Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Getting to Know Asia: Chinese vs. Japanese vs. Korean Writing

Even if you don't speak any Japanese, you can learn to tell at a glance if a comic book, photograph or other Asian item is Japanese or not if you can find writing on it.

The big three Asian countries have three separate writing systems (as do other Asian countries, of course, but we'll focus on these for today), allowing you to tell at a glance if the item is Chinese, Japanese or Korean.

The most different one in terms of appearance is Korean. Korean is a pretty cool written language in that centuries ago the king got together a bunch of scholars and experts and had them create an exception-free, easy to learn alphabet. In print it is fairly simple and angular and looks like this: 감사합니다

Chinese uses more complicated characters that are not just sound, as Korean and English alphabets both are, but meaning as well. 美女选手大熊猫劲爆滑雪实拍

Japanese looks similar to Chinese because it also uses those characters but with two exceptions: ひらがな and カタカナ, simple but curvy hiragana and simple and sharp katakana respectively. These two additional alphabets are often mixed in with the more complicated Chinese characters. So Japanese will usually be a mixture of at least two of the three and look like this: 日本航空のカウンター. The first four characters are Chinese characters, then one hiragana, then five katakana. Occasionally, long formal company or organization names will be Chinese characters only, but never entire sentences.

So to put all three closer together for a better look(bonus points if you can read what all three say ;) ):




Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kimono Sewing Tips: Fabric and Pattern Check

If you decide to make your own kimono and get a good sewing pattern (Folkwear's is your best bet from the ones I've seen), you're halfway to a great kimono.

The other half of the battle is getting fabrics that are appropriate for what you're trying to make. While it can be tough to find exactly what you're after, you can at least get in the ballpark with fabrics from local shops or on the Internet. You can also get actual kimono bolts (called tan or tanmono) at Ebay and other places online.

Kimono, depending on formality, are made of either 100% cotton, wool, high-grade polyester (not the cheap shiny stuff you see on bathrobes), or heavy and matte silk.

If you want to be traditional, make yours as following:

summer kimono (yukata) - cotton
small pattern for casual wear (komon) - wool, polyester, silk
visiting wear (tsukesage/houmongi)/most formal married women's (kurotomesode)/formal young women's with long sleeves (furisode) - silk

If you're not interested in getting the exact fabric traditionally needed and just want to make a kimono for a simple costume or cosplay, there are a lot of great cotton bolts out there that are Japanese-y enough to do the trick. Just make sure the pattern is actually Japanese and not Chinese (one of the biggest mistakes folks new to kimono make).

A good general rule is that "hard", geometric characters in circles, etc. are usually Chinese, as are lots of dragons, and anything made of shiny satin brocade.

Here are some samples of Japanese-themed cotton fabrics from Legacy Studio, found at my local JoAnn's a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Common Motifs: Yukiwa - Snow(flake) Ring

Today's common motif is a type of snowflake, the stylized "snow ring", or "yukiwa" in Japanese 雪輪 . While obviously a winter motif, it can every now and then be found on summer items (I believe it's the "Christmas in July" approach of feeling cooler by using cold motifs in hot weather.) The yukiwa almost looks like a sand dollar, round with frilly edges and indentations, and is often filled with other motifs or images.

The examples below are a fukuro obi, a meisen kimono, and a summer weave maru obi.

All images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yukata Kimono Market Sakura - New Washable Komon, "Plus Size" Yukata

While wandering around the Net, I ran across Yukata Kimono Market Sakura.

I couldn't find any reviews for them (let me know if you've had any experience with them), but for those of you who would rather than buy new than vintage they do have some fun, washable komon available (As they group vintage in a separate category, I'm assuming they're new). I'm partial to the rose and fleur vertical stripe one, in both the black and lavender versions. :)

As I've mentioned in previous posts, in recent years synthetic kimono have become popular as a cheap way to wear kimono, and a more practical one, as they can be washed while traditional silk ones can't be. Due to their mass production and like yukata, it is possible to see 10 of the exact same thing, something you don't normally see with silk kimono. You can also wear them with the simple hanhaba obi (the nicer ones), another reason they're great for casual wear or beginners.

