Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kimono on a Budget: Part 2

In the first installment of this series, I walked y'all through weeding out junk on Ebay and scooping up "ending soon" auction deals.

The approach today is the opposite tactic, but can also pay off every now and then: Head over to Ebay and search for "kimono" or whatever item you're after, clicking on the Cultures & Ethnicities section in "Collectibles" next. After that, click on the tab on top of the listings that says "Buy It Now". Then click on "Time: newly listed" from the dropdown menu over to the right. This will show you all the brand-new stuff available for purchase at that exact moment, rather than waiting days for an auction to end (and other shoppers to find your item).

Every now and then someone will put up something valuable for cheap, not knowing what it is or I guess just wanting to get it sold. Skimming new listings, I've gotten a hanhaba obi for a Buy It Now price of $4 and a very nice silk men's kimono and haori set (the one I posted about in a seller review) for only $60.

I restrict it to Buy It Now when I look at "newly listed" items because cheap auction opening prices don't matter if the auction still has 5 days to go and lots of time for the price to get driven up.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sousho: Yes, That's Japanese!

While living in Japan, I began teaching myself calligraphy. I still practice off and on, and while I'm certainly not the best, I really enjoy it and find the repetition of practicing characters relaxing.

There are three main styles of writing: kaisho (楷書 block print), gyousho (行書 semi-cursive) and sousho (草書 cursive). Sousho ("grass script") is my favorite style to practice because of its elegance and fludity. To show you how it looks, here's one of my older pieces (勇気, yuuki, "bravery")...

... and a Wikimedia file showing kaisho style on the left, and sousho on the right, for the word "sousho" 草書 itself.

The title of my post comes from an amusing incident: long story short, an American saw a piece of sousho calligraphy I'd done, and having never seen the style herself and unable to read the character I'd written, assumed I was trying to trick people with a made-up style.

Her confusion, to be fair, is understandable if you've only ever seen block print writing: sousho focuses more on the movement of the brush and the suggestion of shapes rather than what the shapes actually are. Modern Japanese have to study to be able to read many sousho characters as they've fallen out of use over time.

However, if you've learned hiragana, you're halfway to sousho even if you didn't realize it. All hiragana evolved from sousho forms of characters, as you can see in this top-to-bottom chart from Wikimedia:

You can also see sousho on a lot of old paintings, scrolls and books.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cosplayers: Hakama and Sword Tutorial Videos

The night before I wore my pseudo-samurai get-up at Comicpalooza, over at Youtube I found a series of very helpful videos that included a general demo for putting on men's hakama and tying your sword on, with clearly-shown steps and English instructions.

Part 2 covers hakama, and 3 goes over wearing the sword. These videos are intended for those practicing Iaido, the art of the sword, but from what I can tell they'd work for general costuming/dressing as well. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ichiroya Update - 2010 Yukata

Ichiroya's updated with their 2010 yukata and obi sets, featuring a lot of black and cute motifs. The $150 number I mentioned in my yukata post a couple of days ago, referring to the at-times cost of brand-new ones, shows up again as the price for these sets.

If you're not a fan of vintage, this is a nice opportunity to buy new, authentic yukata and obi in English from a Japanese dealer in Japan.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Comicpalooza Fun

I'm a member of the Fan Force, a casual fan group for the Star Wars series. As a joint venture with the 501st (the Storm Troopers you see at charity events) and the Rebel Legion (same with Jedi and such), we're doing a booth at Houston's Comicpalooza this weekend.

After helping out with the booth (stop on by tomorrow if you're in town! We're doing fun green-screen photos with a Death Star hallway background and costumed characters for charity :) ), I changed into my newly complete formal men's outfit for a pseudo-samurai get-up.

Again, my kitsuke needs a lot of work but I had fun with it, and, as a costume, it's one of the only times I get to wear men's clothing (which is much easier to put on and more comfortable... lucky guys!).

I've got on an underkimono, kimono, haori jacket, hakama pants, tabi socks and geta sandals. If you want to play "what's missing" I should technically have big white poofball ties on the haori coat and zori instead of geta, but I don't have either of those yet. Maybe next time!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ryu Japan Update - $15 Yukata

Unless I missed it, Ryu Japan hasn't officially announced a sale, but right now they have yukata starting at $15 (before shipping). This is lower than usual for them on their yukata, and I saw this happen once before with prices going back up after a few days, if I recall correctly. So if you're interested, I'd go ahead and order soon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How Old Is My Book/Postcard?

