Friday, December 30, 2011

A Happy 2012 to You and Yours!

The Year of the Dragon is almost here! I hope all of you, my readers, have a happy, healthy, and successful 2012. :)

In Japanese, there are two ways to say "Happy New Year!" One is said leading up to the 1st and figuratively means "I hope you have a good year." Literally it's "Please welcome a good year."

"Yoi otoshi wo (omukae kudasai)."
yoh ee oh toh shee oh oh moo kai koo dah sigh

As soon as the clock changes to midnight, the greeting becomes:

"Shinnen akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu)!"
Shee nen ah kay mash tay oh meh day toh go zai mahs

...which is literally "Congratulations on the opening of the new year!" but is the equivalent of "Happy New Year!"

If the person you're talking or writing to is a coworker, teacher, or someone you work with, etc. you can also add:

"Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu."
koh toh shee moh yoh rosh koo oh neh guy shee mahs

This means "Let's do our best together this year as well," implying a continuing working relationship between the two of you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Getting Started With Japanese Calligraphy

"The Four Treasures" (文房四宝 bunbou-shihou) is a nickname for the tools of traditional Japanese calligraphy: the brush, the inkstone, ink and paper. I find doing calligraphy very soothing and relaxing, because it's simple and straightforward and allows me to focus wholly on the writing in front of me and leave behind whatever stress or worries I've got at the moment.

If you've ever wanted to try this fun and challenging art for yourself, called shodou 書道 in Japanese, check out this video I found for a simple, short introduction.

She's simplified her set-up for beginners, which is nice, and has skipped the traditional paper in favor of thicker, more forgiving printer paper. If you don't have any tools at all, you can still try shodou out. Here's what you need and what you can substitute until you can get ahold of the real deals, if you decide to pursue shodou further. :)

1. Calligraphy brush - Any painting brush with a pointed tip
2. Japanese calligraphy paper - Printer paper or newspaper.
3. Sumi ink - India ink, black watercolor paint mixed with just enough water to become liquid. (Normally you grind an inkstick onto an inkstone to make your ink, but that's a skill in itself so many students use pre-bottled ink for practice.)

For practice, here are a few characters animated to show you how to write them:

Easy: Heart - Kokoro (koh-koh-roh)

Medium: Beauty - Bi (bee)

Hard: Love - Ai (eye)

Beyond the tools needed, the biggest tip I would give is to be sure you're following the correct stroke order when you write each character. Kanji, the Chinese characters imported into the Japanese language, have a correct way they are written.

If you follow the correct stroke order, your character will look much better than trying to wing it on your own. If you're learning the Japanese language, calligraphy can be a great way to reinforce your handwriting skills in general by practicing stroke order every time you write a character.

Most kanji dictionaries will tell you stroke order, and several sites online can help as well. The one I used above is Yamasa Online Kanji Dictionary, a site that gives animated stroke order examples for basic kanji.

Jim Breen's "Kanji Lookup" is more thorough. Choose from the dropdown menu how you want to find the kanji, enter your info, then click on the calligraphy brush symbol on the far right of the definition to get an animation that shows where to begin in red.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, and I'll help if I can. Good luck! :)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Learning Japanese with Lang-8

If you don't have the time or money to pursue formal classes, learning a foreign language can be tricky and discouraging. Interaction with native speakers can be hard to come by, especially if you're in an area where there just aren't many to begin with.

Lang-8 is an amazing example of the power of the Internet. Relying on the basic goodness of people, it works more or less like this: You keep a journal in the language you're learning, and native speakers will correct what you write. In return, you correct journals written in your own native language.

While there is a premium version with some nice features, Lang-8 is free to use. If you are at a level where you can read and write basic sentences in at least hiragana (the most basic Japanese alphabet), I'd definitely recommend it for Japanese-language learners.

The only thing that I don't like about Lang-8 is that I'm not sure at times of what's appropriate (for example, if you friend someone, do you have to correct all of their entries they ever make? How long of an entry can you make and reasonably expect others to correct it? etc. ) but I guess as with a lot of the new social media the rules are still being made up as we all go along.

If you decide you'd like to try Lang-8 out for Japanese, here's a handy phrase you can use when someone corrects your entry. 添削をありがとうございます。(Tensaku wo arigatou gozaimasu - Thank you for your corrections.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seller Review: Rakuten and Yumesakibana

I am happy to report that my first experience with Rakuten, a collection of Japanese shops that ship internationally, was a great one!

As mentioned earlier, I needed a yukata that would properly fit my wrist-to-wrist measurement for my dance lessons. Since I'm tall and 138cm in that "wingspan" measurement, cheap vintage yukata were pretty much out, nixing my usual haunts of Ebay and Ichiroya.

I sucked it up and went to Rakuten, which several friends like using, but no one I knew had ordered kimono through it and I figured I'd pay through the nose for a new, unusual size yukata.

Even though I can get the gist of most Japanese-language pages, I was happy to find that Rakuten will automatically ask you if you're an international customer or Japanese when you first load up the site.