They also offer "plus sized" yukata, but that can be a relative term: be sure to take your measurements carefully before ordering.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Language: Anime is Dessert

One of the best ways to learn natural examples of a language is to listen to and watch native speakers in natural situations. This, when balanced with structured learning and practice, can really help you progress.

Some new learners of Japanese rely on anime to provide natural language and behavior, and while you can definitely pick up some cultural customs (shoes off in a house, bowing, etc.) and some language and phrases, it's critical that anime not be the main bulk of what you're listening to and watching. It's like dessert, something you have for fun after everything else (live action movies in "normal" worlds with normal characters, TV shows, interviews and news programs, etc.).

The reason is that there are certain conventions in anime that don't hold up in real life, much like over-the-top dialogue in some English-language movies doesn't occur in real life.

(For example, while some female anime characters call themselves "chan" and talk in the third person about themselves, in real life it sounds about as strange as it does in English when anyone over three years old does it.)

This post isn't about beating up on anime: I love the old Berserk series and a few others. :) It's just a friendly reminder to keep anime a tiny part of your overall listening practice rather than depending on it wholly.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Omamori Extravaganza!

I've taught English as a Second Language at private schools and such for almost six years now, but tomorrow I take two tests (Generalist EC-6 and ESL) that, if passed, will allow me to start looking around for public school jobs as an elementary ESL teacher. Sweet, sweet benefits and cheaper health care, how I would love to see you again...

Omamori おまもり, as I mentioned in one of my very first posts here, are good luck amulets you can purchase at shrines in Japan. There are ones for certain specific situations, so here's the ones I'd load up on if I were still over there.

Success on Exams
Travel Safety (Test center is an hour away.)
General Good Luck
Success in Business (Hey, it's for a better job!)
Health (No last minute flu bugs.)
Love (Hey, Ian Somerhalder might be there taking a test too. Yeah. Or something. :D )

In fact, I'll take ten of each minus the Safe Birth one. 10 hours of tests is a long time, but not that long!

Wish me luck!

Various omamori for sale. Photo courtesy Kanko, Wikimedia.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What Do You Call...? - Sandal Straps

Tonight's entry is short and sweet:

When you look at either geta or zori sandals (the first is casual, the second more formal), they always have V-shaped straps, and these straps are called hanao 花緒.

Examples of geta and zori. Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ryu Japan Sale - $5 Hanhaba Obi

If you're still looking to put together a yukata outfit for this summer or can't resist cute obi, Ryu Japan's put a bunch of hanhaba (half width) obi on sale for $5. You can also pick up $17 Nagoya obi and $23 yukata if you look around the site, as well as some other deals. Happy shopping!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fans: Uchiwa vs. Sensu

You may have already seen the two main types of fans in Japan, but do you know their names?

Sensu 扇子 are folding fans, and uchiwa 団扇 are the flat, round fans you see used in the summer, though sensu are also used during the summer as well. Both can be found in department stores, and you can even get cheapies in convenience stores.

In pop culture, the "Uchiha" clan and symbol in Naruto is a play on that, and during the hottest months businesses will sometimes hand out cheap uchiwa with their company logo at festivals or near train stations.

An uchiwa, courtesy Wikimedia.

"17th Miyako no Nigiwai" (Performance): Scene 2 Nagauta Ayameyukata 長唄 菖蒲浴衣
Geiko Tsunemomo and Hinagiku from Gionhigashi, photo by Onihide.

Dancers use larger versions of sensu, sometimes painted with gold and silver, but these are never used while fanning yourself at a festival or standing on the train platform, like normal sensu.

"17th Miyako no Nigiwai": Scene 3 Nagauta Kishi no Yanagi 
Geiko Naosome and Umeha from Kamishichiken, photo by Onihide.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Review: Okimono Kimono

When I do kimono panels at anime conventions, my goal is to introduce kimono and traditional culture to fans of pop Japanese culture in a fun yet informative way.

