Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sweet Lolita Yukata

If you're familiar with the Japanese street fashion Lolita (bell-shape dresses and skirts, modest and high-quality clothing), you may know the big brands put out yukata every summer. Gothic Lolita-friendly brands like h. Naoto might have ones dripping in bats and chains, while brands known for Sweet (cute/pink/girly) Lolita like Angelic Pretty debut yukata covered in things like strawberries and lace patterns.

I never saw any I really liked until I chanced upon this red and pink one for sale secondhand, made by popular brand Metamorphose temps de fille (or "Meta" for short). It's almost too cute for my personal style, but I love it anyway!

As you can see, it keeps the traditional shape and construction of yukata while working in non-traditional motifs. For a more muted Sweet feel, I tossed on an obi with hearts, a rose and pearl corsage, and added a little pink jewel crown for a hair accessory. For shoes I'm thinking traditional geta (sandals) with pink straps or cute pink low heels.

I may wear this at the next convention I do a panel at... we'll see!

So, do you have any non-traditional yukata? Send me pictures and I'll be happy to post them. :)

And if you'd like a street-fashion style yukata, try these on Amazon:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Update Change Round 2

If you look at the dates, you can see I missed my first weekly update that I said I'd start doing.

I've thought long and hard about this, and I don't want to quit this blog completely but my new job has taken away a huge chunk of the spare time I used to have. So, realistically looking at things, I'm going to change to occasional updates when I have the time. It's been a lot of fun doing this blog and learning new things along the way, and I don't want to give that up just yet. (I also hope y'all have enjoyed reading or learned something new yourself! :) )

For tonight's bit of news, Yamatoku is running a few sales until Dec. 7, including one for $9.99 kimono and one for children's kimono. When I recently bought something off Ebay from them, they wrote and said they couldn't ship anything unless it was sent sea mail due to the recent ban imposed on airmail going to the US (see a few posts down), so be prepared for a 6-8 week delay if you order anything from their sale.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Moving to Weekly Updates

I'm not sure how long this will go on or if it'll become permanent, but for now I'm going to change to weekly posts rather than daily posts. My new job is wonderful, but isn't leaving me a whole lot of time for the blog.

I hope to make each weekly post a longer and more info-packed one than the short daily posts, but we'll give it a shot and see how it goes. ^_^; My first one will go up this weekend sometime. If you have a topic you'd like to see me write about, feel free to make requests!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What to Wear to Meet the President

Kimono formality, while generally outlined by TPO (time, place, occasion) charts, can be as tricky as Western clothing when it comes to what to wear for what event.

If you'd asked me what would be appropriate women's kimono for meeting a U.S. president, I might have gone for a gold fukuro obi and kurotomesode, the black with hem-patterns kimono type and the highest-level formality for a married woman. However, on Obama's recent trip to Kamakura to visit the temple that houses a famous giant Buddha, the temple director Michiko Sato wore a fairly subdued fukuro obi and houmongi (visiting wear), which is two steps down from a kurotomesode (kurotomesode, then iro(color background)-tomesode, then houmongi). Takao Sato, the man with her, is the temple's chief monk and is not dressed in typical men's wear.

After following the link, you can click back and forward a few more photos to see more of their outfits and the Buddha.

Given Michiko's age (tradition requires more subtle colors for older women) and the nature of the event (walking around the temple and chatting rather than a formal dinner, etc.), her outfit makes sense to me, and it was interesting to see a real-life example of a situation not found on most TPO charts. ;)

Regarding Kamakura itself, it is a pretty day-trip out of Tokyo and worth going to, but a little touristy in spots. If I'm remembering right, you can also actually walk down into the Buddha as he's hollow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Japan Post Suspending US Shipping

No news is sometimes good news! Sadly, my first post back after a week of insanity (I've just become a middle school English teacher, which is both exciting and a lot of work!) is some bad news for any Americans who buy kimono, obi, or just about anything else from anyone in Japan:

In what will hopefully be a very temporary move, the Japanese postal system is going to stop shipping packages over 16 oz. to U.S. destinations November 17th this year.

Citing terrorist concerns, SAL, airmail, and EMS are being shut down as of the 17th until further notice. The Japanese original notice is here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Costuming: Wig Tips

If you're into cosplay or costuming and like taking it to a truly detailed level, authentic human hair Japanese wigs really perfect the whole look when it comes to traditional Japanese costumes. You can actually find them on Ebay, under "katsura", though be warned that most will technically be wedding or generic wigs rather than the higher-end ones for geisha or maiko.

However, as most Westerners don't know the difference, I don't see a problem in wearing a generic/wedding one as long as you don't claim it's a super-authentic geisha wig you yanked off a real geisha's head while on your trip to Japan. ^_^; (While maiko wigs are more distinctive, geisha ones are very similar to wedding ones in appearance.)

Should you get your hands on one of these babies, here are some tips or things you might not have known beforehand, based on my own wig purchase:

1. They are styled with camellia oil, I believe, so they have a distinct scent that I don't mind but can be a bit strong at times.

2. The wigs have a hard base, so you're more or less wearing a football helmet. I've made it eight hours in mine with some discomfort that I was able to alleviate by minutely shifting it every few hours, but I've heard the average runs more to 3-4 hours for comfortable wear.

3. For my American readers, Sally's Beauty Supply has $4 styrafoam heads, in case your wig didn't come with the traditional stand and case.

4. The wig adds a lot of mass all around your head, so if you can leave it off if you have to take any tight car rides, etc. to your destination.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Job!

Life can take surprising turns, and to make a long story short this past week I woke up Monday in one job not expecting anything new, and ended up starting yesterday with another, much better one. :D

That's why I haven't had the chance to update for a couple of days, with everything going on regarding that, but I hope to settle back into daily posting very soon.

Today's tidbit about Japan is that changing jobs, while becoming more common, isn't something you see a whole lot of compared to America. Traditionally, you worked for one company until you retired, and firings were rare. Rather than fire you, the company would move you into progressively smaller or more inconvenient arrangements (smaller rooms, far-away desks) and give you less and less work to do until you finally took the hint and quit on your own.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Common Motifs: Momiji - Fall Maple Leaves

Long time, no motifs!

Tonight's motif is momiji 紅葉, literally "red leaves", referring to leaves changing color in the fall. It can also refer to fall maple leaves specifically. Naturally, they're a fall motif and are easily identifiable by their shape. Below is a wedding maru obi featuring momiji mixed in with chrysanthemums, and a wedding uchikake sleeve.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Craft Resource: YokoDana Kimono

If you're more interested in crafting with kimono than wearing them, check out online dealer YokoDana Kimono. They specialize in bulk kimono and fabrics meant more for creative sewing and design uses rather than straight-up wear.

I haven't ordered from them myself, as a note, but they seem to have a positive reputation online. If you've dealt with them in the past, feel free to comment with your experience!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Culture: Rain Woman

Tonight, after a very long dry spell, rain is drumming steadily on the roof of the house. In honor of the storm, our topic is "rain woman", "ame onna" 雨女.

Any woman who rain seems to follow is an "ame onna." If every outdoor party or event you go to gets rained out, you might find yourself being called this.

While in Japan I made friends laugh with my own tweak on this, jokingly labeling myself "jishin onna" (earthquake woman) as it felt like they happened right after I moved to a new place. Of course, when you come from Houston, where the ground never moves, you're a bit hypersensitive to the Earth wiggling. ^_^;

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

For those of you ghosts and ghouls still awake, Happy Halloween! Your treat is a super scary photo of one of our house decorations that's been up all month.

Nothing says absolute terror like a cuddly bat decoration hanging on top of a Hiroshige print calendar. The pine trees make a strangely fitting background...

Random Japanese fact for the night: Unlike Western tradition, the bat can have positive and lucky connotations.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Weekend: Ghost Story Game

In Japan in the 1700s, there was a huge surge in the popularity of ghost stories. One of the traditions that came out of this was Hyaku Monogatari Kaidankai "100 Ghost Stories" 百物語怪談会, a fun one easily adapted to Halloween.