The other day, for $5, I picked up online a neat kimono style book from over 50 years ago: 1953, to be exact. I love old clothing catalogues from all over the world: here, it's interesting seeing not only the kimono styles but the layout and photos in the book (the "color" ones are black and white photos that have been painted over later). I'll do a few scans later on to share with y'all. :)

The book spine didn't say 1953, though: it used the traditional Japanese calendar, which (in modern-ish times) uses the reigns of emperors. When an emperor takes the throne, that year becomes Year 1 of his rule and goes on until the next emperor. The name will be the name he is known by after death.

This is also handy to know because a few times in Japan I was asked to enter my birth year in the Japanese style, rather than Western years.

If you have an old Japanese book, postcard, or other bit of printed material, take a look and see if you can find the year it was published, usually on the spine, inside cover, or back cover. You're looking for a string of characters that begin with one of these four pairs (assuming it's not extremely old):

明治 (Meiji - 1868-1912)
大正 (Taisho - 1912-1926)
昭和 (Shouwa - 1926-1989)
平成 (Heisei - 1989-present)

After the pair identifying the reign, you'll see number kanji. 二 by itself is 2. If 10 (十) is after it, then it becomes 20 (2 10s). So 二十一 would be 21. From one to 10:

1 一 2 二 3 三 4 四 5 五 6 六 7 七 8 八 9 九 10十

So 昭和四十五 would be Showa 45, and 平成十三 would be Heisei 13.

Once you find the Japanese calendar year, you can crosscheck it with the Western calendar. My kimono book says Showa 28 on it, which ends up being 1953.

Some books will have the exact month and day they were published. If you're really curious, 年 is year, 月 is month and 日 is day, each appearing at the end of the numbers they're attached to. My book reads 昭和二十八年十二月一日, which is...

Showa 28 (1953), December, 1st.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Much? Yukata

If you're thinking about putting together a kimono look, to wear normally or for a cosplay or costume, you might be wondering how much you're probably going to spend. I've seen hideously overpriced items in my time collecting, and ones that are real steals. Another ongoing series, "How Much?" will give you my highly subjective, personal experiences in Kimono Price Land on what is a good price, what you should snap up immediately and what you should pass on with raised eyebrows. ;)

Before I get started, and I'll repeat this in every entry for this series, it's not impossible to occasionally see a really high-priced item, due to age or rarity, etc. However, most of the time in my opinion you're more likely to see prices in this range. I pull my estimates from a long time spent on Ebay, online with various dealers, and a bit of convention-going thrown in.

The lowest price is the lowest price I've ever seen, and the highest I consider reasonable, give or take a few bucks, with both prices including shipping if you see this on an online site. Usually most pricing will fall around the middle.

Yukata Look (Casual cotton summer outfit)

What You Need (the absolute basics):
1. yukata kimono: ~$20-$100, the $100 for excellent-condition unused ones, as new ones can at times sell for $150-ish in Japan)
2. simple (one color, synthetic) hanhaba obi: ~$20-$60

Don't Forget!
-Sports bra
-Kimono underwear or a white tanktop and white skirt or leggings/shorts
-2 koshihimo or long cords or strips of fabric to tie the kimono shut and set the hem and collar
-1 obi ita board or stiff piece of posterboard to keep the obi flat in front
-cute footwear (geta ideally, but I've seen cute low heels and sandals worn by Japanese girls)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Three "Alphabets" of Japanese

Many English-speakers first learning Japanese are at first confused by the writing system for several reasons, from unfamiliarity to plain old misinformation. To help my fellow fans of Japanese out, here's a very generic breakdown of how it all fits together:

There are three writing "alphabets" (quotes because it's not technically correct to say alphabet, but close enough). They are:

Kanji: Literally "Chinese characters", these are adopted and adapted symbols that carry both sound and pictoral meaning. Here's an example: 漢字 (kan-ji). Kanji's pictoral meanings are very useful because even if a beginner doesn't know how to pronounce the two-kanji word 火山, they can still guess the meaning: "fire" + "mountain" = "fire mountain" = "volcano" (which is said "ka-zan" if anyone was curious).

Hiragana: This is a shorthand alphabet showing only the sound. Example: ひらがな (hiragana)

Katakana: This is a second more angular shorthand alphabet, showing only sound as well. カタカナ (katakana)

Kanji can be used for nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.. Hiragana are most often used for particles and grammar stuff (verbs, verb endings, question marker, and so on). Katakana are used mainly for foreign words and special emphasis.

So, in a single sentence, you can see all three used. For example:


This means "I am an American." (Watashi wa Amerikajin desu.) Can you pick out the two kanji, three hiragana, and four katakana? Let's take a look...

Kanji: 私 (watashi - I)、人 (jin- person)

Hiragana: は (written "ha" but here pronounced "wa" as it marks the subject of the sentence, the person or thing doing the action), です (desu - to be)

Katakana: アメリカ (Amerika - America)

As you can see, the two kanji were both nouns, the hiragana served as a grammar particle (wa) and a verb, and the katakana was used to write the foreign name America. 