Next time I do one, I'm definitely going to recommend the 2010 English translation of CLAMP manga artist and kimono enthusiast Mokona's 2007 book Okimono Kimono. It's a great, lightweight introduction to kimono, which respects the garment's cultural importance but mostly focuses on it as a living garment worn with individual style and creativity.
I received my copy today, and had a lot of fun looking through Mokona's ideas and ensembles. The book features a collection of kimono Mokona designed herself, 17 coordinates created from vintage kimono and pieces, an interview with her and Onuki Ami (Puffy AmiYumi), a photoshoot, accessory ideas, a mini-comic and more. The only thing I was hoping for more of were illustrations like the one on the cover, but that's the only full illustration in the whole book beyond the mini-comic.

Overall, I found it a great book to get anyone started on what kimono are in a fun, unintimidating way. :)

One note, however: If you are a serious collector used to books like the scholarly Kimono by Liza Dalby or someone looking for detailed kitsuke (kimono wearing) advice, this is not the book for you. There are a lot of great photos and ideas for coordinates, but beyond a few tidbits here and there no hard facts about kimono history and proper kitsuke. In fact, Mokona actually suggests breaking "standard" rules in a few cases, for example, by breaking out summer kimono earlier in the calendar than usual and making collars out of tenegui towels.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yamatoku Classic on Ebay - $20 Ko-Furisode

While looking through Ebay listings tonight, I saw kimono dealer Yamatoku Classic has posted 160 ko-furisode with $19.99 Buy It Now prices.

There are different sleeve lengths one can get with a furisode, with ko being the shortest and most casual. The fact they have multiple kimono of the exact same pattern, plus the material's listing as synthetic and the unique sleeve only patterns, make me think these are probably stage costumes of some kind.

However, if you're looking for a fun cosplay or Halloween costume, this would make a great accurate alternative to all the satin-bathrobe versions out there.

EDIT: It turns out most of them are meant to be worn with hakama for graduation ceremonies, which would explain the lack of patterns along the bottom as you wear the hakama pants over them. I learned something today, to quote South Park. ;)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Miko Group Konohanasakuya

While surfing on the Web, I ran across an interesting article about a newly formed "miko group".

Miko, as you may already know, are the young women, usually in red and white, who assist at Shinto shrines. The English translation is often "shrine maiden" or "shrine attendant". Back in the old days families who could usually sent one of their daughters to be a miko and serve at the local Shinto shrine, and considered it an honor to do so.

After WWII, when Shinto saw its number of active participants drop like a rock (long story for another post), it gradually became harder to find miko. By the time I moved there in 2002, miko had become a part-time job for young women, much the same as working at Starbucks or the mall. One of my students had been one when she was younger, and told me the ads often ask for "classically beautiful" girls.

Taking this idea of the miko job one step further is "Konohanasakuya," a group of six models and TV personalities that did a 3-day miko training camp and are now hoping to make it in the show business world as a miko performance group. Many modern Japanese only have a passing interest in Shinto outside of wedding ceremonies and New Year's visits, and perhaps this group will help bring more interest back to it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kanji Beginner: Beautiful Big Sheep

It may sound odd to some, but I have favorite kanji, ones that I really like the look of in an artistic sense. One of them is 美 "utsuku(shii)" or "bi", depending on the use, and means "beautiful/beauty".

Like a lot of more complicated kanji, it's a combination of simpler ones. Here it is huge:

Here are the two it's made up of: "sheep" on top, 羊 and then "big" (think of a man holding his arms out to show size) 大. So, for linguistic reasons unknown to me, a "big sheep" is "beautiful." It's a nice example, though, of how learning very basic kanji can help you a lot down the road as you get into more complicated characters.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Getting to Know Asia: Hanfu

This new series, "Getting to Know Asia", will more or less be little peeks into the culture and clothing of Asian countries outside of Japan, for Westerners who don't have a lot of experience or confidence distinguishing between the cultural details of those countries.

The goal is that if you know what Chinese robes or Korean patterns look like, you can distinguish them from Japanese and won't get tricked into buying a Chinese housecoat thinking it's a Japanese Imperial Geisha Wedding Princess Ninja Robe. ;)

Tonight's peek is into "hanfu", one of the national costumes of China.

Modern hanfu enthusiasts bringing hanfu back into daily life.

Empress Li of Hangzhou, Song Dynasty.