The party itself, ideally a small one, takes place at night. After eating and drinking, partygoers gather in a room lit only with a ring of candles. Everyone goes around telling a ghost story or something creepy that's happened to them or someone they know. After each story is finished, a candle is put out. The idea is that the longer you tell the stories, the darker the room gets, until finally you put the last candle out and you're left in darkness (until someone spooks someone else or everyone starts laughing, one of the two. ;) )

The original 1700s game featured 100 candles and was supposed to be an all-night thing. Depending on how many people are there,  I'm guessing 10-20 would probably do it for your average modern audience.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Weekend: Horror Movies

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so the next three days will be themed appropriately. :)

Tonight is a short list of my favorite Japanese horror movies, all old enough to be found subtitled in English. As a note on these recommendations, if you're interested in renting any of these, I'm more of a Paranormal Activity/Blair Witch horror fan than torture-fests like Saw (blech).

1. The Ring (Ringu)
2. The Grudge (Juon)
3. One Missed Call (Chakushin Ari)

All of these also have allegedly faithful American remakes, which I'm told are scarier than the Japanese originals due to Hollywood's larger effects budgets, but I haven't gotten around to seeing them.

Unlike most optimistic American horror (there is a chance you can defeat, at least temporarily, Freddy/Jason/Myers), Japanese horror often includes the idea that you are ultimately powerless against evil spirits, which makes it a refreshing change from the "main character aura" that saves most American movie characters no matter how contrived the situation has to become to save them.

If a Japanese character is in danger, you're not actually sure if they're going to survive or not. Does anyone make it out alive in the three above movies? I'm not telling... you'll just have to watch!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ichiroya Update: Meiji-Era Kabuki Costume

Online dealer Ichiroya's update tonight includes a flashy Kabuki samurai costume kataginu (the big pointy shoulder vest) from the Meiji period, which was 1868-1912. Who says women have all the fun outfits? :D

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting to Know Asia: Mandarin Chinese

Continuing this series, the purpose of which is to help learn what is Japanese by learning what is not, tonight we're going to touch very briefly on the differences between spoken Japanese and spoken Mandarin (Chinese).

It may seem like a random thing to differentiate between, but it can be helpful at times for beginning Japanese learners. (For example, if a friend sends you a Youtube TV clip and wants to know what they're saying, you can at least know that you're not understanding because it's a different language, not because your Japanese is poor.)

Spoken Japanese is largely monotone, like English. We may go up or down depending on our emotions, but the meaning stays the same no matter what our tone is. "Great!", with high-pitched, real excitement, is still "Great." when we drag it out in a lower, sarcastic tone.

Mandarin, on the other hand, has four different tones, and the same word said with each tone has a completely different meaning. There are great audio examples of a single word, "ma", and its different tones and meanings here.

To hear the changing tones of Mandarin in action, check out the opening scene of the 2002 Jet Li action movie Hero, a gorgeous and interesting martial arts movie (the talking starts about two minutes in).

For comparison, watch the trailer for the 2001 Japanese film Onmyoji, an entertaining historical action/mystery about legendary onmyoji (a kind of sorcerer) Abe no Seimei.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rokuyou: Lucky and Unlucky Days of the Week

If you've ever seen a Japanese calendar, even if you can't read any you might have seen a cycle of kanji characters that appear on each day and repeat after six days.

These are "roku-you" 六曜 (roh-koo-yoh, "six days") and are a traditional sort of repeating horoscope laid down over the normal seven day week.

 A 2010 calendar from Microsoft Office, with the "six days" listed under each date.

The rokuyou days range from luckiest of all, "Tai-an" 大安 ("Big Luck/Peace"), down to "Butsu-metsu" 仏滅 (basically "The Day Buddha Died"), with a range in between of varying luck at different times of day or luck involving your friends.

While people don't pay much attention to the rokuyou in their daily life, they're popular enough that wedding halls charge the most on Tai-an, the most popular and auspicious day for ceremonies, and many funeral halls/crematoriums are closed on "Tomo-biki" (a lucky day outside of noon but also with the meaning of "friend pull"or sharing luck with friends, avoided in the case of the funeral homes due to the desire to keep the deceased from pulling their friends along to the grave).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kimono Photography Tips

If you want to take a photo of yourself in your favorite kimono coordinate, how can you make your pictures look better? Here are a few general and kimono-specific photography tips for your next time in front of a camera. :)

1. Lighting - Good lighting can really increase the quality of a photo, and bad lighting can destroy it. Even if you have a point-and-click camera, you can still take advantage of good lighting situations by shooting either in the early morning or late afternoon (when the sun is not directly overhead and making harsh shadows), on overcast days (when light is soft and diffused), or near windows and natural light if you're inside.

2. Composition - There are whole books written on this, but a couple of basic tips are try not to cut any limbs off at the joints, and leave enough "breathing" room around yourself or the subject so the focal point/person doesn't seem crammed into the photo.

3. Hips In! - This sounds like some kind of fight move... Anyway, while this is a personal opinion, I say in general don't stand with your hip stuck out, as people often like to pose in Western clothing, unless you're going for something over-the-top and funky. The effect is usually that you put your kimono on crooked because it's trying to follow the line of your hips and ends up looking uneven across the bottom. Stand straight up for a cleaner line.

4. Straightforward? - Standing straight on into the camera, especially in all the layers kimono adds, can make you seem much bigger than you actually are. Turn slightly to one side or the other for a more natural silhouette.

5. Garage Door of Doom - I coined this phrase when talking about Goth outfit shots back in the day. (A super-cool, super-Goth outfit worn by some hot super-Goth posing super-Gothically loses just a bit of its visual punch when the photo was taken in front of a beige garage door.) Basically it means take the time to find a background that will add positively to the theme of the image, or at least be neutral.

Like bad lighting, distracting or ill-fitting backgrounds can detract from the overall photo. You don't need a koi pond and bonsai garden behind you, but at least go for a plain wall or set of trees.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Upcoming Movies: The Warrior's Way

Some movies you see for the plot, others just because they're pretty. Or you do if you're me, anyway.

The Warrior's Way, starring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and South Korean actor/entertainer Jang Dong-gun and due out December 3 this year, looks to be a little of Column A and a whole lot of Column B.

A mishmash of the post-apocalyptic dystopian future theme (I think?), Westerns and samurai dramas, this movie looks like what would happen if you had a bunch of really drunk guys sitting around going "Dude. You know what would be AWESOME? Cowboys against ninjas. Duuuuuuuuuude. And the ninjas would be like flying all over the place and the cowboys would have Gatling guns and... duuuuuuuuude."

But unlike most drunk guys, these drunk guys had a film budget. And the producer of Lord of the Rings.

Anyway, while the cliched plot isn't grabbing me (cold, badass assassin quits rather than kill an innocent, flees to another land, boss comes to collect), the highly stylized look of the movie and action sequences could make it worthwhile. I'm mentioning it here because it seems from the trailer as if the main Asian culture they're pulling from is Japan, even if it's more of an influence than a historically accurate take on anything in particular.

So, who do you think would win in a fight? Cowboys or ninjas? ;)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And The Winner Is...

First of all, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who entered. It's been fun seeing bonus point pictures and hearing from you!

And now, the winner of the "Thank You For 10,000" giveaway is...

Reader Saffi! Congratulations and I hope you enjoy your new yukata and obi set. :D I've sent you an email, so please reply to that instead of here.

If you didn't win, there may be another chance! I'm thinking of doing another giveaway when I hit 20,000, and considering that this blog is getting twice as many visits as it did just a couple of months ago, that may be sooner than expected. ^_^;

Congrats again to Saffi, and thank you again to everyone who visits, reads, and supports this blog. You're all very much appreciated!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Japanese Fashion: Mori Girl, Dolly Kei, Lolita

Kimono, like any other type of clothing, doesn't exist in a vacuum. The people who wear and the companies that make and style kimono also of course live in the larger world of modern fashion and style trends, ripples of which can at times be seen in the kimono world.

So, every now and then I'll do a post about Japanese fashion, from street to high-end, to add a bit more depth to the cultural "background" kimono come from.

Tonight, focusing on street fashions, I invite you to visit my friend Martha's blog, Moss Garden. She has great, objective summaries of mori girl, dolly kei, and Lolita styles, photo examples included.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Language: Counting

English is routinely called one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. There is one instance, though, where English is nice and easy: counting. One piece of paper, one rose stem, one person. All of these are the word "one".

In Japanese, "one" varies. Long story short, "ichi" (each-ee) is "one" in general, but needs different add-ons to work in some situations and gets replaced entirely in others.