Children first learn hiragana for everything as it's easiest and then add the right kanji as needed from there.

Well-meaning Japanese will at times write adult foreigners entire letters in hiragana, thinking they're making it easier for you, but in reality, at least in my case, it just drove me insane because it makes it more difficult to tell where one word ends and the other begins. For example, that same sentence above in all hiragana is わたしはあめりかじんです。

If you're just setting out, I'd recommend learning the hiragana and katakana first but getting into kanji as soon as you can. Once you learn the first basic 100, the rest are pretty much just combinations of them and not as insane as they look when you first start. (美, "bi", one of my favorite kanji, means "beautiful" and is just "big" 大 set under a "sheep" 羊).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Common Motifs: Sakura

The cherry blossom, or sakura 桜, has long held a special place in Japanese culture, and that popularity is reflected in the number of cherry blossom motifs one can find in kimono and textiles. (The character itself means a woman next to a tree under blossoms.)

A spring motif, it's at times confused with its winter predecessor, the plum blossom (ume 梅). How can you tell them apart? Sakura petals are typically shown as a little more angular and/or have a tiny fringe or notch in the middle of each petal, while ume blooms are portrayed as more rounded, plump flowers with smooth petal edges.

Here are some sakura examples, from various kimono:

And here are two ume ones:

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kamikaze Con Kimono Panel: Thank You!

Today, I and one of my best friends did an introductory kimono panel at Kamikaze Con, which covered the history of kimono, the different types with real-life examples of many, and a start-to-finish dressing of a volunteer in a summer yukata and hanhaba obi (thank you again! :) ). I did one similar at last October's Oni-Con, but I try to change them up a bit each time so people can see something new.

I'd like to say thank you to everyone who came! It was a lot of fun to do, and y'all were a wonderful group. If you attended and have any comments or questions (or got any photos as I blanked out on getting some of the actual panel), feel free to drop me a note at info atttt, and thank you! UPDATE (4/20): You can now check out a couple of photos here. :)

Here's the one photo I remembered to get after the panel, of me and Giant Suitcase o' Kimono in tow:

Today I decided to take the plunge and wear a non-yukata outfit (yukata are the simplest to wear and, having worn them enough, I'm very comfortable in them). So I went with a purple and abstract (possibly) spider-web pattern komon (fine pattern kimono), a Nagoya obi with tiny gold, red and white flowers, and green obi-age scarf and obi-jime. My kitsuke (kimono wearing) needs a huge amount of work as I've only recently moved from collecting to wearing, but it was exciting to actually go out of the house in something dressier than a yukata!

It'll be a long time before I can do a whole panel on kitsuke, but with a lot of practice between now and then I hope to confidently include how to tie a basic taiko knot and men's formal kimono and hakama in my panel on April 2 at Houston's Anime Matsuri.

This is one fun part about this blog and doing panels: I'm always learning something new!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Yakuza" in New Predator Movie

While more than likely rooted in fantasy rather than fact, a katana-wielding yakuza character will appear in Predators, the latest entry into the Predator movie series and coming out this summer. I found it interesting that Japan has come far enough in American popular consciousness to produce even secondary characters that specific. (You can check out the trailer on the Rottem Tomatoes site.)

On another note, this one coming from my deep love of sci-fi and action films, if you haven't seen the original Predator I highly recommend it. While the ones after weren't as great, the first is arguably a sci-fi-action classic, and an interesting look back at the manly-man movies of the 1980s. Long story short, the Governator and his squad are on a black-ops mission to rescue a team lost in the jungle when it becomes clear something bigger, badder and more advanced is hunting them.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kamikaze Con Kimono Mini-Report

At a local anime convention today (Kamikaze Con, going on now through Sunday), I grabbed some snapshots of kimono-related looks among con-goers and met the wonderful Amandah of Eroth Productions (site under construction now), who was selling vintage kimono at her booth. She had very reasonable prices and was both knowledgeable and friendly. If you happen to see Eroth this weekend or at a future con, definitely take a moment to browse through their kimono goodies.

Here are the con-goers: thank y'all again for your photos!