If you go back far enough in history, and I'm talking over a thousand years, you can find Japanese clothing examples that look similar to hanfu due to China's enormous influence on Japanese culture, but you're not going to find any of these today around outside a museum.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kimono Coordination: June Themes

We're back to our imaginary, limitless kimono closet to put together an outfit featuring traditional monthly themes. June's themes include willow and hydrangea, so here we have a young women's outfit featuring both. (Technically the obi is a light, summer-weight obi, and you'd ideally have an unlined kimono to go with it, but we'll make do with this one.)

The kimono is a furisode featuring willow (June) and butterflies (spring or summer), with a fukuro obi featuring hydrangea, which you may remember from my Common Motif post a little while ago. The gold cloth and orange cord beneath it are the obi-age (the scarf you tie around and tuck into the top of the obi) and the obi-jime, the cord you tied around the obi.

All images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kimono Knowledge: Yukata FAQ

As we move more and more into yukata season, here are some questions I've seen and heard about this fun and casual kimono type.

What is a yukata? ゆかた、浴衣

It's an unlined cotton summer kimono, worn mostly to festivals and firework shows in the months of July and August (you see some in June, but most of the summer festivals are in those last two months).

Who can wear yukata?

Anybody! There are yukata for women, girls, and men, though men don't wear them as often or opt for "jimbei" 甚平 (a matching shorts and shirt combo) instead, which is what little boys wear as well.

What do I need to wear one?

For women or men, a yukata, a hanhaba (half-width) obi 半幅帯 (women) or kaku obi 角帯(men), tank top and leggings, shorts or a plain short skirt to wear for underwear as yukata are a bit thin, and for women two long strips of cloth to tie the yukata in place and an obi-ita or piece of posterboard to tuck in the obi front to keep it smooth. For shoes, wooden geta are traditional but in recent years guys and girls have also started wearing Western-style sandals (nicer than flip flops).

How do I put one on?

Beyond the very basic "left over right" rule, check out Youtube, which has a bunch of entries for "how to wear yukata". I'm partial to the previously-linked Ichiroya's for thoroughness and clarity, but you'll notice if you watch my list above is a stripped-down version of their "what you need" and I skip the towel-padding, for a couple of reasons: Texas heat and I have a bit of padding naturally. ;)

Is it OK for foreigners to wear yukata?

It's pretty much ok for foreigners to wear any kind of kimono in Japan, save religious garments or kimono worn sloppily/disrespectfully, but yukata are a great starting point for any foreign kimono wearer, as it's the easiest kind to collect and put on and is more "trendy" and open to stylistic interpretation than other kinds.

Can I wash the yukata?

Yes. Most yukata are machine washable (while other kimono are definitely not). However, mine always bleed color like nobody's business so wash yours on gentle by itself, with nothing else in the machine. As an experiment I also dried mine on low and had it not shrink, but it's definitely best to air dry them. (In Japan, most homes air-dry clothes, so not much comes "pre-shrunk" and safe for Western dryers.)

Can I wash the obi?

Tough call. I've never washed mine, but you should be able to spot treat with mild bath soap and water. Test a small area on the back side first if you're going to try.

What are some shopping pitfalls?

Watch out for satin, polyester, etc. Yukata are cotton only. Never buy any that has a matching belt of the same material as those are fakes. Make sure it's an adult size and not a kid's (usually your first hint is the lower price). If it's white with small blue patterns, it's usually a bathrobe type and not meant to be worn out of the house (especially if it comes with a very thin belt in dark blue or red).

Where can I wear them?

Any Japanese gardens, festivals, cultural events, or just a picnic with your friends. If you put one on and really like it, trust me: you'll find a place to wear it!

What's that little bag/purse thing called you see people carrying around while in their yukata?

It's called a "kinchaku" 巾着. Usually they're perfectly sized for a cellphone, bit of cash and a make-up compact, with men's being more subdued.

Do men really use fans in Japanese summers?

Yes, sometimes. There's nothing more attractive than a good-looking guy with nice hands fanning himself. Or maybe that's just me...

Are you just making up questions at this point?

I could be. Hey, look! It's people in yukata!

Photos by Corpse Reviver, Wikimedia.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Congrats to the Japanese Soccer Team!

Japan, for the first time ever, has won a World Cup game on foreign soil. Two words one might say would be "Yatta!" (Woo hoo!) and when talking about how long it took, "yatto".