One piece of paper - ichi-mai (-mai is used with things that are flat) 一枚

One bottle of beer/rose stem/etc. - ippon (hon/pon/bon is used with cylinder shapes) 一本

One person - hitori (counting people uses funky exceptions for one or two people, but evens out to regular numbers plus "nin" from three on: hitori (1 people), futari (2 people), san-nin (3 people), yon-nin (4 people), etc. 一人

The good news in counting is that if you're just starting out in Japanese, there's a default general counting system (-tsu) used with many items and understood even if used improperly with things like the examples above.

Hitotsu (1 thing) 一つ
Futatsu (2 things) 二つ
Mittsu (3 things) 三つ

Remember, these are different than if you're just counting out loud, "1, 2, 3", which would be "Ichi, ni, san". Hitotsu and such are used when counting things.

There are many more specific counters, everything from books to animals, but again, if you're just starting don't be overwhelmed and focus on the "tsu" system first. It's how Japanese kids learn themselves, I've been told. :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reader Drawing Photo Gallery

Going along with the yukata contest post this morning (two days left once we hit midnight!), it's time to show off the "bonus points" photos several readers sent along that earned them a double entry into the drawing. :D

(You still have time to enter if you'd like to, bonus points included: just follow the link on the top right portion of this page.)

It's wonderful seeing people enjoying kimono all over the world, from Arizona to the Netherlands: Thanks so much for reading this blog, and for entering!

A photo session that featured lovely pieces from C Law's collection

 Eva's fun maiko art, above, and pretty maiko costume below.

 Kathiego's awesome bira-bira kanzashi, which she makes and sells herself.

Kornelia looks so cute in this outfit!

Yukimaru, on the right, and friend looking very elegant.

Yukata and Obi Giveaway Update!

Since I missed yesterday's post, I'll be doing two today, one before work and one after...

Let's get started with an update to the free "Thanks For 10,000" yukata and obi giveaway (only three days left to enter)! I finally was able to get a photo of them:

The yukata and obi are both authentic, of course, the yukata 100% cotton and the obi a synthetic hanhaba (half-width) one, the type worn with yukata. :) The colors may vary a bit on different monitors, but the yukata is black with faint blushes of pink in the middle of the cherry blossoms, and the obi is a true purple.

If you'd like a chance to win this set, check out the details on the top right of this page, and be sure to enter by midnight the evening of October 22. Thanks and good luck! :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yamatoku Kids' Sale

Online dealer Yamatoku Classic has about three and a half days left on their children's clothing sale, featuring a ton of kimono and clothing for boys and girls for as low as $15.

(Remember as always to ignore the "geisha" they toss in front of everything.)

Even if you don't have a little one to dress up, kids' kimono can work well as accents in non-traditional or funky Western outfits, the shorter lengths making them good as jackets or short dresses for adults.

They're also good sources for sewing projects: I made a short sheath cocktail dress out of a black boy's kimono several years back and will have to see if I can dig out a photo of it at some point. Anyway, I took the main image on the back of the kimono, an eagle perched between pines atop rocks and water, and made it the back of the dress, using a plain black fabric for the front of the dress.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's Awase Time!

According to the traditional kimono calendar, October marks the start of "awase" 袷 kimono season. "Awase" means "lined", and from this month through May it's technically proper to wear only lined kimono. June through September is "hitoe" kimono season, "hitoe" 単衣 being unlined ("single layer").

Not everyone strictly follows these rules, however. For example, in her great little inspiration book Okimono Kimono, CLAMP manga creator and kimono fan Mokona says to "ignore the calendar" if the weather is too hot for heavier kimono.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ryu Japan: Heko Obi

Speak of the devil! Matching nicely with my post about soft obi a couple of days ago, online dealer Ryu Japan posted some heko obi yesterday for a good price of $17 each. I didn't click through the individual pages for all of them, but the few that I did look to be women's rather than children's or men's based on the length and the bright colors.

While we're on the topic, heko obi are extremely alluring as they're comfy and the easiest obi of all to tie (wrap, wrap, tie a bow, done!), but if you're doing a traditional ensemble they're only suitable for wearing with the most casual forms of kimono: summer yukata up to komon, depending on how nice the heko obi is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Language: A Boring Thing

Another quick post!

Humility is a big deal in Japanese culture, and one of the ways this humility shows is in gift giving. When handing a present to someone, it's good manners to say "Tsumaranai mono desu ga", as you give it. (tsoo mah rah nigh moh noh des gah)

This means "(This is) a boring thing, but... (please accept it)". It doesn't matter if it's the most fun, expensive, fabulous present in the world that you think is a perfect match for the recipient: it still becomes "a boring thing" when you give it and translates more like "Here's a little something I picked up for you..."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Real or Fake? Soft Obi

Most obi (the sashes worn with kimono) are firm enough to hold their shape and tie and form into various stiff knots. Occasionally, you'll see things advertised as obi that are soft and more like thin cloth than brocade, floppy, or textured. Are they real?

They can be: I'd say the biggest clue is material. If it's satin or shiny silk or is made of the same material as a kimono sold with it, those are fakes.

Real soft obi come in a few different categories, two of the most common being "heko" obi and "shigoki" obi. Heko obi come in men's, women's and children's varieties and are tied in a simple dangling bow or knot, and shigoki obi are making a small comeback as an accent obi worn with another obi for women's kimono, also tied simply.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OMG Shoes: A Cheat Sheet

You may have heard you take off your shoes when you enter a house in Japan, which is absolutely true and must be done both to respect tradition and keep the house clean (apparently at the end of WWII some of the most shameful photos for the Japanese were Allied troops inside homes standing on tatami floors in their muddy combat boots).

There are some other shoe situations you might run into if you go to visit or live:

Entering a house- As said above, you take off your own shoes but leave your socks on if you have any. You'll often be given slippers to wear.

Entering the bathroom- At times you'll find slippers waiting at the bathroom door inside homes or hotels. These are to be worn into the bathroom and never outside of it.

Entering a school- If you go to a public school to teach or study (I believe private as well), all teachers and students take off their shoes and change into comfy slip-ons for the entirety of the day. Yes, there are days I missing working in slippers!

Entering a traditional building, temple, tourist site, etc. - Some traditional structures do not allow shoes inside. If you don't read any Japanese and can't read the signs saying this, you'll still see a line of shoes along the steps outside. This is not optional for non-Japanese: take yours off and leave them there. I never had any of mine stolen, and while I've heard high-end designer shoes go missing once in a great while, they generally stay where you put them.

Having dinner in a traditional room or low tables/tatami floor part of a restaurant - Again, the shoes come off and usually will go in a little cubby hole or rack nearby. Follow the lead of those around you and ask if you're not sure (pointing at your shoes and the table you're trying to go to with a questioning look will do if all else fails).

Some shops will also have you take off your shoes and leave them outside of dressing rooms when you try things on.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Houston Kimono Fashion Show Model Call

There is a chance I'll be running a kimono fashion show next month, November 4th, at a local Japanese-themed nightclub event, but before anything can get pinned down the organizer and I need to see if we can pull together enough models! If you are in the Houston, Texas area and meet the following requirements, or know someone who does, please email me or pass this along. Thank you! :)

-18 or older, up to 40s
-Male or female
-Japanese (we're also looking for a couple of Caucasian models, but primarily Japanese)
-Men: no taller than 5'10", 34" waist or smaller
-Women: no taller than 5'5", 30" waist or smaller
-No modeling experience is necessary, but you must be comfortable walking a runway in front of a crowd

Please note this is an unpaid assignment, and while the organizer has a photographer she uses for her events, there is no guarantee you'll be able to receive prints of your walk. It will, however, be a chance to wear beautiful kimono, have fun, and network with the international community. Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Culture: Tallying Up Numbers

In English, if you want to quickly tally up something or count something, you write out four vertical hatch marks and one angled across on the fifth. In Japanese they do it differently: it's still in sets of five, but instead you write the character for "correct", 正, which happens to have five strokes total.

The first is left to right across the top, second is down the middle, third is across to the right, fourth is the left vertical line going down, and last is the horizontal one left to right across the bottom. Here's an animation showing how to write it if that last bit made no sense!

So "two" would be a "T" shape, four would have everything but the bottom line, and so on.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Language: The Lack of "The"

A quick post tonight... sometimes people ask how you say "the" in Japanese. This one is easy: there is no "the" in Japanese. There's also no "a" or "an".

