Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Newbie Tips: Top Ten Kimono-Wearing Mistakes

I love seeing new folks get interested in kimono, and I will happily welcome an enthusiastic newbie making mistakes when wearing one because I know they're interested and their heart is in the right place. We were all newbies once!

If you're wearing yours just for fun, or in a non-traditional style, you don't really need to worry about the following (minus the left-over-right part!), but if you're interested in traditional kitsuke (kimono wearing), here are the top ten common mistakes I see at conventions and online.

1. Lack of obi knot: Obi aren't just tied in a big knot in the back with the ends dangling down. Look on Youtube for "how to tie an obi" to see examples: for example, the simple bunko musubi, the bow-tie seen on the skinny hanhaba obi worn with casual kimono, can actually be mastered in about ten minutes. Don't be afraid of the obi! :)

2. Obi knot worn in the front: While centuries ago the knot wandered around the waist in terms of placement, it's stayed firmly in the back for both men and women for over 100 years now. Wearing it in the front calls up the idea of the old, now-outlawed prostitutes, who wore theirs in front and is never done in normal kitsuke.

3. Obi-jime dangling: The obi-jime, the thin cord worn around the middle of the obi, should never dangle like curtain cords from the front of your obi. Often it's brought around from the back, tied in a slip knot in the front, and then pulled back the way it came and tucked into itself at the sides (kimono sleeves hide this). Some more modern styles have it tied in a bow tie or fancier knots, but something is done with it to keep it from hanging down.

4. Women unknowingly wearing men's geta: While there are some examples that can be harder to tell, a good rule for distinguishing men's sandals from women's is this: if the size is over 25-26cm it's almost guaranteed to be men's. Men's are also usually more angular and square and not as colorful as women's.

5. Men's hakama worn backwards: The stiff board part goes in the back, not the front.

6. Left over right: Most newbies these days know about this one, but it's worth repeating that right over left is only for corpses. Your collar should always resemble a "y" to people looking at you, your left panel worn over your right panel. More seasoned wearers aren't always safe either: I catch myself doing it backwards every now and then if I'm not thinking about it!

7. Juban as outerwear: Juban, underkimono that only show in tiny bits at the collar, wrists and back of the kimono sleeves (on women), have a collar that is a different color than the rest of the kimono, usually white. Juban are underwear and should never be worn as a top layer.

8. Chinese brocade fabric used for homemade kimono: It can be tough for people new to kimono motifs to pick out Chinese motifs from Japanese ones, but a good rule of thumb is that shiny satin brocade, no matter the motif, is Chinese. Kimono are never made from it. And, as I've said elsewhere, China is a lovely country but it's not Japan (and both many Japanese and Chinese will be more than happy to tell you that. ;) ).

9. Collar against the back of the neck: Kimono are always worn slung back at the collar, on normal women from a few finger-widths back up to a fist.

10. Collar way too wide open: Cleavage is not a part of traditional kitsuke, as the chest isn't considered sexy or something to focus on. Your kimono should be closed enough the v of your bare neck stops around the hollow of your throat, and your collarbones are hidden.

Again, if you've done any of these, don't feel bad! It takes time to figure the basics out, especially if you're new to kimono. Feel free to email me if you have any newbie questions you might be too shy to ask elsewhere, and I'll help if I can. :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ryu Japan - 70% Off Sale, Ending Today!

As I've mentioned before, online kimono dealer Ryu Japan occasionally has "customer appreciation" sales, where they'll mark things down 40-50% for several days. However, as I've also mentioned, if you're a gambling sort and don't mind your item possibly selling out while you wait, the last day or even last few hours of the sale can see prices drop even more.

Right now, for the several remaining hours of their current sale, Ryu's prices are at 70% off, which means you can pick up a brand-new summer yukata and hanhaba obi to go with it for just $16 before shipping (yukata=$13, hanhaba obi=$3). These are truly rock-bottom prices, especially for new items!