They're one syllable apart but the second one is used to mean "at last", as in "Yatto dekita." (They finally did it!). Go Japan!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Geisha Timeline

Geisha, or geiko as they're known in Kyoto, have a basic path they follow as they progress from newbie to true geisha, with its own traditions, clothing and vocabulary. Here's a typical and very simplified walk through, with all images by the amazing Onihide and used with permission (thank you very much!).

Minarai 見習い - This is a proto-apprentice, and literally means "learning by watching". Minarai dress like the next step up, maiko, but wear their obi half-length in the back to show customers and others they're newbies.

Minarai Fumino

Misedashi 見せだし - Basically "showing around", this word refers to the ceremony and day when a minarai becomes a proper maiko (apprentice).

Fumino again, on the day of her misedashi

Maiko 舞妓 - The most famous visual representatives of the geisha world, maiko "dancing girl", wear elaborate folded silk square hair ornaments made to look like flowers, butterflies, and a whole host of other seasonal and auspicious symbols, sometimes with dangling lines of silk petals or leaves. They most often wear whiteface, tall wooden okobo (clogs) and special, maiko-specific long obi (darari obi) tied to dangle like two tails in the back, as well as long-sleeved young women's (furisode) kimono.

Maiko Ayakazu

Maiko Toshikana and Toshimana

Sakkou 先笄 - The week before a maiko becomes a proper geisha, she will dress her hair a certain way to let everyone know she is about to "graduate" to geisha.

Maiko Mamechiho in the sakkou hairstyle

Erikae 襟替え - "Collar changing", this is the ceremony when a maiko becomes a proper geisha/geiko, fully turning her collar from maiko red to geisha white.

Geiko Kimiha on the day of her erikae

Geisha 芸者 ("Geiko" 芸妓 in Kyoto) - A "person of the arts" or "woman of the arts", a geisha has worked her butt off to become a classically trained entertainer and artist and has now taken her place as one of the most famous symbols of traditional Japan. She wears a simpler hairstyle and fewer, smaller ornaments, as well as short-sleeve tomesode (adult woman) kimono and usually short obi knot styles.
Geiko Konomi

Geiko Mamesuzu, Konomi, and Kogiku

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Western Motif Finds: Cinderella Carriage Obi

Every now and then you'll see distinctly Western-style items on Japanese textiles, and after looking at tons and tons of sakura, cranes and fans they really jump out at you. They are also, I have heard, more "friendly" to foreign wearers as, well, they're foreign and so are you. ;) Seriously! That's what I was told once when I went yukata shopping: the staff picked out a hanhaba obi with Western-style roses and told me that Westerners looked better in foreign themes than Japanese did.

(I ended up getting it and still have it: it's a pretty red with white on the other side, and if you've been to my panels or seen photos you've seen me use it for my yukata demo.)

Today's Western find is from Ichiroya (other than letting me use their photos, I have no deal of any kind with them, to be clear ^_^;), and is a beautiful fukuro (formal) obi featuring a decidedly Western carriage.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ebay Deals: Newly Listed Buy It Now

My fun money is currently going into both the "Authentic Geisha Wig" and "Darth Maul Lightsaber" saving funds (costume geeks unite!) so rather than keep these deals to myself, allow me to tempt you and live vicariously through your shopping. ;)

These are brand-new Ebay auctions with low Buy It Nows, so "no muss, no fuss" if you can get to it before someone else does.

Gorgeous pink houmongi with ocean waves for $24.50.

Bold royal blue komon with kikkou (turtle) pattern for $26.50.

Cute pink with sakura pattern yukata plus obi set for $39.

(I'm not personally endorsing any of these sellers, as a note.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kimono Knowledge: Know Your Kurotomesode

Let's see if I can fit some more k's into that title!

Kurotomesode are the most formal kimono for married women, and are black kimono with five family crests (the white dots up top in the photos below) and a pattern along the hem only. A fine detail new collectors may not know is that that pattern starts out huge and exuberant for newly married (assumed to be young) women and then gets smaller and more muted the older you get.