"The dog" = "Inu"
"A dog" = "Inu"

How do you tell the difference? Context is your biggest ally in figuring out if the person is talking about a random dog or a specific one.

While this can be tough for English speakers to get used to, it's better than the opposite case, like in German!

In German everything is male, female or neuter so "the" could be, depending on the grammar, one of five or six (it's been awhile since I've studied!) possibilities.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Japan at the Ren Fest

Our local "Texas Renaissance Festival" is one of the biggest in America and is 36 years old this year. My parents first took me as a little kid, and I fell in love with it and have gone more or less ever since, barring the times when I was out of the state or country.

Over the years, the costumes seen there have shifted somewhat into a broader spectrum. Nowadays in the crowd you're as likely to see a fairy or bellydancer as you are a more traditional medieval outfit, and you're starting to see more historical fringe elements (what was the world like in other places during the same time span?) appear.

The historical fringe costumes include Japanese outfits, a handful of which I saw today and were mostly men in martial-arts hakama and tops: nice, sedate outfits that blended in well.

The fun part about going back in Japanese history is that, more or less, kimono and related items have largely looked the same since the 1600s, so fudging an outfit from "long ago" is a lot easier with authentic Japanese clothes than Western ones. It won't be 100% historically accurate, but your modern kimono will be far more on target (especially to the average American eye) than your modern Western shirt or dress would be.

I'm actually putting together what I hope will be a reasonable facsimile of a Japanese oiran (high-level prostitute) costume myself, and will wear it and post some photos in November when it's cool enough to go back wearing several layers of kimono, whiteface, and a proper wig without melting into a puddle.

Why not go as a geisha? They actually didn't exist "yet", coming into being in the 1700s. Oiran and their predecessors are on the edge of the technical time period (1600s) to begin with, but for me geisha are too far out on the timeline to take to the Ren Fest.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yamatoku Mega Discount Sale

There's about 20 hours left in vintage kimono dealer Yamatoku Classic's big sale, which does feature some heavy discounts in higher-formality pieces and general accessories.

Wedding kimono, heavy outer-layer uchikake, can be had for as little as $32, white wedding shiromuku for $16, and there's even a furisode and obi set for $32.

As usual, ignore the unrelated "geisha" tag slapped on everything, and be prepared for shipping to at least double the above prices due to the heavy weight of most of these types of garments. However, the end price in most cases will still be a respectably discounted one for types of kimono represented.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Culture: Using a Japanese Bath

Many moons ago, before I lived in Japan or knew much about it, I and some friends took a road trip to San Francisco and stayed in a hotel that catered to a lot of Japanese guests. I don't remember much about the room itself, but I remember giggling when I walked into the bathroom.

There was a tub, the deepest tub I had ever seen, one that you could sit in and fill water up to your shoulders, and a tray of sake balanced carefully on the towels hanging over the side. The combination of strong booze and Pit of Doom bathing seemed funny in a black humor kind of way.

Years later, when I moved there, I discovered that these deep sort of tubs were standard in good-sized Japanese homes. If you travel over to Japan, you may come across one of these tubs, in its own literal bathroom, where half of the room is the shower head on a wall, and the other half is the deep tub.

The standard way of bathing is that you wash and clean off with the shower, and then get into the tub to soak and relax. Soap should never enter the water in the tub, and you should be clean when you get in (this is important because a family, as they take their individual turns showering and bathing, uses the same bathwater without changing it out).

If you ever visit hot springs, where you get buck-naked (that's a whole different post!), you will also be expected to clean off in showers before getting into the hot spring itself for the same reasons: the water is for relaxing, not bathing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Craft Tips for Using Kimono

The tradition of chopping up kimono to make into other things is a very old one, started in Japan itself as a kimono usually cycled from garment to eventual futon cover to pillows to cleaning rags to, finally, diapers.

I mention this to reassure any readers who might be nervous about using a secondhand kimono for crafts. If you want to, go for it! In my time over in Japan, I saw more than one case of this tradition being carried on, usually for clothing or crafty stuff. :)

If you've scored a deal on an old kimono or have a project in mind, here are six tips to help you avoid newbie pitfalls when shopping and working with kimono:

1. Cotton yukata tend to not be colorfast, so they need to be washed alone. You can put a whole yukata or the cotton it's made of in the dryer, usually, but it's probably going to shrink some.

2. Old, vintage kimono may be weaker and less forgiving when sewing. I made a short sheath dress out of a beat-up, vintage silk boy's kimono, and when I had to pull the threads from one line of stitching it left whitish marks on the black silk.

3. Those big, beautiful patterns across the entire bottom or side of some kimono are not a solid piece: they're painted or embroidered onto the kimono itself, which in the body is basically 6 narrow vertical panels about 12"-14" wide each (though the two in front are narrower and taper up into points to accomodate the curve of the collar). So be prepared for a number of vertical seams running through the design if you intend on lifting it whole and using it for something else.

4. Kimono, minus washable synthetics and cottons, can't be tossed in the wash, and may not respond well to handwashing or dry cleaning. They're basically spot treat as best you can, so don't use them for any projects that will need frequent cleaning.

5. Vintage silk kimono can sometimes smell musty or like mothballs, depending on how they were stored. The best way to deal with this is hang the kimono outside on a breezy, sunny day and let it air out for an entire day. If this doesn't work, I've used Febreze on the inside of the kimono only.

6. If parts of a design on a kimono look like a true white in a seller's online photograph, that's no guarantee they actually will be. I've been burned a few times myself with this one, so be prepared that you may get more of an aged cream than a true white and, I'd say, don't base your project around the whites of a kimono unless it's sitting in front of you already and you can verify the color in person.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Culture: The Samurai Ritual of Seppuku

Traditional samurai culture is famous for its many rituals, code, and formal view of life, but one of the most well-known is the tradition of "seppuku". Seppuku 切腹 is another, more formal way of saying "hara kiri" 腹切り (pronounced hah-rah-kee-ree, the first one is usually written and the second one spoken), which is ritual suicide through cutting one's stomach open.

Seppuku was originally done by the samurai class and at times required permission. Sometimes the samurai chose it himself, upon the death of his lord, defeat in battle, or to protest a superior's decision. Sometimes he was ordered to by his lord or a conquering enemy, for various reasons.

Battlefield seppuku was much less ritualized, but the other form that grew alongside it and eventually became a part of the judicial system in its own right had a basic series of steps, which could vary but generally went like this:

The samurai would be bathed, dressed in white robes and would eat his favorite meal. Once finished, a special knife (tanto) would be placed in front of him, and he would then write a "death poem" reflecting on the moment, his impending death, or his life, ideally in a serene, impassive way.

In a sign of how much writing and art were valued in old Japan, a great warrior leaving behind a death poem with poor handwriting, cliched sentiments, or one that just wasn't very good would knock a dent in his legacy.

After the poem he would take up the knife and cut himself horizontally across the stomach. To prevent undue suffering, a second man (usually a friend, comrade, or sympathetic enemy) would stand behind him with sword drawn, and cut his head off once the horizontal cut had been made. All of this occurred in front of spectators.

In a grotesque bit of etiquette, the decapitating slice done perfectly would stop short enough to leave a flap of skin connecting the head to the body, so the head would flop over rather than go bouncing across the floor.

Seppuku went the way of the samurai and is no longer used or seen in modern Japan, minus the unique case of accomplished writer Yukio Mishima in 1970, who committed seppuku after leading a failed coup attempt at a military base.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Halloween Kimono Ideas

I'm shamelessly borrowing this idea from the lovely lady and friend of mine over at La Vida Frills, a fun blog abut film and the Japanese Lolita street fashion: what costumes could you make using your style, in this case kimono?

The following costumes aren't meant to be museum-quality accurate, but some ideas to get you started (or give you an excuse to buy your first kimono. ;) ) Ebay can be a great source for cheap deals if you're lacking a piece or two.

Geisha: pull your collar back, leave out the fold at the middle to let the kimono trail, add (nicely done) geisha-style whiteface and pull your hair back in a high bun. Your obi should tie in the back.

Ghost: White juban (yes, I know it's underwear but all white outer kimono are hard to get... I won't tell if you won't!) worn right-over-left, zombie-style whiteface, long messy black wig, white obi or reasonable facsimile. (If you make a cheap wide cotton one, you could also spatter a bit of blood on it and your face and spare the kimono itself).