As a note, I have no business relationship with Ryu: I'm just a collector on a budget and love these sales. :D

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Language: Three Ways to Say "Welcome!"

A quick post tonight!

Depending on the situation, if you want to welcome someone there are a few different ways to say it.

"Welcome to Texas" or a place would be "Texas e youkoso" _____ へようこそ (___ eh yoh-koh-soh)

"Irasshaimase" いらっしゃいませ (ee-rah-shai-mah-sey), or its more casual form "Irasshai" いらっしゃい (ee-rah-shai), is how clerks say "Welcome to our shop/restaurant/etc." to customers.

If someone has left the house they live in, when they come back they'll say "Tadaima!" ただいま (tah-dai-mah) "I'm back!", to which people in the house would respond with "Okaeri/Okaeri nasai!" お帰り/お帰りなさい (oh-kai-ree/oh-kai-ree-nah-sai) "Welcome home!"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Japan in Pop Culture: Inception

If you haven't seen the latest box office hit, Inception, go check it out. For several reasons: great acting, interesting plot, and, as my friend puts it, men looking hot in suits. Lots of men. ;)

One of the characters, a Japanese businessman, is played by famous Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (thank you, Christopher Nolan, for not playing "all Asians are alike" in your casting and actually using a Japanese person for a Japanese role).

Because of his character's nationality, several tips of the hat to Japan appear in the movie early on: a beautiful room with traditionally painted sliding doors, an awesome mutiple-layer "kimono collar" shirt Watanabe wears, and shots of the country's famous bullet trains, both inside and out.

So if you need another reason to go see Inception, go see it for the Japanese stuff. Or something. :D

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yamatoku Uchikake Sale

Online dealer Yamatoku has announced a "color uchikake" festival, with discounts leading to prices as low as $25 and $40.

There are some really pretty uchikake available, but two things to keep in mind. First of all, I've had positive experiences with Yamatoku overall, but for the newbie watch out as they seem to use "geisha" loosely when it comes to labeling kimono, possibly as a random keyword to get more hits. Several of the "geisha" ones listed just look like regular wedding kimono (the presence of open fans, pine, and cranes are all classic wedding motifs rather than geisha ones).

Second, I can tell you firsthand that shipping from Japan is expensive, so especially with heavily embroidered and padded at the hem wedding kimono, the cost of shipping can be as much as the cost of the item itself.

If you're not sure what they are, uchikake, both colored and white, are used for wedding ceremonies (both types heavily embroidered) and receptions (colored type only, not embroidered so much) in modern times.

Ideas if you're not sure what to do with one: Some of them can also be used as rough substitutes for oiran (high class prostitute) or geisha outer kimono, for the costuming folks out there, or as an eyecatching piece of home decor or source of unique fabric for sewing and crafting.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Movie Review: Death Trance

Some movies are truly great, delivering amazing stories and characters that stay with you long after the film ends.

2005's Death Trance(subtitled and dubbed), a Japanese-themed fantasy action movie, is not one of these movies. It's pretty bad. But in the end, that's Death Trance's biggest strength: it's so bad that it's good.

The story follows "Grave", a less-than-talkative warrior who steals a giant coffin from a temple and is lugging it through the countryside (to where exactly we're not entirely sure... one of the biggest plot holes is that supposedly anyone who opens the coffin will be granted wishes. Why he's hauling this thing around rather than popping it open the first chance he gets is never explained).

Grave's world is populated by people in a lot of whiteface and eyeliner and shredded clothing, along with a really hot young monk and Steven Seagal's son (seriously). They all do a lot of fighting, mostly over the coffin, while a creepy little girl sits and watches them. Tonfas that double as guns, phallic throbbing sword hilts, and a double barreled sword gun will make you either cringe or laugh as you watch.