I chose International, which made all the pages pop up in machine-translated English. If you wanted, like me, to check details in Japanese, there's always a button you can click to see the page in the original Japanese.

Like Ebay, you can sort items by price, which is useful. One thing I found odd is that you have to click another button to only see items that are in stock. Why would you care about something that went out of stock in 2008? Unless there's a chance they'll restock?

Searching for yukata, I was able to narrow down the list pretty quickly, and could even drill down through yukata categories by color or set. If you're someone who needs a larger size in general, search "yukata" plus TL, 2L, 3L, 4L, or 5L.

I settled on a pretty black yukata with cream and crimson lilies from a shop called Yumesakibana ("a dream's blooming flowers"), entered all of my information to become a general Rakuten member (which is free and allows you to build up bonus points through some purchases), and purchased the item. Yumesakibana emailed me first with the exact shipping quote, which I had to agree to before they would run my payment, either PayPal or credit card. They were polite, prompt, and spoke English well in their emails.

Within two weeks, for less than $100, I had a brand-new, quality yukata in my wingspan sent by expedited EMS shipping. It's beautiful and exactly as described. Plus the nice folks at Yumesakibana sent as a surprise bonus gift a free koshihimo (the hip tie you use to blouse the kimono over when adjusting for height) and a cute bunny and sakura kinchaku (the drawstring bag you see used a lot with yukata). :D

Seller: Yumesakibana 夢咲花, through Rakuten
Item: 5/5
Shipping: 5/5
Communication: 5/5

Based on my experience, I can happily recommend Yumesakibana. I also plan on doing more general kimono shopping on Rakuten in the future!

(If you've shopped on Rakuten, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments. I'd love to hear what you've bought and how it worked out.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tokyo Kimono Week

Here's a lovely video from this past week, October 26th, at "Tokyo Kimono Week", featuring a variety of traditional kimono looks. :)

Notice how the models' silhouettes are a cylinder around the body area: in the modern "proper" approach to kimono, the ideal shape is one without curves, so wearers are usually padded with handtowels around places like the small of the back, the waist, and even above the bust at times.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rakuten and Buyo Techniques

If you've never used Rakuten (I have friends who swear by it), it's a collection of online Japanese stores that (usually) speak simple English and ship internationally. I placed my first order through the site yesterday, for a super-tall-size yukata wide enough wrist to wrist to accommodate the sleeve moves in my dance class and my extra-long reach. Apparently I missed my calling as a boxer...^_^;

I'll let y'all know how the purchase works out and recommend the shop if I have a good experience with them!

I had my third lesson yesterday, working through what I've learned so far and adding more steps to the dance I'm learning (in theory... I'm pretty bad at this!). So far, though I'm sure there are more, I've learned at least three ways to hold a kimono sleeve in your hand.

The first is basically making a "come here, baby" curl with your index finger landing over your thumb (pinching the edge of your sleeve) with your other fingers curled into a loose fist. Only the tip of your index finger shows.

The second is the same positioning, but your ring and pinky finger catch and pinch the edge of the sleeve against your palm and your entire hand is exposed.

The final one is where your fingers all extend straight, but while your other fingers are inside the sleeve, the index finger is outside, the sleeve lying between your index and middle finger. The kimono sleeve naturally drapes atop your index finger again, hiding it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

10,000 Free Flights to Japan?

The Internet is abuzz with news the Japanese tourism board is hoping to offer 10,000 free flights to Japan in 2012 in an effort to boost the ailing tourism industry greatly affected by the March 11 disaster and nuclear-plant issues.

While I'm as excited as the next person, please remember that this is all pending budgetary approval by the government. Several sites I've seen are stating this as fact when it's still up in the air.

I'll post again if the plan does get approved and include links on where to apply. If they do go through with it, please let me know if you get one: I'd love to share your travel story here on my blog! :)

(I've already been told I should apply, but having lived there as long as I did I don't think I'm the "new blood" they're after. ;) )

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nihon Buyo Lessons!

After months of wanting to learn Nihon buyo 日本舞踊(traditional Japanese dance), I was lucky enough to find a teacher, the dancer at the taiko concert I recently attended. :) I'll be posting tips and basic steps here as I learn them myself, for those of you out there who are interested.

My first day was hard work and a lot of fun. I learned proper sitting, standing, entering a stage area, basic moves, and began learning a dance for "Ume ni mo haru" 梅にも春, a traditional New Year's/early spring song that starts with the promise of spring coming in the form of ume (plum) blossoms, which bloom in Japan in January/February.

Starting a Dance

For total beginners, here's how to properly sit, bow, and stand at the beginning of an entrance (at this point you are standing, feet together facing the audience).