Samurai: Most Westerners don't know the difference between men's and women's kimono, so if don't have a men's but you do have a sedately colored women's one, tie it up with a men's obi or reasonable fascimile, add hakama and a cheap knock off katana or even boken (practice sword) worn traditionally.

Oiran (high-class prostitute): Get your biggest, fanciest kimono, add nicely-done whiteface, a high bun in your hair, as many hair ornaments as you can stand, tie your biggest, fanciest obi into a huge bow in the front, and go without tabi socks when you wear your sandals.

I'm leaving out samurai drama, anime and movie characters as most people out there wouldn't be able to recognize them, but if you want to, go for it! Be aware, however, that you're not going to be able to find exact replicas of fictional characters' outfits 90% of the time (minus basic men's looks) as it's difficult, for the most part when it comes to nice silk ones, to find two kimono with the exact same patterning and colors.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Japan Travel: When/Where Not to Go

(Readers who have been to Japan, please feel free to add your own times and places!)

For most people, going to Japan represents a serious outlay of cash, and if you're going you don't want to get blindsided by unexpected factors. Here's a short and dirty list of times and places you don't want to travel in Japan, based on my time over there:

The week of Obon (August) and Golden Week (late April-May): Holiday weeks when most people travel. You'll find higher prices and bigger crowds traveling.

New Year's: In addition to more people traveling home to family, some businesses and banks close for a few days, leaving you out of luck if you're trying to get cash.

Kyoto in July-August: Kyoto is in a valley that nicely traps in heat and humidity, making it pretty nasty in the summer if you're walking everywhere.

Harajuku (Tokyo) on the weekends: Yeah, you'll miss the cosplayers on the bridge in front of Meiji Shrine and some of the interesting street fashion if you don't go then, but you'll also miss the insane amount of people crowding through Takeshita Street and the neighborhood.

Meiji Shrine (Tokyo): This isn't a "don't go" as it's a beautiful shrine, but rather wear or bring comfortable shoes because the walk back through the woods to get to the shrine is entirely on a wide gravel path, unless they've changed that since I left.

Tokyo Tower: Biggest tourist trap in the city, with cheesy souvenirs and a panoramic view up top often blocked by smog.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Size Do Kimono Come In?

This is another question I get asked a lot recently, and the general answer is that kimono are basically one size fits all. They are longer than a typical Japanese person is tall, and they shorten them to fit by blousing the kimono out over a hidden cord you tie around your hips (appropriately called a "hip tie" or koshihimo).

Before doing that, you lift the kimono to the right hemline height by pinching the front collar corners together and the center back seam of the kimono and lifting, and then let go in back, pull it forward at the same time, and fold it shut according to your size, each front piece tucked in on either side either right on the hipbone or as close to it as you can get.

The traditional body type range is fairly narrow, but if you buy a kimono custom-made for you it can be sized up or down in terms of how far it will wrap around and close in the front, and where the sleeves will hang down on your wrist. This is why vintage kimono can vary a bit in the sizes they accommodate.

Long story short, if you see a kimono sized 10 or 12 or Small or Medium, it's a fake. Sizing is accomplished in the dressing rather than an off-the-rack size like most Western clothing. The only exception in my experience is the special longer "tall sizes" made in recent years to fit the newer generations of increasingly taller Japanese.

Edit: Thanks go to reader Diane, who adds that some modern synthetic kimono and hakama do come in an L or LL size, which I didn't know. However, these legitimate garments will still be a world away from the cheap shiny polyester knock-offs that can feature S/M/L tags, so if you're a newbie it still should be fairly easy to tell between a legitimate kimono "L" size and a fake. Thanks again, Diane!

Friday, October 1, 2010

London "Kimono de Jack" Event Oct. 23rd!

People in Japan don't wear kimono on a daily basis anymore, but the increasingly popular "Kimono de Jack" events have been bringing them back into the everyday world.

A typical Kimono de Jack meet will ask folks to wear kimono and get together at a specific time and place to hang out and have fun. Until now these events have only been in Japan, but thanks to fellow kimono blogger Lyuba-chan there will be a Kimono de Jack meet in London, October 23rd!

So, if you're in London or near it and like kimono, go show support for her and your favorite addictive garment. ;) Wearing kimono isn't required, as long as you're interested in them!

You can find out more here, or follow Kimono de Jack UK on Twitter here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Renting Kimono

Kimono can be quite expensive when purchased new, so some shops rent them out instead. Wedding kimono, furisode, and other fancy kimono can all be rented, sometimes the rental alone costing thousands of dollars but still less than if the entire package were purchased new.

On the other end of the formality scale, casual things like komon can also be rented, for much lower prices. Here's a rental shop, Obebe-ya, with everything from komon to men's ensembles to graduation outfits and more, if you're curious to see how much it costs to rent rather than own new (or you just like looking!). The different categories are the red links on the left, the top-level links the main type of kimono or outfit.

("Obebe" is regional//Kyoto slang for "kimono".)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Do You Call... That Alcove Thingie in a Room?

Japanese-style rooms will at times feature a recessed alcove where flowers, hanging scrolls, bonsai, or other items are displayed.

The alcove is called a "tokonoma" 床の間. A common misunderstanding is that it's a sacred altar of some kind, but it's actually for displaying anything beautiful or nice. I was told by a Japanese friend that, traditionally, the tokonoma of the house usually incorporated the main support pillar of the house into one of its corners. In my apartment in Sendai, I had a small tokonoma in my tatami-floor bedroom complete with a wooden mock pillar.

If the room is used for entertaining, protocol also states that the most honored guest will be seated in front of the tokonoma or near it, with his back to it. He doesn't get to see it himself, but every time anyone else looks at him he'll be nicely framed by the tokonoma and whatever is displayed there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Real or Fake? Super-Short Kimono

If you see a kimono on Ebay or elsewhere and the measurements tell you it'll hit you about the knees or midcalf, is the kimono a fake?

This one is a little trickier to answer because it might be or it might not. If it's cheap, shiny polyester or very shiny satin, it's a fake. If it has belt loops, pockets, or geisha/pagodas/cranes cheaply printed all over it, it's a fake. If it's sold by Legg Avenue, it' s a fake. ;)

On the other hand, if it looks like a regular, nice quality kimono (cotton, silk, or high-grade matte synthetic) it's probably either a little girl's or boy's kimono, or a kimono for babies to be wrapped up in for their first shrine visit.

Here are a few legitimate kids' kimono from online dealer Ichiroya, two for girls and then two for boys. As you can see, they're basically mini versions of adult kimono in terms of designs and quality, though, moreso than adult kimono, the motifs tend to be very feminine for girls and very masculine for boys.

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tips for Newbies: Halloween Geisha Costumes

If you're thinking of doing a geisha outfit this year for Halloween and are new to geisha or kimono, here are a few of the biggest mistakes newbies tend to make and mass-produced costumes tend to feature.

I'm not going for the strict, hardcore "OMG your seasonal kanzashi hair ornament is for APRIL, not MARCH!" level of critque, but rather eliminating the common elements of the ubiquitous and borderline offensive "geisha girl" costume to make it closer to reality.

1. Chopsticks in the hair - Japanese people don't wear chopsticks in their hair, nor do they wear ornaments in the giant X pattern you seem to see on a lot of the lower quality costumes.

2. Random multiple buns of hair piled on the head (you've seen this wig, you know you have!) - Honestly, the actual wig geisha wear is a complicated piece of work, but it definitely doesn't resemble a human-hair snowman. Aim for one higher-placed bun toward the back of your head and leave it at that.

3. Cheongsam - The cute satin dresses with slits up the side, high collars, and usually a diagonal line of buttons across the chest are Chinese, not Japanese. Wearing one with whiteface and calling it a geisha costume gives the impression you don't know or don't care that China and Japan are two very separate and very distinct countries and cultures.

4. Bad "geisha" makeup - Quarterback-heavy black eyeliner, defined red circles on the cheeks, or even kanji (characters) written on the face are not flattering on just about anyone or in the right ballpark for geisha. If you do whiteface, skip the grease paint red circles and instead apply a simple subtle pink blush on your cheeks, as you would do with your normal make-up, over the whiteface, and apply a bit to your eyes as well. Keep the eyeliner thin, just enough to define your eyes. For lips, red done in a smaller pout than usual is good but don't make the red, for example, only a half-inch across.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seasonality in Kimono

A big part of classic Japanese aesthetics is admiring and portraying nature, the seasons and the changes within them. From painting to poetry, the inclusion of certain motifs will suggest a time of year.