Dir en grey, a jrock band infamous for its hardcore rock/death metal//puking-on-stage music, provides the soundtrack, so just when the film starts to feel fantasy-esque, the heavy guitars yank you right back into cheesy 1980s music-video land.

I didn't even try the English dub version, so I leave that world of discovery to others. ^_^;

Death Trance does get points in my book for the fantasy takes on kimono, attractive leads, decent fight scenes, and the female Goth twins. And it gets points for making me laugh. Save it for a free rental (that's what I did!) or anytime you're in the mood for something so bad it's good.

Fans of the director, Yuji Shimomura, who have seen his work as action director in Versus or Devil May Cry 3 may also want to give it a shot.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rose Geisha Kimono on Ebay

Geisha kimono, generally called "susohiki" or "hikizuri", are recognizable by their padded, long, trailing hems and often low dip in the back of the neck, as geisha wear their kimono slung much further back than a normal woman. They also often feature classical Japanese designs or abstract patterns.

However, every now and then, as on other kimono, you'll see decidely Western motifs.

This rose hikizuri (and a similar green one) is up on Ebay right now for $150 starting bid. I'm reminded of both the '80s and the anime "Ouran Host Club", but it would also make an awesome costume piece for a Westerner doing a "Western geisha" look. :)

If you're interested in seeing more, two places often have some to look through: Ichiroya lists all of theirs under "susohiki" and on Ebay a search for "hikizuri" will turn them up.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Culture: Phrases for Entering a House

Many moons ago, I watched the original Juon (The Grudge) in Japan. At the time I watched it without subtitles and my Japanese wasn't at its best, so whole parts of the plot escaped me. I finally got around to watching it yesterday and it's definitely creepier when you actually understand the nuances.

Anyway, it also reminded me of a couple of handy set phrases you usually don't pick up on unless someone teaches you (in my case it was the movers coming to my house, and me pestering them about what they were saying and why ;) ).

Gomen kudasai (goh men koo dah sigh) - You've probably heard each of these words separately, but together they have a specific meaning: "Is anyone home?/May I come in?". The literal translation would be more like "Begging your pardon," but it's used when you want to enter someone's house, especially to announce yourself if no one's immediately apparent. "Shitsurei shimasu", a similar phrase, is used when entering into a particular room with people in it.

Ojama shimasu (oh jah ma shee mahs) - Literally, "I'm in the way/a bother/disturbing you" but in meaning more like "I'm coming in!" This is used when you actually enter another person's house.

If you happen to catch Juon at some point, you can hear the teacher Kobayashi using these two when he comes to do a house visit with one of his students.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kimono Coordination: Summer Evening

I'm lumping together July and August's monthly coordination post into one, inspired by the idea of a summer night. Below we have the summer motif of dragonflies on our unlined komon kimono, and a Nagoya obi that includes the summer theme of peonies.

All images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Katy Perry in Kimono

Kimono can show up in the most unexpected places: Singer Katy Perry has apparently had a yukata made featuring fast food, which she loves. Yum!

(Thanks to Immortal Geisha forum member claw789 for the heads up!)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What Do You Call... Fans for Dancing?

A beautiful art form and often seen at geisha performances, fans used in dance are called "mai ougi" 舞扇 (my oh gee), "dance-(folding) fan". If you're curious, the "mai" is the same one used in "maiko". :)

Mai-ougi are bigger and more lavishly decorated than the average fan, but can be found on places like Ebay relatively cheap.

One of the most famous yearly geiko (Kyoto geisha) dance events, the Gion Odori. Photo copyright Onihide and used with permission.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kanji Beginner: Understanding the "Alphabet"

Because the Japanese system of writing is very different from the Roman alphabet used in English, it can take a bit to get your head wrapped around how words work. It can also lead to confusion among non-Japanese speakers trying to understand Japanese through words written in Roman letters.

If you see the romanized word "hime" ("princess"), it is one word written as 姫 in kanji, or "ひめ" (hi me) if you want to spell it out by sound with the hiragana "alphabet".