1. Slide one foot slightly behind you.
2. Kneel so that your toes only are on the floor behind you. As you kneel the knee of the foot remaining in front will rise higher naturally than the other knee, which is normal. Just slide it back down into place so that both feet are even with each other and bent with only your toes on the floor.
3. Flatten your feet.
4. While this is going on, your left hand should be on your thigh and your right hand placing your fan in front of you parallel to your knees. Slide your right hand back onto your right thigh.
5. You are now seated. Slide both hands down along your legs to make a triangle on the floor, thumbs and index fingers touching. Keep your elbows tucked in, where your wrists are basically tucked just to the outside of your knees.
6. Bow, keeping your back and neck straight, eyes lowering with the movement of your head.
7. As you come back up, the left hand goes back up to the thigh, and pick up the fan with your right hand.
8. Slide the left foot forward slightly, bringing your left foot up back so that only your toes are touching the floor.
9. Bring your right foot back up on its toes too.
10. Stand, and then slide your right foot up so it's even next to your left.
11. Begin your dance!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saotome Taichi: Hakuouki's Prettiest Boy of All

While wandering around the Internet, I ran across this clip from a popular TV show back in 2008 showing a 16-year-old Saotome Taichi 早乙女太一 . Taichi is an "onnagata", a traditional/Kabuki type of male actor who plays female roles. His type of performances, though, are not strictly Kabuki.

This idea of men playing women comes from the fact the first Kabuki female roles way back when were played by women, but their male fans had a nasty habit of starting fights and killing each other over who was the actress's biggest fan. So the government banned women from the stage. (As homosexual behavior was seen as completely normal for centuries, this plan didn't quite work out: fanboys continued to freak out over their male favorites, and the government finally changed the ban from just women to women and adult men.)

Famed SMAP singer Kimutaku, one of the hosts of the TV show, says in a funny moment after the performance, "Wow, I feel a little gay... if this were the Edo period I'd have fallen for you!" I can't blame him, so I went poking around the Internet for other performances and information on Taichi.

It turns out he also takes on more contemporary male roles, and he played Hijikata Toshizo (seen above) in Hakuouki's live stage version back in October 2010.

I know a few of you are Hakuouki fans, so if you haven't seen this clip reel yet, enjoy! (If you're not familiar with the series, Hakuouki started as a girls' dating video game set around 100 years ago, featuring the real-life Shinsengumi group.)

Taichi is the first actor they show individually, wearing a deep purple kimono.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Follow TKL on Facebook!

In addition to the longer posts here on TKL, I've just made a TKL Facebook page, where I'll be posting shorter and more topical items (cheap or interesting sales posts I come across, random observations, fashion styling, etc.). See you there? :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spotting Fakes With Halloween Costumes

One of the requests I get most often, and can't grant, is photos of fakes, mostly due to permission issues and me not wanting to embarrass individuals.

The good news is that Halloween is a perfect time of year to test your kimono knowledge as the costume market gets flooded with knock-offs of varying quality and you can see them in-person in stores (or online if you're overseas). In all my years in America, I have yet to see a mass-produced costume that is even close to a real kimono, but it's interesting to see what gets "lost in translation" and what the designers keep.

Yesterday, I took this snapshot at a certain popular retailer. Test your knowledge: How much is wrong with this outfit? You can check your answers below.

The sleeves are wrong. There should be no contrasting hems, collars or trim. It appears to be a solid skirt on the bottom instead of one side folded over the other. The material is cheap, thin satin. The obi is also cheap satin and bunched up. They did actually get the total length and left-over-right part correct on the collar, however!

(As a note, I have nothing against people wearing these sorts of costumes for Halloween or any other costume event. :) The issue is when people assume real kimono look like the cheap costumes they've seen and get taken advantage of by unscrupulous sellers.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Houston's Grand Taiko Concert

Last weekend my best friend and I went to Kaminari Taiko's Grand Taiko Concert here in Houston, the last year for an annual free event that two years ago set the world record for largest taiko performance in the world with 18,000 attendees!

The audience was treated to a full concert of primarily taiko music by Houston's own Kaminari Taiko, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, and Osuwa Daiko, along with a Nihon Buyo (Japanese dance) performance by dance master Takahamaryu Mitsujuroku.

It was a lot of fun, and a perfect chance to wear kimono. Last week I went back and forth on what I was going to wear due to the recent heat wave, but fortunately the weather cooled down enough I was able to wear what I really wanted to: a pink komon with maple-leaf Nagoya obi tied in the usual taiko knot. The multicolored maple leaves on the obi make it a good seasonal fit for late summer, early autumn, and the abstract-pattern komon is OK to wear any time of year.

I believe this particular obi is technically a little dressy for the komon as it has a pattern all over it a la a more formal fukuro obi, but I think it squeaks by because, even though it was held outdoors, a concert is technically a semi-formal event. My kitsuke needs a lot of work, but I enjoyed finally getting this ensemble together.

After the show, the leaders of each taiko group received flowers and threw them into the audience. I caught the ones from the head of the San Francisco group, Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka! (Let it never be said you can't move and jump in kimono when you want to. ;) )

The MC invited the audience to come meet the drummers and performers after the show as they came outside, and it was great getting to meet the leaders of each group and some of the performers.