Warrior costume:

Wa-Lolita (Japanese-style Lolita fashion):

Homemade furisode:

And a quick, fuzzy shot of me at the end of the day, while we're at it. I tossed on a single-crested haori jacket over a black top and dark skinny jeans, along with my Egg of the King necklace for an anime touch. (If anyone can name what anime that comes from, I'll be surprised... it's an old one. >_>)

One of the presenters for the steampunk panels (another great group of folks, these behind the upcoming Steampunk World's Fair), had also worked a kimono into the overall look, a beautiful olive green hitoe (unlined) komon, I think it was, but I forgot to grab a photo.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tips for Kimono Newbies: Don't Go Out In Your Underwear

When I first started getting interested in kimono many moons ago, I knew very little about the topic. I cherished what I realize now was a tacky Chinese blue satin bathrobe as much as I did the authentic red wedding kimono I still have today.

The newbie phase happens to just about everyone in just about everything, and is nothing to be ashamed of. It gives you fun stories to tell later on! (Ask me sometime about my Crow Halloween costume as a Goth in the late '90s... ehehehe...)

That said, I'd like to offer some ongoing tips to the new folks out there in the kimono world, whether you're interested in wearing them normally or want the details at least in the right ballpark for a cosplay or costume.

This mini-series won't be about The Rules and How We Must Never Break Them, which is silly (I love seeing fun and funky modern takes on kimono), but rather the really, really big details newbies tend to miss without realizing it.

So let's get today's entry started with a pop quiz... what is the difference between these two women's kimono below?

Answer: The one on top is a komon (casual kimono marked by its fine, repeating pattern: usually worn with a half-width hanhaba obi or wider Nagoya obi).

The one on bottom is a woman's juban 襦袢. Juban are underwear worn under the top layer of kimono and are never, ever worn as the outer layer of an outfit. Now the title of this post makes more sense, right? ;) Here are a few more:

Occasionally you'll see sellers on and offline selling juban as kimono, which is technically correct because they are kimono, but they are underkimono. That's why they're often much cheaper than other kimono sold by the same Ebay seller, etc.

How can you spot juban? The most obvious way is to check the collar. Most juban have a white collar that is different from the kimono itself, because when worn under a kimono, the white of the underkimono juban will peek out at the collar. A few don't, but overall the collar check is a good way to weed out most juban and get to real kimono.

Another way is to look at the color and material: juban are most frequently plain white or variations of plain and patterned pink, orange, or other soft pastel colors, with the odd one occasionally red.

One final hint is their price: assuming the seller is not trying to pass it off as a normal kimono, just about all juban will be cheaper than the kimono around them.

Newbies often mistake juban for outerwear, and understandably so, due to the fact they are 100% kimono-shaped and made out of the correct fabrics. Misinformation from various sources (Halloween costumes, fantasy art, misidentifying Chinese outfits) can also lead one to believe the collar of an (outer) kimono should be in a contrasting fabric.

However, this is not true (the only exception I can think of off the top of my head is the black collar worn by geisha and fashionable women back in the 1800s, I believe it was: they sewed a piece of black velvet on their collars for an exotic touch). The collar of a kimono is cut from the same bolt of fabric as the rest of it, and so will always be the same color and pattern.

To wrap all this up, if you have a juban and have worn it out, don't feel bad! It's a common mistake, and at least you now have the first building block for a more authentic kimono outfit if you choose to make one. My blue satin bathrobe served no such purpose... ;)

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CLAMP's New Kimono Book: Okimono Kimono

CLAMP is a hugely popular and influential force in the manga/anime world, the creators behind a ton of titles like xxxHolic, Tsubasa Reservior Chronicle, Chobits, Cardcaptor Sakura, RG Veda, Tokyo Babylon, X/1999, Magic Knight Rayearth and more.

Member Mokona is also a fan of kimono, and so "Okimono Kimono" was born. A mixture of kimono-themed illustrations, interviews and more from CLAMP, this book has been available in Japanese for awhile but is due out later this month in English. The English-version release date seems to vary from site to site, but Barnes and Noble has a member-price special running right now where you can preorder it for $8.76, a nice chunk off the regular $12.99 price, with a release date of March 24.

Along with Yoshitaka Amano, CLAMP was one of my biggest artistic influences as a teen, so it's pretty cool to see them doing a kimono book. I'm pre-ordering my copy today and will do a review once I've finished it. In the meantime, here's the official description from Borders' site:

"Here's an exciting and charming addition to the CLAMP collection of works! CLAMP artist Mokona loves the art of traditional Japanese kimono. In fact, she designs kimono and kimono accessories herself and shares her love in Okimono Kimono, a fun and lavishly illustrated book full of drawings and illustrations, interviews (including an interview with Ami of the J-pop duo Puffy AmiYumi!), and even short manga stories from the CLAMP artists."

And here's a shot of CLAMP at Anime Expo 2006, courtesy of John (Phoenix) Brown, with Mokona in kimono on the right. Very cute!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ichiroya Update: Cheap Obi and Beautiful Furisode

Ichiroya's updating right now with new items, including a cute butterfly Nagoya obi for $18 and pretty furisode, the title of one catching my eye: "Western Castle" for $180 (which for a very new and excellent condition furisode is not a bad deal at all).

