Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

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

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

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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Weekend: Ghost Story Game

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

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

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Weekend: Horror Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ichiroya Update: Meiji-Era Kabuki Costume

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting to Know Asia: Mandarin Chinese

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rokuyou: Lucky and Unlucky Days of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kimono Photography Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Upcoming Movies: The Warrior's Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And The Winner Is...

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Japanese Fashion: Mori Girl, Dolly Kei, Lolita

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

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

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Language: Counting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reader Drawing Photo Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kornelia looks so cute in this outfit!

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

Yukata and Obi Giveaway Update!

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yamatoku Kids' Sale

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's Awase Time!

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ryu Japan: Heko Obi

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

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

Friday, October 15, 2010

Language: A Boring Thing

Another quick post!

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Real or Fake? Soft Obi

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OMG Shoes: A Cheat Sheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Houston Kimono Fashion Show Model Call

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

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

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Culture: Tallying Up Numbers

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

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

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Language: The Lack of "The"

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Japan at the Ren Fest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yamatoku Mega Discount Sale

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

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

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

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Culture: Using a Japanese Bath

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Craft Tips for Using Kimono

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Culture: The Samurai Ritual of Seppuku

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 4, 2010

Halloween Kimono Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Japan Travel: When/Where Not to Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Size Do Kimono Come In?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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