I also ended up doing some on-the-fly translation for Makoto, head of Osuwa Daiko, and was really happy I did, because I got the chance to translate this amazing compliment for him: One man said, "Of all the free concerts they have out here (at Miller Theater) all year long, this is the only one I come to." Makoto's face lit up and he hugged the man, thanking him.

It was the perfect ending to the evening, and I'm glad I got to catch this last Miller Theater performance of these amazing groups.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Great Otaiko Knot How-To Video and Costume Tips

This weekend I had the chance to go to a fantastic Japanese-music concert, more of which I'll post about later.

I wore kimono to the event, and for the first time ever (remember, I've been a kimono collector a lot longer than a wearer!), I was very confident of the crisp and pretty "otaiko" obi knot I tied, and it's all thanks to this awesome instructional video showing two camera angles at the same time. :)

Even if you don't speak Japanese, it's an extremely clear visual step-by-step demo of how to tie the famous and common otaiko knot, the boxy loop knot worn by adult women with just about every type of kimono, and is great for costumers, cosplayers or women like me who wear kimono on occasion.

Make Your Own!

For anyone making a costume that uses a simple otaiko-tied obi (we'll assume the Nagoya type rather than the more formal fukuro type), you don't need all the actual doo-dads in the video to get a decent look. Here's a quick list of cheater materials for everything (I'll toss the obi in just to make it complete):

Nagoya obi (measuring one of my own for this, but there is some variation out there): a heavyweight fabric 130" long by 12" wide, with around 2/3rds of it folded and sewn to be half-width. Nagoya are either patterned all over (more formal), with a pattern on the drum part and/or front panel (less formal) or a solid color (most casual, I believe). Some are hand-painted, so paint away if you want designs!

Koshihimo: In this case, these pink, flat strips of fabric are just used, as you can see, to hold parts of the obi up until everything is in place and are taken away in the end. Any rough fabric will work, or even just a shoelace if nothing else is around.

Obi-ita: This is a flexible cloth-covered plastic board and is the first thing she puts on. It helps keep the front of the obi smooth. A cheap solution is to cut and glue a two-layer thick piece of posterboard in the same shape and long enough to cover your front, and tuck them in between the layers of your obi as you wind it around yourself.

Kimono clips: Binder clips, clothespins, anything that can stand up to that much heavy fabric can do the trick! If you have a real obi with embroidery on it, just be careful not to snag anything.

Obi-makura: It's a little tough to see in the video, but the obi-makura (pillow) is a firm, padded pillow shaped like a giant kidney bean with a string coming off each side that you tie around yourself in the front. It helps keep the otaiko poofed up and is not optional if you're tying that type of knot. You can fake an obi-makura by cutting off a leg of panty hose from a pair, tying a knot slightly off-center, stuffing a ton of newspaper up against the knot, and tying the other end to create your pillow.

Obi-age: The pretty silk scarf used to cover the obi-makura, (mine is around 65" long and 9" wide). In the video hers is white with red flowers. It's a simple rectangle of light silk, but any opaque light fabric can do in a pinch for a costume.

Obi-jime: The cord that ultimately holds up the tail of the otaiko (mine are around 65" long and 1/3-1/2" wide). In the video, hers is yellow. There are different types, but any basic round curtain cord or flat-weave cord can stand in.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Video: A Day in the Life of a Geisha

I find the world of the geisha interesting, as it seems anyone who collects kimono eventually finds their way to a book... or two... or three... about geisha (they're some of the few women left in Japan who wear kimono on a daily basis).

However, it can be hard to find unbiased, even reporting about geisha in the West. There's not a lot of information in English, but there are plenty of stereotypes (exotic, unknowable Japan we can never exotically know!) and misconceptions (geisha = prostitutes) and they tend to color most of what gets put out in the media.

So it made me quite happy to see The Telegraph's "A Day in the Life of a Geisha".

Miehina is a real geisha working in Kyoto. Rather than adoringly focus on the glitzy side of her profession (beautiful clothing, public performances, exotic whiteface) as it seems many reporters do, Glen Milner chose to clearly show that it has ups and downs, like any other job.

The kimono, dancing, and make-up are there, but there is also honest talk about how tired she is with her schedule of training and entertaining, and she is shown speaking directly into the camera fresh-faced. The dance shown is not on a stage, but in a small room with cars driving past the window behind her.

To me, the whole feel of the video was of a real person working hard at something that she loves, and something that demands a lot of her. Check it out if you get a chance!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cosplay and Halloween Ideas with Yamatoku's Kimono Sale

Kimono dealer Yamatoku is having a huge sale on wedding kimono (uchikake) and wedding reception kimono (kakeshita/hikifurisode) right now, with some as little as $20 before shipping. A few kofurisode (short-sleeved furisode not often worn) are also available, some sold with hakama as a set.