Very unique! It looks like a kimono a Disney princess would wear.

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kimono Coordination: Analogous Colors

Heading back to the color wheel and art class, today's coordination post will focus on analogous colors. "Analogous colors" is just a technical term for colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.

These colors naturally tend to work well together, and can be used to create some nice kimono looks. A common example is green, yellow-green, and green.

Remember, a bit of tension or contrast is important in kimono coordination, so while the colors may be analogous, there is still some contrast in either the shade of the color used, big and dramatic patterns vs. small ones, etc. You don't want a true green background on a kimono with a true green obi, even if you make the obi age scarf and obi-jime cord yellow. All of the elements should vary in color enough that none disappear.

A couple of examples: first a lovely fukuro obi with a furisode kimono and obiage/obijime set (colors: variants of red-orange, orange and red, respectively):

And a fukuro obi with a houmongi kimono and obiage/obijime set (variants of yellow-green, green and yellow, respectively):

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Geisha Costume: Kimono Acquired!

As mentioned in a previous post, I've decided to do a nice starter geisha costume. My goal is to have it ready by October and Halloween, if nothing else. I settled on the very distinctive, most formal outfit geisha can wear: a 5-crest black kimono with red underkimono.

Geisha wear this outfit on highly ceremonial occasions, for example Shinaisatsu (sheen eye saht tsoo ”New Year's Greetings"), which they have right after New Year's. On this day, which I believe varies from geisha district to district, they get fully suited up and make the rounds in their local community, thanking and asking for continued future help and kindness from everyone from their dance teachers to the mistresses of the high-end teahouses they often work in to the dressers that style their wigs.

For some lovely photos featuring this type of outfit, check out the amazing ewoodham's Flickr stream collection. The first image you'll see has two geisha in the front, and an apprentice (maiko) in the back.

As I also mentioned last night, I got my kurotomesode in the mail I plan to chop up and make into a trailing geisha version. It's beautiful and I think will work well for my starter outfit. So now I can cross it off my list and start looking for the other pieces I'll need! Looking at this list, it's a good thing I'm giving myself until October...

Geisha Costume List (things I don't already have):

- kurotomesode kimono (lengthened: not yet!)
- authentic geisha wig
- red juban (underkimono) (probably will need to be lengthened too)
- formal obi, possibly a hakata weave one
- red "momi" cloth, a special wrapped length of fabric geisha wear under their obi
- the wax stick primer geisha use for their whiteface
- appropriate kanzashi (hair ornaments)
- cloth and wicker basket bag (kinchaku normally, but geisha have larger ones to keep their instruments in)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Of Kimono and Owls

Today, while at the Sherwood Forest Renaissance Faire here in Texas, I ran into a lovely (and patient!) mother and daughter pair and rambled at them for awhile about kimono, my excitement coming from the cute komon kimono the daughter was wearing. If y'all ever see this, thank you again for your patience with me: I must have seemed very odd!

After a long, fun day at the festival, we've just now gotten home. It turns out my kurotomesode arrived today, the one I'm going to chop and make longer for the starter geisha outfit I'm planning, but at this point all I want to do is shower and sleep. I think I'll save opening the package for the morning, but I'm excited to see how it looks!

In the meantime, have a photo I took of an owl at the festival's falconry show. The Japanese word for owl is "fukuro 梟", with the characters literally a bird in a tree. While over there, I heard that owl talismans kept in the home are said to ward off bad luck, with the bigger the eyes the more protection given. If that's the case, I think this owl's got me covered!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bowing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

If you ever go to Japan or spend a lot of time there, you will find yourself beginning to bow at all sorts of times: meeting new people, accepting projects from your boss, even while on the phone (it was always interesting to watch some poor businessman getting chewed out by his boss through his cellphone, making small bows frantically and repeatedly as he answered).

Bowing goes beyond good manners in Japan and is a core part of social interaction. Moms will gently push a young child's head over and down at appropriate times, and some businesses have instituted bowing training for young recruits, concerned that young people don't know the correct angle and way to bow.

My culture tip for today is this: don't worry about if you're doing it exactly right, as if you watch those around you you can pick up fairly quickly what to do and when.

However, don't ever put your hands together like you're praying, palms flat against each other and fingers pointing at the sky, and then bow to someone. At some point, this sort of fake bow became ingrained in many American minds as how the Japanese bow. I can tell you after several years there that no one bows like that, the only exception being when they're at a shrine bowing and clapping to the deities.