There is no way in Japanese to write "h" then "i" then "m" and "e". The smallest units are, minus a finishing "n/m", always a vowel "a, e, i, o, u" or a consonant or two followed by a vowel. For example: "ka, shi, tsu, me, no". So "kimono" would be, in hiragana, three characters (ki-mo-no きもの). Sendai, a city in Japan, would be four characters (Se-n-da-i せんだい)

Let's practice the idea... How many "letters" are in these words if you wanted to write them out in hiragana?

1. Asagao (morning glory)

2. Nihon (Japan)

3. Sushi

4. Murasaki (purple)

5. Amerika (America)

1. 4 A-sa-ga-o
2. 3 Ni-ho-n
3. 2 Su-shi
4. 4 Mu-ra-sa-ki
5. 4 A-me-ri-ka

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ichiroya Update: Contemporary Wedding Kimono and More

Ichiroya's update today includes some newer wedding kimono and other items. One unexpected item was a maiko kimono for only $78, but it's already sold. Congrats to whoever got that bargain: that's a steal!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Newbie Tips: Geisha Wedding Kimono?

When shopping on Ebay or online for kimono, you'll at times see listings like "Rare Geisha Wedding Imperial Kimono", usually with a ridiculous price attached to it. The kimono may look authentic and beautiful, but is it a geisha kimono?

There are a lot of similarities between the kimono geisha use and non-geisha kimono, especially wedding types, more than I can get into at this moment in time. So, coming at this from the perspective of a kimono newbie who is likely to be overwhelmed by a list of rather small differences, here's a very short and quick way to thin out contenders:

In my experience, any listing that puts "geisha" and "wedding" in the same breath is almost guaranteed to not be a geisha kimono. Geisha kimono and wedding kimono are not interchangable and either the seller doesn't know the difference himself (rendering his likelihood of actually having a true geisha kimono virtually nil) or he's trying to take advantage of others who won't know the difference.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Kimono de Jack" Events

If you're a kimono fan in Japan, or one who will be visiting in the future, and would like a chance to get together with others who enjoy them, check out the "Kimono de Jack" events.

Begun as a casual get-together for people wearing kimono, it's blossomed into a regular event in several cities across the country, and all wearing kimono are welcome.

Monday, August 16, 2010

BBC's "Geisha Girl"

If you're interested in geisha and haven't seen this yet, the 2005 BBC documentary "Geisha Girl" is an interesting peek into what it takes to become one, following teenager Yukina as she progresses from shy country girl to sophisticated maiko (apprentice geisha).

I watched it tonight and had some major "natsukashii" (happy memories/trip down memory lane) moments about Japan. From having taught over there, I can tell you the scene with her schoolmates making a video for her is typical: the support schoolkids can at times give each other as a group was one of the more pleasant surprises about the country.

My own observation about the alcohol issue: it's not just maiko that drink. I never drank before I went to Japan but got tired of getting hassled and eventually came to like the taste of beer. Drinking is a very expected part of socialization and parties and not drinking at all becomes a giant pain to try to maintain in the face of the encouragement, questions, and/or pressure to conform.

All that said, I enjoyed the show and thought it a pretty even-handed look into the world of geisha.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thanks! and... Any Questions?

Whew! I'm home and tired, but had a great time at the convention. Thanks to the organizers, my fellow dealers, and everyone who visited our booth!

Like I told folks who stopped by, if you have a kimono of your own you have a question about, feel free to drop me an email and I'll help if I can. My email is info attttt thekimonolady.com, and I'll get back to you in a few days. :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Convention Questions: Men's Colors

Whenever I go to a con to do a panel or to sell, I try to remember questions I get asked a lot. At this convention I've had several guys ask about men's kimono colors and patterns, as in what range do men have?