Because of their narrow range of high formality, none of the items on sale are really useful for those who like to wear kimono on a daily basis, but any of them could be the base of some really amazing cosplay or Halloween costumes! And unlike most other costumes, these kimono are pretty enough you could use as a decor piece when you're done with them.

Some costume and cosplay ideas:

- White wedding uchikake (shiromuku): Japanese bride or ghost, O-ren Iishi from her pivotal fight scene in Kill Bill. Or paint your own designs to custom-fit any particular anime, manga, or movie character (Yuuko from xxxHolic and Hana from Gate 7 come to mind).

- Any of the hikifurisode (the non-metallic bright ones): Maiko (apprentice geisha). Above is Maiko Makino, photo courtesy of Onihide.

- Color wedding uchikake: oiran (above shot is from the oiran movie "Sakuran"), ancient Japanese princess or noblewoman, Japanese bride

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Look and Features for Fall!

I've had this blog for almost two years now and vague plans to overhaul its look for a couple of months, but no time to play around with it until today!

Some new features you've probably already noticed:

"Previously on TKL..." will have my three most recent posts. I was tempted to Photoshop Boone into kimono, but maybe later.

"TKL Book Shop" features dozens of books and more that I've either personally recommended over the last two years, or have four or more stars on Amazon. Let me enable you. ;)

"Featured Photographer" is a monthly slideshow, and for September is geisha photography master Onihide. If you'd like to apply to be featured in October or know someone who should be, please email me and let me know!

"Music from Japan" is a collection of traditional and not-so-traditional Japanese music featuring the shamisen, koto and more. I'm particularly fond of the Yoshida Brothers' shamisen remake of "Nabbed" from The Nightmare Before Christmas. :)

I'm also going to start changing the layout seasonally. We may not have much of a fall in Houston, but I can pretend, right? :D

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tokyo Fashion: Harajuku Yukata!

Tokyo is famous for its unique street fashions, especially those seen in Harajuku. When I lived in Japan, I found it interesting that trends seen in Tokyo could often be seen about a year later in the States.

That still seems to be holding true, as the mori girl and dolly kei fashions popular in Japan for a couple of years are now echoed in the "natural vintage" look seen in American malls.

Capturing the constantly-shifting world of Tokyo street fashion is a great website called "Tokyo Fashion". They make daily photo posts of what they see out and about in Tokyo, focusing mainly on Harajuku.

Kimono, as I've mentioned before, are being reclaimed by some of the younger generation in Japan, who happily incorporate them with Western pieces and wear them in new and creative ways.

Occasionally through Tokyo Fashion's street snaps, you can catch a glimpse of this rebirth of the kimono, as a fun piece of daily wear rather than a stiff formal garment. :)

Here are two recent examples:

(For more fun kimono looks and ideas check out CLAMP manga artist Mokona's book Okimono Kimono!)

Photos copyright Tokyo Fashion and used with permission.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: Samurai Swords, A Collector's Guide to Japanese Swords

I mentioned a long while back that I was growing interested in Nihontou (Nee-hon-toh) 日本刀, or "Japanese swords", and possibly collecting them as I do kimono.

However (you sword collectors out there can stop laughing! ;) ), my naive enthusiasm was squashed as I soon learned actual antique katana, etc. prices make kimono look cheap!

I knew I wanted to learn more anyway, but haven't had a chance until I recently ran across the 2009 book Samurai Swords: A Collector's Guide to Japanese Swordsat my local Barnes and Noble ($14.99).

Written by Clive Sinclaire, a collector of 40 years, kendo instructor, and a Chairman of the To-ken (Sword) Society of Great Britain, this book is a densely-packed introduction to the world of the Japanese sword. He covers history, construction, preservation, sword etiquette (did you know you are supposed to bow to a sword you're about to examine?), and a variety of interesting facts.

For those of you interested in kimono, I would compare this book with Liza Dalby's seminal work Kimono. It's a ton of information written in a half-casual, half-scholarly style that gives you the basics but also allows you to delve much deeper.

One of the most interesting parts for me wasn't in the text: it was the flipped mirror image photographs of the bare blades (no guards or wrapping) of various antique swords. Beyond making me laugh at my $50 knock-off I take with me to kimono-dressing panels, the swords are gorgeous and intriguing in their simple, deadly beauty. It reminded me of looking at prototypes of cars: all curves, metal and sheen.

Despite this beauty, however, Sinclaire is quick to point out exactly what they were meant for and keeps a fairly neutral, even-handed tone throughout the book, giving more facts than opinion and not sinking into the "Mystical Magical Japan" fluff some Western authors fall prey to.

An unusual example from the history section: To test a newly made Japanese sword several hundred years ago, an official tester used it on either living convicts or the bodies of convicts who had been given the death penalty. The results of the test (for example, how many bodies the sword made it through) were inscribed on the blade as a ranking system of sorts.