I'm not sure where this fake bow came from, but my Japanese friends and coworkers were always either annoyed or amused when Westerners did that to them, sometimes asking me later what the person was doing when they did that.

The Japanese way of bowing is either arms hanging straight at the side, with hands flat against the side of your legs, which I always saw to be a more masculine way, or arms straight and hands clasped and hanging loosely in front, which most of the women I saw did. Keep your back straight and lower your eyes, breaking eye contact, when you bow. How far you bow and how long you hold it changes with the situation and people involved too, of course: your peers get a quick nod of the head, basically, while the prime minister would result in you bent over quite a bit for a longer time.

Most Japanese I met did a handshake-bow hybrid when I met them, which covered all the bases. :)

Bowing is also one of the hardest habits to shake once acquired: when I got back to America it took a full six months to quit doing it regularly, and to this day three years later I still subconsciously drop back into it in high-pressure business situations.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Join Me for Kamikaze Con, March 21!

Barring sudden changes, it's now official: I'll be doing another kimono panel, this one at Kamikaze Con!

When: Sunday, March 21, 12pm
Where: Houston's Kamikaze Con, room TBD
What: Kimono 101, an hour-long panel featuring:

-The different types of kimono and obi with real-life examples
-Demo of putting a yukata (summer cotton one) on from start to finish
-A brief history of kimono
-Common mistakes to avoid in wearing them
-How to spot a fake
-Prize giveaway

If you saw me at OniCon back late last year, I have good news: since that last panel I've added several new items to my collection and will be bringing them along! I'm also going to tweak the panel each time I do it, so even if you saw me at OniCon stop on by as I'll try to mix things up a bit each time I do a panel and to a small extent rotate out the examples I bring to keep things fresh.

The prize will be either a yukata or hanhaba obi or possibly both depending on what I can drum up from donors and my own shopping luck.

Next up will be a panel Friday, April 2 at Houston's Anime Matsuri. More to come on that in a later post!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kimono on a Budget: Part 1

When I was in college, I didn't have a lot of free cash, so I did a lot of bargain hunting. One of the best bargains I got came from the trendy secondhand clothing shop down the block from my place (Buffalo Exchange, if you've heard of it). The last day of the month they would quietly drop all of their sales clothes to $1 each, so I'd set aside a $10 bill and wait to go shopping until then. They eventually quit doing that once enough of us caught on...

Anyway, I still love finding bargains today, especially on kimono (while not $1 each, my very first two kimono actually came from Buffalo Exchange, one a red wedding furisode for $50).

One online way to get good deals is to check out auctions ending soon on Ebay, some of which watchers have forgotten about or people just won't see before they end. Here's one quick and easy way to weed through the junk and enjoy a bit of window shopping:

1. Head to Ebay and search for "Japanese kimono".

2. Click on the "Cultures and Ethnicities" tab under "Collectibles". This will weed out a fair amount of the fake polyester junk that for some handy reason is always off in the Culture and Ethnic Clothing category. Click on the bottom right "Items per page" to show 200 results at a time for faster skimming. (Once in this category you can also search for obi without having to slog through a million Star Wars Obi-Wan or CD/records with obi strips to get to them.)

3. Set the top right "Sort by" tab to: "ending soonest". To this day I'm still not entirely sure what purpose the "best match" one serves: anyone know?

4. Skim down the first page or two and see if there's anything you like. Ending today I see a few juban (underkimono) for $0.99, no bids yet, and a furisode for $36 (but with 11 bids it clearly has folks interested, so that might go a lot higher).

Before you bid, make sure the shipping is reasonable and that sellers aren't making up for bargain prices with unusually high shipping. I once saw an excellent-condition fukuro obi that was a great deal at around $20, but then it was something like $38 to ship SAL, which is definitely higher than I normally pay.

Part 2 continues here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Common Motifs: Tachibana

There are a ton of common motifs in Japanese textiles, everything from the expected cherry blossoms to the rather surprising popularity of lobsters. This series will be another reoccurring blog feature here, a quick look at one motif at a time and examples of it.

Today is tachibana 橘, or "mandarin orange". Usually a summer theme, from what I've read, it has the fruit nestled in five leaves, forming an almost star shape at times and easily identifiable once you've seen it a few times.

Detail of fukusa (gift-wrapping/tea ceremony cloth), now with more lobster!

Detail of haori (coat) done in the shibori technique:

Detail of uchikake (wedding kimono):

Tachibana family crest on a furoshiki (carrying cloth), detail:

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Men's Clothing: Kamishimo

After the Saigo Takamori book review I did yesterday, I saw Ichiroya's update for tomorrow/Tuesday and thought I'd keep the samurai love going for another day.