Two examples:

Photos are copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Common Motifs: Ajisai - Hydrangea

I've always loved flowers, both growing and giving them, so when I moved to Japan I was quick to notice their hydrangea plants were a little different than the ones I was used to. The Japanese kind (or American kind I had just never run into before?) had blooms that sort of dangled and hung off the main blossom like little ornaments.

Asking my coworkers, I learned the Japanese word for hydrangea is ajisai 紫陽花, and the type I was used to is 西洋紫陽花 ("seiyou ajisai" or "Western hydrangea").

Hydrangea, due to their blooming this time of year, are considered an early summer/June motif: below are some examples as seen on a karinui (unfinished and unsewn) furisode, a wedding uchikake, a yukata bolt, an iromuji (solid color) kimono, and a fukuro obi.

Photos are copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Geisha Photographers on Flickr: Momoyama

Michael Chandler, also known as Momoyama on Flickr, has a wonderful collection of geisha photography up, featuring geiko (Kyoto geisha) in a variety of photos: mixed in with the expected (but still) gorgeous and regal portraits you'll find a crowd of them on an escalator, girls pulling funny faces, and some bright, happy smiles.

For the more serious geiko fans, he also includes a bit of information surrounding the situation and people in each photo. A lovely collection overall and one worth checking out!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Language: Tattoos with Japanese Characters

While it's a personal preference if you want to get a tattoo in another language, it's really important that you double and triple-check what you think you're getting if you decide you do.

Tonight's post is an introduction to, a classic cautionary blog that features photos of poorly-done Chinese and occasionally Japanese characters. A few tips on tattoos from both their site and me...

1. Never assume the character on a tattoo shop's wall is what you think it is or what they have it labeled as.
2. Never just Google or Babelfish the character you want.
3. Did you know there's a whole gibberish, nonsense font for Chinese characters (kanji, also used in Japanese) out there, seen only in Western tattoo shops? See 1.
4. Ask about meaning, where allowed, on Internet language forums if you can't find a native speaker, but be prepared for some mockery from people who don't approve of cross-cultural tattoos.
5. Make sure it's right-side up. ;)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ichiroya Update - $12 Fabric Bolts

Feeling crafty? Today's (Monday's) update from Ichiroya includes several sale items, some of which are bolts of fabric starting at just $12. They're meant for different items (yukata, Nagoya obi, etc.), so double-check the length before you buy.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ebay Tips: Spelling Bee

While Ebay autocorrects most misspellings, you can still occasionally find auction titles with words written incorrectly or in a different writing system (as mentioned a few posts ago). As most people miss out on these items when they only search the more common terms, you stand a better chance of winning them. :)

Here are a few to try, two using the less-common Nihonsiki variants of spelling:

-geisya (rather than geisha)
-homongi (rather than houmongi, "visiting wear" kimono, and a technical misspelling)
-hurisode (rather than furisode)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Minako, the Last Yoshiwara Geisha

Today in Japan a funeral service was held for a very unique geisha who passed away this Monday: Minako, 90 years old and the last Yoshiwara geisha.

Yoshiwara, the famous and walled-in pleasure quarter of Tokyo, flourished for centuries before modern prostitution laws closed it down in 1958. Men with money, whether noble or commoner, were welcomed and entertained by geisha (non-prostitute entertainers) and various levels of prostitutes in a rich, escapist fantasy world created through beautiful venues, extravagent parties, and the Yoshiwara denizens themselves.

While her autobiography is Japanese-only, Western audiences can still catch a glimpse of Minako's life in a Japanese TV clip from a few years ago, when the spry 88-year-old gave an interview to a morning TV show. A big thank you goes to Immortal Geisha member "menonaka", who provided a really quick and great English translation, and member "yukihoshi" for finding the clips!

The TV show segment, Part 1 and Part 2.

Menonaka's Translation (Scroll down a bit to start)

The Autobiography (Japanese-only, shown above): Hana Yori Hana - "(To Prefer) Simple Flowers Over Beautiful Blossoms", if I had to try translating the nuance of the kanji used.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tips for Kimono Newbies: No Repeats

If you're new to kimono and looking for a vintage one online or at a convention, how can you tell fakes from the real ones?

There are many, many ways but here's one of the easiest: If you see an entire rack or web page of the exact same thing, or the exact same thing in different colors, it's likely not a genuine kimono.