On a less gruesome note: if you've ever wondered, like I have after seeing the terms tossed around, what the difference between a katana and a tachi is, that's here too. Generally speaking, a tachi is a longer, lighter sword meant to be worn and used one-handed on horseback, slung with the cutting edge down, and a katana is worn as part of a man's clothing, worn with the scabbard pushed through the side of the obi with the cutting edge uppermost.

(As a note, my copy says "A Collector's Guide" while the ones I'm finding online are "Practical Guide", but the ISBN numbers are the same: ISBN 10 0-7858-2563-0, so I'm guessing it's just different cover runs.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Big Hello to New Visitors

If you got here today from my "Real or Fake" or "Draw Better Kimono" tutorial from DeviantArt, welcome! I've been collecting kimono for over ten years and lived in Japan for almost five. I blog mostly about kimono but occasionally other traditional aspects of Japan as well. If you're looking for something in particular, all of my entries except the oldest have tags and you can use the search bar over on the right.

If you don't find what you're after, feel free to drop me a note and I'll help if I can. Thanks and have a great day!

(For my regular visitors, I was recognized today with a Daily Deviation over on DeviantArt for one of my kimono tutorials posted a few entries back, which basically means that tutorial is one of their showcase images for the day. It's really awesome they did that and I'm very thankful to dA for the honor!)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Unusual Finds: Yukata and Pleather Obi

I bring two unusual finds this week! For the tall girls out there, there's a "5L" size new women's yukata over at Ichiroya. Note the crosshatch texture of the fabric, a typical feature of nicer yukata which, if I remember right, helps give the fabric a bit of stiffness.

The other is pre-tied men's obi over on Ebay, which aren't rare at all, but these are made out of something I've never seen used for obi before: synthetic leather, an apparent nod to trendy modern fashion?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ichiroya: Gorgeous Black Houmongi!

For Westerners new to kimono, many expect all kimono to be covered in cherry blossoms or other super-Japanese motifs, to the point that some suspect "non-Japanese-motif = fake".

While traditional Japanese motifs are found on a lot of kimono, there are plenty that feature more "modern", abstract, or neutral designs and are most definitely real kimono. :)

Below is a beautiful example of such, recently posted on Ichiroya: I'd buy it but it's a smidge too short for me!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kimono, Haori, Obi, Nagajuban Seasonality Chart

Traditionally, kimono and other items are worn according to certain seasonal guidelines. Just like you wouldn't wear a wool coat in August in Texas, you wouldn't wear a lined kimono in July in Japan.

Like the Western "no white after Labor Day" rule, in recent years the strict edges of the seasons have blurred a bit as Japan's weather has grown warmer earlier in the year, but for the most part the guidelines are still followed. Here's my translation of a general chart explaining when to wear what:

The sheer fabrics are worn with a solid, opaque kimono underneath, just to be clear. ;)

If you're a kimono newbie, haori are the shorter jackets worn over kimono, and nagajuban are the underwear kimono put on first under the kimono.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Panel Madness at KamikazeCon!

This weekend, if you're in Houston and have a chance, check out local anime convention KamikazeCon.

I'll be there doing four panels, which is new and exciting for me. The most I've ever done in a weekend is two!


Kimono 101 (2:00PM - 3:00PM)

A friendly, fast-paced introduction to the world of Japanese kimono, including history, different types, how to buy, how to tell a real one from a fake, and how to wear them. Authentic examples will be on hand and a start-to-finish dressing demo will be included.


Kimono for Cosplayers (10:00AM - 11:00AM)

From Hetalia to Kenshin, kimono are a common sight in anime and manga. If you'd like to cosplay a character who wears one, come on by! You'll learn the pros and cons of making vs. buying with real-life examples, tips for budget costumes, and advice on how to wear and move in them as your character.

Geisha 101 (8:00 PM - 9:00PM)
Step into the world of the geisha, the classical entertainer and symbol of traditional Japan. This panel will give you the basics on what geisha are, what they do, and how they dress: some answers might surprise you! Tips for cosplaying geisha will also be included.


Japanese Traditions 101 (12:00PM - 1:00 PM)

Stop by for a quick introduction to some of the cultural traditions of Japan: geisha, Japanese dance, calligraphy, kimono, and the Shinto religion.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Please Ignore the Log-In Window Prompt... and Check Out These Yukata!

I'm not sure why this is happening, but a log-in window is now appearing when this page loads. Please just hit "cancel" and it'll go away: I'm trying to get it sorted out now.

In the meanwhile, here's a summer yukata commercial from clothing company AEON for the 2011 season. :) The entire AEON collection can be seen over this way.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

CLAMP's Kyoto Fantasy: Gate 7

The city of Kyoto looms large in the Japanese cultural mindset as a place of classical beauty and tradition. The capital of Japan for over a thousand years ("Kyoto" 京都 actually means "capital city"), it is still considered the heart of traditional culture today, famed for icons like its geisha, the gold-covered Kinkakuji temple, handicrafts like beautiful Kyo-Yuzen dyed kimono, and many more.

Priding itself on this reputation, Kyoto even offers a discount to some tourist spots if a visitor comes dressed in kimono.