Ichiroya's put up two vintage kamishimo (裃), which normally refer to a whole men's outfit made up of three things: hakama pants, a formal kimono, and a kataginu, a sleeveless jacket/vest with giant, reinforced anime-sized shoulders sticking out to either side. I'm not sure if Ichiroya's two were for actual wear or stage costumes of some kind, as they're not lined and I don't know if actual ones usually were or not.

Kamishimo were traditionally worn by samurai and courtiers back in the Edo period (1600s to mid-1800s) and is not an outfit you'd normally see around today on a guy. But if you're interested in history or cosplay, it's handy to know what the whole look is called!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review: The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

Mark Ravina's The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori (2005) follows one of the last samurai folk heroes in Japan, the leader of the Satsuma Rebellion (1877) and a hugely influential samurai in the chaos of the mid-late 1800s. It follows Saigo's rise from a low-ranking samurai tax clerk to Imperial adviser and finally national folk hero dying on the battlefield, hopelessly outnumbered by forces sent from the government he helped shape.

If you saw Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai, Ken Watanabe's Katsumoto character is based very loosely on Takamori: a powerful samurai unhappy with the changing times and the government but who, at the same time, has a worshipful, reverent view of the Emperor himself and strong moral ideals.

I picked this book up at my local library as part of my "learn more about samurai" goal, not knowing much about Japanese political history. It is definitely a scholarly text, with a lot of fine details, but written engagingly enough that I was able to read the entire book without losing interest.

One interesting note is that while I knew the Meiji government stripped the daimyo (lead samurai lords) of their titles and such, I never realized how brutally swift they were about it until this book: some of the main lords were called in for a meeting in the capital, not being told what it was about. When the meeting started, they were told that their ancestral titles of centuries, status, money, and lands were being taken from them, forever, as of that moment.

Another noteworthy cultural detail was the "Mito School" philosophy: named after the feudal region it came from, this way of thinking said that not only was Japan unique, it was literally the land of the gods and sacred. Saigo himself bought heavily into this idea, and felt it was worth learning Western technology not because it was desirable in itself, but for the express purpose of kicking Westerners out of Japan and preserving the sanctity of the country.

In general, if you're a casual reader, this is probably not the book for you. But if you want a very detailed look at one of the most famous samurai of his time and possibly ever, along with the unique circumstances that shaped his world, it's an excellent book written in a clear, objective voice and worth a read.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kimono Kanji Cheat Sheet

Beyond the satisfaction of learning new words in a language, if you're interested in kimono, knowing the original Japanese names can help you in searching online for more information, photos, or Japan-based auctions and webshops. Here are a few:

kimono: 着物 or きもの

obi: 帯
hanhaba obi: 半幅帯
Nagoya obi: 名古屋帯
fukuro obi: 袋帯
maru obi: 丸帯
obi-age: 帯揚げ
obi-jime: 帯締め
zouri: 草履
geta: 下駄

(Want to learn more Japanese? Check out the "Language" section of the TKL Book Shop.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kimono Challenge and Coordination: Komon

At times you'll see me tossing around names like "kurotomesode" or "komon", which are different types of kimono in regards to formality. Every now and then I'll go into more detail with what I know about these types, with today's focus on komon (and a challenge for readers!).

Komon are basically the blue jeans of the kimono world: not as casual as running around in shorts and a tank top (summer cotton yukata) but not formal enough to wear if you're visiting someone's house for a nice dinner (houmongi). Komon kimono get their name ("small pattern" 小紋) from their design, fine and repeating patterns that don't stretch intact across seams. Komon kimono can be made from wool, silk, or in recent years high-grade, washable polyester.

Komon coordination is a step-up from the stripped-down yukata: while you can stay with nicer versions of the hanhaba obi (the half-width obi also used with yukata) you'll need to add a juban (underkimono that is most often white and peeks out at the collar) and tabi socks. From what I've seen and read, geta sandals can, at a stretch, be worn with komon as long as tabi socks are worn with them, but the feel is of tennis shoes versus the "ballet flats/nice sandals" level of shoes you'd achieve with casual-level zori sandals(zori being the next and last step up in shoe formality from geta).

If you want to wear it more formally, you can add zori and what's called a Nagoya obi (wider obi sewn into the half-width needed across the front rather than folded in half, as more formal obi are), which will require adding an obi-age scarf and obi-jime cord to hold the Nagoya obi together properly.

Keep in mind that a komon worn at its most formal is still about like a summer dress from J. Crew. It's not going to fly for a nice dinner party or fancy occasion but works well within its more casual sphere. It can also be worn year-round, unlike the summer-only yukata.