This is actually a quick and easy answer: if you go to any men's store here in the West and look around at the suits and business wear, you'll see the same color palette used in men's kimono and clothing (minus rare exceptions like Kabuki costumes, etc.). Black, grey, dark blues, browns, beiges, maybe the occasional light blue or light neutrals, are the norm. Patterns, if used, are very small and sedate, again like Western suits.

Thanks so much to everyone who's stopped by the booth so far and see you again tomorrow!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Join Me at Delta H Con!

For those of you in the Houston area, I'll be teaming up with dealer Kyoto Kimono this weekend at Delta H Con, selling komon, obi, men's formal wear, and more. Stop by our booth and say hi or bring any questions you might have about items of your own. :)

Delta H Con is a game and anime convention in its third year and will be today, tomorrow and Sunday at the University Center on the University of Houston campus. The address is 4800 Calhoun, Houston TX, 77004, and the center can be reached at 713-743-2255.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pop Culture Samurai: Sengoku Basara

The Sengoku (literally "warring states" 戦国) period was a time of chaos in Japan, when just about everybody and his brother was fighting over their corner of the country and their neighbors' as well.

Sengoku Basara is a testorone-laden, over-the-top pop culture spin on that time, featuring real-life historical characters and some poetic license on the history involved. You can check it out in video game, anime or manga format.

I've recently seen a few episodes of the 2009 anime series, thanks to Funimation (Season 2 is this summer). It both surprised me and made me laugh: as a former resident and big fan of the city of Sendai, it was fun watching its ancient and revered founder, the "one-eyed dragon" Date Masamune, appear on-screen as a trash-talking punk wielding six swords and riding a horse with motorcycle handlebars strapped to it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting to Know Asia: Hanbok

As mentioned before, this series touches on other cultures and countries around Asia with the idea that kimono and Japanese things become easier to identify when you know what they're not.

Tonight is a peek into "hanbok", the traditional clothing of Korea. I will be the first to say that while I find hanbok pretty, I know extremely little about the various categories and terminology.

However, the good news for Japanese kimono collectors is that hanbok in its many forms looks nothing like kimono. Once you see a few examples, you'll never mistake traditional Korean clothing for Japanese (note the high knot tied at the chest, the contrasting collars, etc.).

Various types of traditional Korean clothing.
Images courtesy Wikimedia.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Common Motifs: "Hanabi" - Fireworks

Summer, specifically July-August, is festival season in Japan. Your typical summer matsuri (festival) will feature lots of people in yukata, game and food booths, events, dances, and Fireworks. I capitalize Fireworks because I learned, my very first festival, that Japanese Fireworks beat American fireworks up and take all their lunch money.

Basically an American fireworks finale is what Japanese displays do the whole way through, and the finale leaves you blind, deaf from all the booming and quite impressed. Or it did me, anyway!

So our theme for tonight is "hanabi" 花火, fireworks. (The Japanese characters are literally "fire flowers", which I always thought was cool.) These are, following their seasonality, a summer theme. Here's one example, a houmongi (visiting-wear level kimono):

Image copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Obon Holiday - Special Prices and Shopping Delays

This week is Obon in Japan (technically only the 13-15th, but a week-long holiday for many companies). A traditional celebration akin to the roots of Halloween in Europe, it marks the return of departed family members to the family home, with special offerings, cleaning the family grave(s), etc.

While it's always been a "return home to visit the family" holiday no matter where you happen to live now, more and more people are treating it as a chance to travel, so never, ever go to Japan during Obon or you'll get hit with "special prices" at hotels, etc. ("Special" in this case means "higher"!).

For those of us abroad shopping with online Japanese stores and dealers, check the site to see if shipping will be delayed until next week.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wedding Kimono Parade

The town of Minami Aizu in Fukushima has an 800-year old tradition of putting on a sort of "bride" parade, where women dressed in wedding kimono march through the summer heat to help make offerings at an important local shrine. This year's parade took place a couple of weeks ago, and you can see a photo gallery of the event here.