Now CLAMP, the hugely successful circle of female manga artists behind titles like Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Cardcaptor Sakura, xxxHolic and RG Veda, has taken Kyoto as its backdrop for one of its latest series, Gate 7.

Focusing on a young man living and going to school in Kyoto amid very odd circumstances, the series presents the city through the trademark CLAMP lens: traditional sites become gateways to battlegrounds, characters lounge elegantly in highly-stylized and embellished ideas of kimono or swirl about in fantasy takes on traditional miko (shrine attendant) robes, and little touches of Kyoto can be found throughout the world.

Here in America, Dark Horse Comics has plans to release Gate 7 Volume 1 on October 25th, and I'll definitely be picking up a copy!

(On a related note, CLAMP artist Mokona loves kimono, and even released her own book with coordinate ideas and her own homemade kimono projects.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Learn Japanese with Maru!

You've probably seen the adorable Japanese cat "Maru" of Youtube fame, but if you're studying written Japanese, the blog Maru's owner keeps for him is a great way to practice your reading skills outside of a textbook and have fun at the same time.

Two nice features are that Maru's owner includes English translations and usually writes in the polite -masu form for the Japanese, so it's a good mix of both authentic Japanese and beginner-friendly structure.

Here's the blog and below is one of Maru's videos:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Visual Guides: Top 10 Signs a Kimono is Fake, Top 10 Mistakes Artists/Cosplayers Make When Drawing/Making Kimono

If you're familiar with the art community DeviantArt, I've come and gone there over the years because I find some of the art really inspiring. :)

I've also seen a lot of mistakes made by well-meaning people who spent a ton of time on beautiful art or costumes using kimono, but didn't know much about them.

So I sat down and came up with two tutorials: quick, brief overviews of the kimono biggies to keep in mind. (Click on the image twice to see it full-size.)

Tutorial: Draw Better Kimono by *iheartsendai on deviantART

Tutorial: Real or Fake Kimono? by *iheartsendai on deviantART

If you're not sure about something you see or a picture or costume you're working on, feel free to email me and ask and I'll help out if I can. :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Two Panels This Weekend at Delta H Con

This weekend in Houston is Delta H Con, an intimate little anime convention on the University of Houston campus. If you're going and are interested, I'll be doing two panels this weekend! :)

Today, 7pm, Panel Room 2: Kimono 101. This is the basic introductory panel I do at conventions, which I tweak a little each time with new examples or a different "extra" topic/obi knot/etc. thrown in for those who have seen it before. Geared toward beginners, it covers history and types of kimono, how to tell a real one from a fake (important as there are so many out there for sale!), and if time allows a start-to-finish dressing demonstration for both men and women.

Saturday, 11am, Panel Room 2: Kimono for Cosplayers. From Hetalia to Kenshin, kimono are a common sight in anime and manga. This cosplay-focused panel will cover the pros and cons of buying kimono vs. making your own, tips for budget costumes, real-life examples of different types, and how to convincingly wear and move in-character in kimono.

For me, today's outfit is a purple yukata with rabbits playing in leaves, a hanhaba obi, and a big flower headband. Here's to comfy summer outfits! :D

Monday, June 27, 2011

Video Clips - Wedding Ceremony and Kimono

Today while surfing Youtube I ran across this great video showing a traditional Japanese wedding at the famous Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

The traditional Japanese Shinto wedding involves the bride and groom taking sips of sake three times from the same set of cups, and I found it interesting to see the inclusion of Western wedding rings. The shrine maidens (miko) use bells to bring the gods' attention (and good luck) to the ceremony.

You can also check out Meiji Shrine's English wedding hall page. As this is one of the biggest and most popular shrines, I can't imagine how much it would actually cost to get married there. o_O

On a kimono note, the super-formal "shiromuku" 白無垢, which literally means "white purity", is the all-white wedding kimono worn by the bride. Here's a different bride getting dressed in one:

At the four-minute mark the dressing is done, and both the bride and groom pose for pictures.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Kimono at the Royal Ascot

Just a quick post to share a couple photos of women in formal kimono at the recent Royal Ascot, the huge horse race/social event in England.

A woman laughing in the rain. So cute!

Scroll down to see three women in gorgeous kimono, the two younger ones in furisode.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tips for Artists: Drawing Women in Kimono

If you're reading this, you're probably either one of my regular readers (hi and thank you! :D ) or an artist who entered "how to draw kimono" into a search engine.

For the artists who typed that, you've won half the battle of drawing Japanese kimono accurately because you've taken the time to do research. Today's post is all about helping you render Japanese kimono accurately in your art without making the common mistakes I see all over the place. Here are the biggies:

- No contrasting. Outside of underwear, called juban, your average kimono does not have contrasting collars or sleeves. A kimono is made entirely from the same bolt of fabric, collar and sleeves included. If you think you're seeing contrasting collars, it's probably either the underkimono peeking out (as it should) or a fake "dickey" length of fabric worn under the collar to suggest a second layer of kimono that isn't really there.

