Western suits at graduation, at least from what I've seen and heard, but if he'd like to pair with you, he has a lot of freedom as men's kimono tend to be all-purpose affairs varying mostly by which fabric is used (sort of like Western men's clothing).

The montsuki (classic super-formal black with white striped hakama and five family crest set) set would feel too formal. Other than that, I would say just look for a plain or dyed pattern silk kimono, alone or with hakama and haori to dress it up. There are also easy-care washable men's kimono out there on Rakuten if care and price are a concern, but I can't vouch for any particular vendor.

Let me know if you have any more questions and congratulations once again! :D