Kimono, while not always, often suggest through their motifs a time of year as well. There are a ton of motifs that fall into the different seasons, even specific months, but generally speaking they'll follow nature. So if you have a motif you can identify (dragonflies, for example) think about what time of year it shows up in nature or if it's tied to a specific holiday or big calendar event. For dragonflies, they appear in late summer/early fall.

Another example: Cherry blossoms appear in the spring, March-April, and so if you have a kimono with only cherry blossoms on it, it is only meant to be worn in spring or at the very beginning of spring (it's ok to "forecast" a little ahead). Wearing it in the summer or fall would be like wearing a Halloween costume in May.

Red maple leaves are a fall motif, bamboo covered in snow is a winter motif, the uchiwa type of fans used in summer are a summer motif, and so on.

The only exception to this kimono rule is yukata, summer cotton kimono. They're a free-for-all and any motif is ok, even thought yukata are only worn in the summer.

You will also occasionally see winter motifs on summer pieces above yukata in formality. I specifically remember seeing a yukiwa, "snow(flake) ring" fukuro obi made of summer-weave silk, which, I'm guessing, suggests the idea of coolness during hot weather.

Nowadays, with fewer people buying and wearing kimono, many kimono are pan-seasonal, with a mix of motifs from different seasons so the kimono is ok to wear any time of year. Also, not all motifs are season-specific, especially the more abstract ones like yabane (vertical, interlocking "arrow fletchings") or kikkou ("turtle shell", diamond-like hexagons).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Language: Japanese Cursing vs. English Cursing

How do you cuss in Japanese? This is one of the questions I sometimes get asked when people find out I can speak (some) Japanese and lived in Japan, but it's not a straightforward situation. (Please skip this post if you're at work or prefer your posts PG-rated.)

With English, cursing is pretty simple. You have certain words that can't ever be used in polite conversation, even if they're directed at life in general and not the person you're talking to.

Japanese isn't that simple, so if you're reading this looking for a laundry list of words that correspond to the English versions, you're SOL. (Sorry, I couldn't resist. ;) ) There are several that are like English curse words in that they are inherently rude enough they're bleeped on TV (I'll leave you to find those for yourself), but compared to English most are more fluid in their meaning.

In Japanese, sometimes a single word can be translated multiple ways into English. "Sugoi" is one of them (and not a curse word!): it can mean "great/awesome/wonderful/amazing/etc.". That's how you have to look at most Japanese curse words and cursing. One word can slide up or down on the "offend-o-meter" depending on how it's used.

"Kuso" (K'soh) is one of them. If you drop your wallet and everything falls out, you might mutter "kuso" to yourself. Here it would be roughly the same as "Damn."

 If you slap it in front of another word, it can become stronger. "Kuso-gaki" ("Gaki" here means boy or child), if you're shouting it at someone, it could in truth be fairly translated as "little bastard", "little shit", or even "fucking brat" if enough anger were behind it (though many anime translators will tone it down to, I imagine, maintain lower ratings?). If you were muttering it to yourself, it'd be closer to "stupid brat" or "damned kid".

Speaking casually when the situation requires you to be more formal is disrespectful enough to count in feeling as cursing as well. There are more levels of speech in Japanese than English, so shifting down a level or more when you're not supposed to shows definite disrespect. It's sort of like if you met the Pope and greeted him with "How's it hanging, Papi?", but several times worse.

This is a problem Japanese-to-English translators can run into when trying to accurately convey meaning in movies, books and anime. The character may literally be saying, for example, "I won't do that," but depending on the level of speech they use the feeling might be more like "The hell I'm doing that!" or "There's no fucking way I'm doing that." Which one do you go with, or do you try to strike a balance?

Anyway, the more you learn, the more you can pick up on these nuances when listening to subbed programs and the more you can enjoy the feel of what's going on.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thank You for 10,000! Yukata and Obi Giveaway

I began doing this blog in January, and I never imagined it would get 10,000 visits, especially in under a year. Thank you so much for your visits, comments and support!

To celebrate, I'll be giving away a free women's yukata and hanhaba obi.

How To Enter:

Email me at info attttt with a first name or nickname I can post, and title your email "Drawing". One email per person, please (unless you do the bonus points below). I will accept emails until midnight, the evening of October 22, 2010 and announce the winner on October 23, 2010.

(I solemnly swear on my Meiji-era furisode that your email will not be collected, spammed, sold to other people, and so on.)

Dress Up Points!

Send along a photo of yourself wearing kimono and you'll be entered into the contest twice. It can be an old or new photo: the only requirement is that you let me post the photo on my blog. If you don't have any, your own kimono-related art or craft works too. One photo or piece or art per person, please.

Good luck, and thank you again for 10,000!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tips for Newbies: How to Be Happy in Kimono

This may sound like an odd title for a post, but if you're new to wearing kimono here are some tips that will make you look more graceful and keep you more comfortable while wearing them.

1. Don't tie your obi too tight. It should be quite snug but not so snug that you can't breathe at all.

2. Wear a sports bra rather than a regular one: it makes a cleaner line and you won't have, for example, underwires pressed into you by an obi if you wear yours higher.

3. When you walk, take small steps so as not to billow the front of your kimono open. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the end result is that you'll glide along more gracefully and won't tug your kimono front out of place.

4. If you've never worn geta (wooden sandals) or zori (more formal sandals) before, bring regular sandals to change into so you're not stuck shoeless if breaking them in does a number on your feet.

5. Don't wear normal clothes under your kimono: underwear, bra, a tank top and slip or leggings/bike shorts are all you need. Remember, you're going to have at least one layer of kimono and another layer (the obi) wrapped around your stomach, where your body keeps a lot of heat, so you don't want to pile on too much under that.

6. Have fun! Don't obsess over your kitsuke (kimono wearing) if it's not perfect. Enjoy wearing it, and the more you do it the more practice you get and the more comfortable you'll be with your dressing skills. :)

7. Cell phones, cameras, and wallets can be dropped into the pockets on the sleeves if you don't want to carry a purse. I've never lost anything doing this, but don't put anything too light in there if you're a woman (as your sleeves are also open in the back and something could slide out if it's not heavy enough to stay in the front pocket corner).

8. Cheap casual folding fans (sensu, $5 or so on Ebay) are your friend. Weather or buildings that feel cool or comfy when you're in shorts and a T-shirt will feel a lot warmer in kimono, and folding fans tuck neatly into your obi when you're not using them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ebay Find: Deep Blue Furisode

A quick post tonight... while surfing Ebay I ran across this pretty furisode in dark blue, a color I don't see very much on secondhand furisode, and listed at a very, very reasonable starting bid price of $29.99. Good luck if you decide to go for this one!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cosplay: Can You Use Real Kimono for Bleach Characters?

So lately I've gotten sucked into the anime Bleach. Yes, I'm amazingly late to the party, but you'll have to forgive me. I have a soft spot for stubborn heroes with giant swords (my favorite series ever is good old Berserk).

Now that I've seen a few episodes, I better understand some of the questions I've gotten from people at conventions and festivals about using kimono with Bleach characters. If you're curious, here's a quick breakdown of the differences between what your average Shinigami is wearing compared to traditional clothing.

 Main character Ichigo Kurosaki in the standard Shinigami uniform.

Kimono (top half visually): The collar and drape are similar to a real black men's kimono, but the entire front of the sleeve is open. On non-martial arts kimono the hole is only long enough for the hand to stick through, and is sewn shut the rest of the way down. The white you see along the sleeves and collar in the outfit is likely intended to be the underrobe (juban).

Hakama (bottom half, pants): These look to be largely the same, but traditional hakama ties are the same color and material as the rest of the hakama. The Shinigami have contrasting ties.

Tabi (socks) and straw zori (sandals): These look to be the same as traditional versions.

Captain's Coats (the white ones): The coats appear to be based on men's haori (kimono jackets) as they hang down the front rather than fold over, but the designs along the hems are not traditional, and the sleeves are wholly open again when normal ones are sewn shut below the wrist, like the above-mentioned kimono.

So, could you use traditional clothes to create a basic Shinigami costume? I think so. Here's what you'd need:

1. Black men's kimono and white juban (men's or women's, as women's are easier to find online in all white)- Use a seam ripper on the sleeve hole opening of the kimono and resew the hem along it to make it completely open.