In a glimpse into a more traditional way of thinking, the white strips across the women's foreheads are a traditional piece of the wedding outfit, "horn hiders", meant to hide a woman's natural jealousy and show that she promises to keep a lid on it as best she can.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Transparent Kimono with Lines in It - Real or Fake?

My economic situation in college encouraged a lot of thrifting, which is where I picked up my first few kimono. One of them, I decided, was a fake or underwear because it had open lines running through the weave of the fabric that made it half-transparent.

Years later, after throwing it away (doh!), I learned that's just "summer weight" weave and is completely kimono-legitimate. There are few specific kinds of summer weight weaves, one of the most common being "ro" weave, where you can see through lines to the layer underneath.

Here are a few examples of summer-weight pieces:

"Ro" men's formal haori jacket detail (family crest)

Look carefully at the first maiko's collar and the sleeve of the second one to see the telltale lines in their kimono. Bottom two photos by Onihide and used with permission.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How Much? - Men's Formal Outfit

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.

Kuro Mon-tsuki (Men's Formal Kimono-Ensemble) 

For any guys reading, or cosplayers/crossdressers/interested women, tonight's "how much" installment will be for the most formal of men's outfits, the sort of thing you'd get married in or get photographed in for New Year's cards, etc.

The * indicates things that can be left out or faked in a pinch to lower the cost. (In truth, budget-minded costumers could, for once in kimono-land, sew an entire version of this outfit from scratch and have it come out pretty well as there's no dyed patterns you'd have to mimic beyond getting striped fabric for the hakama and finding a way to get the crests going up top.)

For the real deal or closer to it you'll need:

-a men's juban (underkimono, * - can be faked with a collar insert of plain fabric, which can also be added on top of the juban but under the top kimono as a faked layer) $20-$90
-men's 5-family-crest black kimono and matching haori jacket (sometimes sold as a set) $50-$150
-men's obi* (As you can see, this is hidden under the hakama for the most part so a stiff piece of fabric can be used in a pinch) $40-$80
-white/grey and black striped men's hakama pants $35-$100
-tabi socks $15-$30
-men's zori sandals $35-$80
-white "puffball" haori jacket ties* (basically two cords frizzed and teased out at the ends) $20-$40

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Polyvore Design Inspiration #2: Brown Obi

Tonight's post is another inspiration board using an obi and Polyvore.com to pick and choose decor items in the same color scheme (I wouldn't actually hang the obi on the brown wallpaper unless I had it matted with white or cream behind it). I don't usually like browns and beiges, but I like the pop the red gives.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kyoto Geiko: Hassaku 2010

Those in the Gion district of Kyoto on August 1st might have caught a glimpse of Hassaku 八朔, ("August 1st").

It's an event where every Gion geiko (another word for geisha from Kyoto) and maiko (apprentice geisha) dress up in their most formal ensembles to visit the head of a very famous geisha dance school and then make the rounds visiting associated teahouses. Flickr photographer Onihide brings us a few lovely photos from the event, which you can see here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Kimono Lily Update: Hanhaba Obi

Quick heads up for my fellow Americans who enjoy domestic shipping: American dealer Kimono Lily updated today with eight hanhaba (half-width obi), including a gorgeous navy one and orange hakata pattern one.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ichiroya: Taisho Yabane Kimono

The Taisho 大正 period (1912-1925, though I've read the late '20s and early '30s are also considered "Taisho" in terms of fashion) is a favorite of many kimono fans because of the bold, beautiful patterns in vogue at the time.

Yabane, a vertically oriented and interlocking "arrow (fletching) pattern" 矢羽根, is a popular pattern as well. So when I saw today's Ichiroya update I thought I'd point out the two coming together for those of you who might be interested. :) It's an unlined silk kimono with the long sleeves found in Taisho/pre-WWII kimono, for $68.