There are only two main exceptions to this: high-quality synthetic washable komon (small pattern) kimono, which are relatively new on the scene in modern times, and summer cotton yukata, both of which are cheap compared to more formal kimono and are mass-produced. However, even in these cases neither will ever come with a matching belt made of the same material, as many fakes do. Their overall quality and shape will also look amazing next to shiny satin/polyester bathrobes people are trying to pass off as kimono. ;)

Why no duplicates? The kimono industry is so small (and brand-new kimono so expensive), it's very unlikely you'll ever run across two vintage kimono exactly alike. You may see the same pattern used differently, but exact twins outside of the above situations or dance costumes are rare.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Language: What's the Difference Between Huzi and Fuji?

When the first big waves of foreigners started coming to Japan in the late 1800s, it became apparent a romanization system, a method of writing Japanese words in the Roman alphabet, was needed to help bridge the language gap.

One system developed, Nihonsiki, was based on Japanese and was technically more correct in the fine details. For example, it had "hu" for the character ふ, meant to be a very soft puff of air midway between an English f and h, but when foreigners unfamiliar with Japanese read it aloud it sounded like a strong "hoo". "Zi", for the character じ, came out more like "zee" than the sound they were aiming for, which is more of a "jee".

A second system, called Hepburn romanization, was based on English sounds and was friendlier to both the foreign tongue and Japanese ear. ;) Nihonsiki's Mt. "Huzi" became Hepburn's Mt. "Fuji".

Today you can see both systems, though variants of Hepburn are more prevalent: in the school system I taught in kids were taught a variant of Nihonsiki in elementary and then the Hepburn system in middle school.

There is no difference in meaning between Huzi and Fuji, only different ways of writing the same sounds. I've seen the misconception on a couple of forums around the Net that somehow one version has a different meaning than the other, but there is absolutely no difference between words like Mituwa and Mitsuwa, other than the system used to write the word. Most of the syllables are written the same in both, but here are the exceptions, Hepburn second.

ti - chi
tu - tsu
zi or di - ji
du - zu
si - shi
tya - cha

Can you guess what these familiar words are, if written in Hepburn?

1. susi
2. titi
3. tunami

1. sushi     2. chichi (father)   3. tsunami

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Much - Casual Komon Ensemble

Notes and Disclaimers: 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. This 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 looking at vintage pieces, online with various vintage dealers, and a bit of convention-going thrown in. Brand-new kimono items, please note, will often be astronomically higher (thousands of dollars for a kimono/obi set).

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.

Casual Komon Ensemble

Yukata are sort of the gateway drug to wearing kimono: the obi needs no special ties or a pillow to hold its shape and no underkimono (juban) or zori sandals and tabi socks are required.

The next step above yukata is a nice balance between the relative simplicity of yukata and more formal kimono: the komon, kimono with small repeating patterns.

The komon requires a bit more than the yukata: you'll need an underkimono and either very formal geta with tabi socks (still sort of like wearing tennis shoes as geta are usually very casual) or zori. However, with komon you don't have to take the plunge into the at-first intimidating otaiko drum knots (the boxy knot you see tied on the back of many kimono) if you don't want to. That's because komon can, basically, be worn with either a simple half-width obi, a la yukata, or the more formal and wider Nagoya obi.

This may not be a combo for everyone's tastes ;) but I'll toss it up to show a random example of each: a komon and hanhaba obi.

Out of respect for the budget-minded, today we'll tally up what you will likely spend putting together a komon ensemble using the simpler halfwidth (hanhaba) obi like the one you see above.

What You Need (most important items):
1. komon kimono: ~$25-$90, barring higher prices on antique ones in great condition
2. nice (sometimes called "oshare", meaning stylish), higher-end hanhaba obi: ~$35-$65
3. juban (underkimono): $15-$75

Don't Forget! You'll also need:
4. Sports/minimizer bra
5. Kimono underwear or a white tanktop and white skirt or leggings/shorts
6. basic under-accessories kit or homemade substitutes (koshihimo ties or strips of fabric, obi ita board or posterboard cut to shape, etc.)
7. tabi socks
8. very nice geta (sandals), or zori (sandals)

Photos are copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.