EDIT (9/26/10): Having seen a few more episodes, it looks like the back of the sleeves are open too! Long story short, that means a woman's kimono is more accurate to the costume because men's sleeves and the body's side seams are sewn shut. In women's they're open (the side seam several inches), where you could physically stick your hand into the side of a woman's kimono under her arm and also into her sleeve from the back (the wider women's obi types normally cover up the side seam opening in normal kimono wearing).

Juban, the underkimono, shouldn't need any resewing as the sleeves on juban are normally open in the front, but you'll need a long, inch-wide strip of soft, non-slick fabric to tie it shut before you put the kimono on over it. Anything thinner will cut into your skin over the course of a day.

2. Men's obi-  This is worn over the kimono but under the hakama pants and is what keeps your kimono shut. The knot you tie in the back also helps create the bump seen under the pants in the back. As this isn't really seen except as a tiny line above the hakama ties (if you want to be traditional about it rather than hide it entirely), this could easily be faked with a cheaper substitute made of stiff fabric.

3. Men's black hakama- Cut off the normal ties and use them as guides to sew your own out of the white fabric of your choice.

4. Captain's coat- This gets trickier as men's haori don't often come in white. You'd probably be better off making your own than trying to find a vintage haori and altering it.

5. Tabi and zori- Check Ebay and online dealers for these as they're ready to go as is. Straw zori can be a bit tougher to find, however, as well as larger sizes.

If you assemble all or some of this down the road and would like to know how to traditionally put it on, there are some good videos on Youtube for dressing in kimono and hakama with a lean toward the martial arts angle (which I think the Shinigami definitely fall under!). My favorite is an easy-to-follow series by an Iaido practioner, which starts with this video on clothing basics and continues on with Part 2 (hakama), and more if you're interested in how to wear a katana. etc.

The sharp-eyed of you will immediately note he has white ties on his hakama, but he explains early on that he switched them out to a different color to make them easier to see. ;)

Kimono images courtesy Ichiroya and used with permission.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Culture: Yes, I Hear You vs. Yes, I Will Do That

This is a fine detail that can lead to big misunderstandings, so it's worth mentioning if you're going to be talking with anyone in Japanese.

In Japanese, to show that you're listening to someone, you'll tend to say, moving down the scale of formality, "hai" or "ee" (said "eh") all the way down to the "nn" grunt. All of these words mean "yes" normally, but here they just mean "Yes, I hear you." They do not mean the person agrees with you or agrees to do what you're asking of them.

It's sort of like the English "yeah" or "uh-huhs" you'll hear people use to show they're paying attention.

In Japanese, to show that you have heard and agree to do whatever is being asked of you, you'll often say things like "Wakarimashita" (wah-kah-ree-mah-shta, formal) or "Wakatta" (wah-kah-tta, casual), or "Sou desu"/"Sou da" ("Yes, that's true") if you're simply agreeing wtih their idea or observation.

"Wakarimashita/wakatta" usually means "I understand (lit. I understood or have understood)" but the feeling when you respond to an order or request with it is "I have understood and will do it."

For the anime or movie fans out there, listen carefully when big bosses are giving orders and you'll typically hear some "wakarimashita"s from the underlings.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yamatoku Classic: Wigs and Hair Ornaments

Kimono dealer Yamatoku Classic has a new "kimono goods festival" sale up, with some good prices (5 pack of obi-age scarves for $30, 10 pack of obi-jime cords for $40) and items they don't usually list, like wigs, shigoki obi and hair ornament sets.

The usual Yamatoku advice applies: ignore the word "geisha" in the titles as very little if any of it is actually geisha-related (trying to pump up their keyword search returns, I guess?). Enjoy the beautiful items for what they are (the hair ornaments are, I believe, mostly if not all for weddings, as an example) but if you're after items that are specifically geisha-related, I'd pass.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kimono Lily Update: Pre-Tied Taiko-Knot Obi

If you're intimidated at the thought of tying your own taiko knot (the drum-like box knot often worn with kimono more formal than yukata), pre-tied taiko knot obi are the thing for you. America-based kimono dealer Kimono Lily put up six of these obi today, for prices as low as $35.

"Pre-tied" obi, called "tsuke" 付け帯 or "tsukuri" obi 作り帯, come in two parts. One is the rectangular part to wrap around your waist, and the other is the knot itself that fastens to the rectangle. You can also commonly find them made out of hanhaba obi, in the bow-tie "bunko" 文庫 knot, for use with summer yukata.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kimono Hime: Vol. 10 Out Now

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you've probably seen me mention "kimono hime" style. "Kimono hime", or "Kimono princess", style has no firm structure (like street fashion Lolita) but the overall idea is to pair kimono with unique and non-traditional styling or themes, accessories, colors, and so on.

This style is named for the magazine that helped popularize it, "Kimono Hime." While not published very often, Kimono Hime just came out with its 10th volume, and features actress and "Nana" co-star Aoi Miyazaki on the cover. If you're interested, more volumes are for sale at Amazon Japan secondhand and new.

Be warned, though, that Amazon Japan charges over $30 to ship items to North America. o_O A better bet might be watching Ebay: volumes 3, 7 and 8 are up now for starting bids of $16 with only $5 shipping.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Language: Ne!

Even if you don't know any Japanese, you can start picking out the word "ne" pretty quickly in anime, movies, or real-life conversations. "Ne" usually appears at the end of sentences and gives the feeling of agreement (ne. ne!) or seeking agreement (ne?).

It's a wonderful short-cut, and once you learn it you may find yourself using it even when you're speaking English (I do with a couple of my fellow Japan ex-pats randomly).

"This is tasty, --isn't it?--" = "Kore wa oishii desu --ne--."

"X, isn't it?" = "X, ne?"
"X, are you?" = "X, ne?"
"X, would he?" = "X, ne?"

You get the idea. All of those cases and others like them in English become "ne" in Japanese. You can even answer with a ne in super casual situations.

"Atsui ne." (It's hot, isn't it?)
"Ne." (Yeah.)

Another easy-to-find example is what I call the "sou desu ne" girls on TV talk shows. "Sou desu ne." (soh des neh) means  "That's so, isn't it?", and these girls, usually young and pretty, sit next to older male hosts and seem to spend most of their time nodding and saying "sou desu ne" in response to whatever the male host is saying (Man: "Our next guest is very talented." Girl: "Sou desu ne."). It can be a bit grating on American eyes and ears, but culturally it fits well within Japanese media expectations.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gackt, Bunraku, and Kimono!

Gackt, a very talented and somewhat eccentric Japanese pop/rock artist (who I first heard upon moving to Japan in 2002, when his "Moon" album came out), appears in the new movie Bunraku, which showed at the Toronto International Film Festival just a few days ago. He's appeared in and used kimono before in photos and in his shows, and wore one to the Bunraku premiere, one from a collaboration collection he's done as an offshoot of a stage production he's in, Nemuri Kyoshiro, "The Sleepy Samurai" (thanks to reader Karadin for that detail!). You can see the yukata collection here and two examples below.

Here's a translation of their latest update, 9/13:

"At the Toronto International Film Festival, Gackt appeared in an elegant kimono, and was showered with attention by world media. That day he had donned his newest creation, "Dance" (this "dance" specifically refers to ancient, sacred Shinto music and dancing). The sensitive aesthetics and gorgeous design can be seen nationally (in Japan) in special exhibitions. Please check this site's exhibition schedule for more information."

For any Gackt fans who happen to run across this post but don't know much about kimono, Gackt's designs are a pretty cool spin on tradition. I've seen some concerned that they're made of polyester, but in recent years high grade polyester has become more and more common for casual kimono as you can hand wash it and it's much cheaper than natural fibers or silk to produce. The price does reflect typical Gackt tour good sort of prices (I haven't been to any shows since I returned from Japan but I can't imagine it's changed that much ;) ), but it's not that high if you look at the prices of brand-new designer kimono and very high-end yukata.

On the topic of yukata vs. kimono, another question I've seen floating around, the short and simplified answer is that yukata are cotton, only meant to be worn to summer festivals and events, and everything else is wool, silk, linen, or high-grade synthetic (a la polyester) and can be worn to everything else, the exact "everything" depending on the kimono type and occasion it's being worn to. I'm not sure why Gackt chose to call his designs "yukata", unless he wanted to emphasize they're casual and/or non-traditional approaches. Yukata and kimono are exactly the same construction, minus a few small details (longer sleeves for the "furisode" type of kimono, linings for non-summer kimono, etc.).