So, in summary:

-Coordination Choice 1: komon, juban, hanhaba obi, tabi socks, geta or casual zori
-Coordination Choice 2: komon, juban, Nagoya obi, obi-age, obi-jime, tabi socks, casual zori 

And to wrap up, if any of my fellow kimono fans out there would like a small kimono challenge (I need very little excuse to play around with them myself), here you go!

Kimono Challenge: Komon

Coordinate your favorite komon any way you like (cute, funky, classic, goth, your city's sports team colors, etc.) and send me a photo or two with a sentence or two about your coordination idea or inspiration. I'll be happy to post any I get in a future entry. If you don't have your own komon yet, you can send links to your favorite from one of the online dealer sites and accessories to match. It's not a contest, so there won't be any prizes, but that means there's no pressure either. Have fun with it! :)

First image copyright Kelly of Wikimedia. All other images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Michael Jackson as a Samurai

I thought this was too interesting not to post, but credit for this goes entirely to member Lindethiel of the Immortal Geisha forums, who posted this unexpected but interesting find a couple of days ago: the late King of Pop dressed as a samurai for a shoot likely from the 1980s. You can see more a couple more shots second row down in the middle here on the fansite

I always liked his music, and of course I love kimono and such, but I never imagined you'd see the two combined!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ebay Seller Review: Ryu Japan

Today's seller review features Ryu Japan, the same Ryu Japan website you've occasionally seen me post site updates for. I recently was excited to win a pair of 24.5cm zori from them on Ebay, as zori in my size (8.5 American) aren't always easy to find.

Communication: Great! They write you promptly with your invoice, and again when they ship, requesting you email them back once you get your stuff so they can be sure you got it ok. Very friendly as well.

Speed: Good! The package arrived through SAL mail 13 days after I won it, which is nice as SAL is anywhere from 2-4 weeks, typically.

Quality: The zori are beautiful and exactly as described. My only minor complaint would be the color is a little off from the photos on the auction, a pretty pink rather than what I saw as lavender online, but that could be my monitor or perhaps the lighting when the photos were taken? (If you remember my post about the true blue obi that turned out to be entirely purple, that was Ryu Japan as well). The zori fit me fine, being a true 24.5cm as advertised. Woo hoo!

Packaging: If you've ever been to Japan, you may have seen the insane amount of packaging that is the norm in a lot of stores. Ryu Japan kept that trend up, as the zori were very well-protected inside three separate layers of paper and plastic bags before being shipped in a heavy-duty postal bag.

Shipping/Handling Fees: I paid $10.00 for SAL, which I consider fair for the size and weight of the zori.

This is the third auction I've won with Ryu Japan, and so far I'm pleased with their service and find them (outside of the minor item-color issues) to be a consistently good seller and someone I'll happily continue to buy from!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hina Matsuri: The Doll Festival

While still the 2nd here in the States, today in Japan is now March 3, known as the Doll Festival (hinamatsuri, "hee-nah mah-tsoo-ree" 雛祭り) or Girls' Day. Households with girls display a set of special dolls dressed in Heian-style clothing representing the Emperor, Empress and other attendants and items sitting on different levels of a platform set. Special foods are also eaten, like hina-arare, a multicolored snack candy which can be found by the bag in any grocery store in the weeks leading up to the 3rd.

Doll sets can be anywhere from really expensive and elaborate, costing thousands of dollars and taking up nearly an entire wall's worth of space with seven levels of dolls, down to the cute, non-traditional $20 hackeysack-style Emperor and Empress pair that made it back to America with me.

The one below features the rulers and their female attendants, with royal household goods for traveling (mini palanquin, stacking bento boxes, and ox-drawn carriage) on the third level.

Several of my adult students in Japan told me that when they were children, they hated passing through the room with the dolls in them at night because the dolls creeped them out in the dark, and others told me that it's important the dolls be put away promptly after the holiday or the daughter in the house will be jinxed and unable to find a husband quickly (or according to some, ever!).

Images copyright Katorisi.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Kimono Coordination: OMG Shoes!

When it comes to footwear, you have two basic choices with kimono: geta (下駄 gey-tah) or zori (草履 zoh-ree, and spelled zouri, technically).

Geta are casual clogs, meant to be worn with cotton summer yukata kimono or at their most extreme, dressed up with tabi socks for simple, casual komon (finely patterned) kimono.

Zori are more formal, and are worn with everything else. They are also always, always worn with tabi socks.

Neither are "indoor" shoes, because you take off your shoes the moment you enter a house or traditional building.

It's at times difficult to find women's sizes above a 24.5 cm, so if you find some 27cm ones you can just about guarantee they're for men. Another way to tell men's from women's is that men's, in addition to being bigger, will typically be squarer and more angular.

First image copyright Haragayato, second copyright Alexa Bender.