The transparency of some of the collaboration designs, which I love, could also be a nod to "ro" or "sha" kimono, semi-transparent summer-weave kimono worn traditionally between June and September.

For the kimono fans who have no idea who this guy is, if you like Japanese pop or rock music, and I had to pick just a few recommendations, I'd say check out his songs "Kimi no Tame Ni Dekiru Koto", "Redemption", the entire "Moon" and "Mars" albums, and, from his Malice Mizer days (the band before he went solo), "Le Ciel." I can't recommend any of his newer stuff as I sort of wandered off after 2006 and haven't heard any. ^_^; Feel free to make your own recommendations! :)

Getting back to his kimono collaboration, the collection is, to me, an awesome bridge between traditional and pop culture and I hope over time it sparks more interest in kimono from Gackt fans and others both in and out of Japan.

If you'd like a (much cheaper!) street-style yukata, check out these Goth and Lolita friendly options over on Amazon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mamechiyo's Cute "Black Cat" Kimono

Looking for some kimono inspiration? Fun and casual kimono company Mamechiyo Modern's fall collection includes an adorable kimono with a flocky black cat print. Too cute!

It makes me want to get a plain iromuji or toned-down komon kimono and start adding appliques. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Skin Tone and Choosing Kimono Colors

If you're going to wear a kimono, what color kimono will look best on you?

The good news is the answer to this is the same as it is for Western clothing and make-up: it depends on your skin tone. The bad news is, a lot of people don't really know what skin tone refers to and needlessly restrict themselves to either "cool" or "warm" colors when the truth is they can wear a lot more than they think.

Skin tone refers to the overall tone of your skin, which is going to be either warm or cool or in a few cases neutral. This is not the color of your skin: ivory, fair, beige, ebony, etc. It's the underlying tone that looks either olive or yellow (warm) or blue or pink (cool). A good way to tell, if you're not sure, is to look at the color of your veins on your forearm. If they appear greenish, you're warm. If they appear blue, you're cool. If there seems to be a mix, you could be neutral (if any color of any kind looks good on you, you're this elusive third category).

Here is where confusion sets in (and you see it in a lot of places, including mass media). If someone has "warm" tones, the conventional wisdom says, they should wear warm colors (red, yellow, orange, brown). If they have "cool" tones, they should wear matching cool colors (blue, green, purple).

However, just like your skin, every color has a tone too. There are "warm" browns (with underlying red, orange or yellow tones) and "cool" browns (ones with underlying true blue, purple, or green tones). You can even have warm and cool greys. Colors that seem to shrink into themselves or move back away from the viewer are "cool", and those that seem to pop out at you or move forward are "warm".

To bring this back into clothing and kimono (and make-up), if a "warm" person wears a "cool" red, they're going to look off. The same goes for a "cool" person who chooses a "warm" green.

For the non-artists out there, I may sound like I'm nuts, so let's do some picture examples. Your monitor may vary a bit, but here are some kimono that are the same color, but different tones.

I chose iro-tomesode, a step down from kurotomesode in formality, and michiyuki, as examples, as they haven't gotten much love here on the blog. Iro-tomesode are just like kurotomesode, with patterning only along the hem, except they are colors (iro) instead of black (kuro). Michiyuki are just coats worn over kimono when going outdoors.

Before reading the caption, can you guess which is warm and which is cool?

Purple: "Cool" purple, with undertones of blue, is on the left. The "warm" purple on the right has undertones of red.

Red: While both are red, the one on top seems to recede back away from you a bit, marking it as "cool". The "warm" one on the bottom seems to move toward or pop out at the viewer.

If you're having trouble determining which ones are which, don't worry! It can make you go cross-eyed at times, even if you're used to dealing with colors in art or other areas.

The next time you're out shopping for clothes, take several pieces that are the same colors but different tones and try them on (maybe three or four red shirts and four more blue dresses). You'll notice which ones make you look washed out, sick or sallow, and which ones look nice against your skin, and with the items all next to each other it should be easier to see which feel "warm" and which feel "cool".

Once you figure out if you're warm or cool, look at something across the shop and decide if it's warm or cool. Then walk over and place your arm against it and see if you were right. For example, if you're a cool person and the item is cool, it should look fine. If it doesn't, then it was a warm-toned piece.

After some practice, you'll be faster at picking out not only kimono that will make you look great, but clothes and make-up in general. :) Happy shopping!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yamatoku Classic: $7 Ko-Furisode

Online kimono dealer Yamatoku Classic is having a "furisode and obi festival", with discounts on a variety of items. By far the best deal is on ko-furisode, which are these days most always worn as part of a graduation oufit under hakama pants (their shorter sleeves and simpler designs, usually on the top half of the kimono only, set them apart from other, more formal furisode).

However, they make great costumes and bases for fun, non-traditional outfits, and as they're synthetic, they're much easier to clean than silk ones: you should be able to handwash them yourself. At $7, they're also one of the best kimono bargains you'll probably see for months online.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Yukata and Obi Giveaway!

Hitting 250 posts seems like a good time to announce this: in the next few weeks The Kimono Lady will officially reach 10,000 visits. It's been the better part of a year since I began writing my daily posts and this blog has been a lot of fun for me to write.

I'd like to say thank you to everyone who's stopped by and visited. :) So I'll be giving away a yukata and obi from my collection to celebrate. I'm not sure on the details of how I'll have folks enter for the drawing, but I promise it will be easy and free. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bringing Trends into Furisode

As part of their efforts to make kimono more accessible and appealing to the younger generation, some kimono companies now have styling tips for making a kimono cuter, more gothy, and so on. Here are a couple of links to style pages with ideas for bringing popular trends into a kimono look. I like the Gothic looks best, myself. How about you?

Kimono Hearts Portal


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Colors: Tea, Mice and Peaches

While not every color in Japanese is named after a thing, as a languages geek and visual person in general I find some of the traditional words fun for the images they present. Today, you can also find modern names based on English words ("pinku" for pink, etc.), but they don't quite have the same flavor as the originals. Some examples:

Cha iro 茶色- Tea color - light brown
Nezumi iro 鼠色- Mouse color - grey
Momo iro 桃色- Peach color - pink

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What Do You Call... Those Drawstring Bag Purses?

Today's entry is about the small little purses you'll sometimes see people carrying with casual kimono like summer yukata. Sometimes seen with a square or circular woven basket bottom, the top of the bag is cloth closed with drawstrings and is worn held at the side or dangling from the wrist.

Girl wearing yukata in Kyoto, with kinchaku at her side. Image courtesy Paul Vlaar, from Wikimedia.

These little purses are called "kinchaku" (keen chah koo) 巾着. As these are traditional bags, you'll sometimes see geisha and their apprentices maiko carrying larger versions of kinchaku as part of their normal wardrobe.

Geiko (Kyoto geisha) Kimika, carrying the large style held in one's arms. Image courtesy Onihide and used with permission.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Language: "Moshi Moshi"

As I've mentioned before, Japanese has a lot of set phrases that are very handy as they're used all the time in certain situations.

One of them is "moshi moshi". I've noticed more and more Americans seem to know this word, but they're unaware of when it's actually used. "Moshi moshi" means "hello," but is only used on the telephone. It is never used to greet someone standing in front of you.

The history of this phrase is rather cool: way back when people used to say "moshi" (from "mousu" 申す, "to speak") to call out to someone and start a conversation. However, they would say it twice to prove they were living, warm-blooded people who weren't ghosts or ghouls.

Ghosts can't repeat the sound "moshi". So if you heard a single "moshi" coming from behind you, it was best to not turn around. If you turned and answered, the ghost would steal your soul.

With the invention of the telephone, this tradition carried over to it (if you think about it, being on the phone is like having your back turned in that you can't see the person).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ichiroya Update: Nice Variety

Ichiroya updates almost every day, but I thought today's update was noteworthy for a few reasons.

They have some cute and affordably priced kimono, including a beautiful true purple iromuji (non-patterned) one and a pink shibori tsukesage (just a tad below houmongi in formality) for $38 each before shipping. They also have, in the higher-priced division, a couple of "tall" size kimono and a gorgeous black furisode. :)