- Left over right on the collars on both genders. Right over left is only for corpses (though even some young Japanese don't realize this, not having grown up with kimono as their grandparents did). A properly folded kimono looks like the letter "y", with the wearer's left panel on top of the right panel.

A bride and groom in full formal wear.

- No whiteface. While being pale is still considered beautiful in Japan (I loved finding foundation pale enough for me in several shades when I lived over there) the only people who wear whiteface on a regular basis are geisha and classical theater actors. Period.

- Smexy women's "kimono" nakedness (tiny bathrobe "kimono" hanging dangerously low/loose/"I can see all the way south to Florida"* on women). I realize not all artists are going for historical realism, but putting a girl in a skimpy short bathrobe and calling it a kimono (or worse, her a "geisha") shows more of your own fantasies than anything else.

(*We love you, Carrie Fisher!)

A woman performing traditional Japanese dance.

- Square sleeves. Kimono are not bell-sleeved. A kimono is a T-shape when hung on a line, the sleeves plain rectangles sewn to the rectangle body at the top of the shoulder seam. This makes it an approximate pain in the ass to draw, but a little practice and looking at photos can help.

- No cleavage. See "South to Florida" above. ;) Women's kimono are worn folded high at the neck.

- Formality. Whole books have been written on this topic, but here's a quick and dirty cheat sheet to get you started:

Young women in yukata.

Young or adult woman: summer festival? Cotton yukata-type kimono, short sleeves, simple narrow obi usually tied in a pseudo bow in the back. Geta wooden sandals, no split-toed tabi socks. No obiage scarf or obijime cord.

Young or adult woman: every other occasion?

This is a formal furisode for special occasions.

Young woman: long-sleeve kimono, wider obi folded in half to look narrow in front but at full width in back, with giant offset bow or elaborate knot in back, obi-age scarf tucked into top of obi, wide obi-jime cord around high-middle of obi, zori sandals, white tabi.

This adult woman is performing tea ceremony in a "komon" type of kimono.

Adult woman: short-sleeve kimono, wider obi folded in half to look narrow in front but at full width in back usually done in a short and boxy-looking taiko knot, obi-age scarf tucked more into top of obi, obi-jime cord around middle/low part of obi, zori sandals, white tabi.

For more specific looks, try searching for the terms komon, tsukesage, houmongi, furisode, irotomesode, kurotomesode, kakeshita, and uchikake to see how kimono types look different as they become more formal. Obi types begin at hanhaba and go up to Nagoya, fukuro, and maru.

So, fellow artists, if you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a note and I'll help if I can. :) I know firsthand it can be intimidating drawing a certain type of clothing if you don't know much about it (one reason I have yet to draw anyone in traditional Chinese outfits).

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kimono Costumes: Geisha and "Samurai Darth Maul"

I'm sometimes asked what I do with the kimono I collect. The answer is usually "wear them when I have the opportunity" or "show them at educational panels," but as a costuming geek I also have fun working them into costumes when I can.

So a couple of weeks ago at Houston's Comicpalooza convention (awesome, can't wait for next year!) I wore these two:

Geisha "Ayame"

This costume has been a long labor of love as I kept an eye out for pieces in my price range, but I finally pieced together a decent "starter" geisha look! It involves a hikizuri (trailing kimono often worn during dance performances) in my favorite color, a hakata obi (traditional geometric weave pattern classically seen on geisha) worn in a style particular to geisha, two-color dance fans, and a human-hair katsura (wig) in a styling very similar to a geisha's.

"Ayame" 菖蒲 means "iris" and is a flower that fits me for a couple of reasons: it blooms in my birth month (May) and is often seen in my favorite color, purple. :)

My kitsuke (kimono-wearing) skills need a lot of practice, but I loved this costume and will definitely wear it again.

"Samurai" Darth Maul

This next costume comes from the fact I'm aiming for an eventual full Darth Maul (Star Wars) costume, because I love challenges in costuming, but due to funding and time only had half of it done by the convention. My choices if I wanted to do it anyway were a white T-shirt with "rest of costume goes here" worn over my linen black pants and Frank Thomas black boots, or my idea to do a nod to the awesome Star Wars "ukiyo-e" paintings I saw on the Immortal Geisha forums a long while back, which featured the characters as classical Japanese nobles, samurai, demons, etc.

So I bring you a loosely-inspired "Samurai Darth Maul" in punk black hakama by indies brand Qutie Frash, a formal men's kimono and haori, boken practice sword, men's geta, and a whole lot of paint!

It was well-received at the con (Darth Maul barely talks, so with binding and a silent swagger the costume seemed to work, as I was taken for a guy all day) and an artist actually came running up to me excited because he did a series of paintings, apparently, featuring Star Wars characters in "real life" and one was a Maul samurai. It was a lot of fun all around, though I will say to any guys reading that it was tough figuring out how to walk like a guy. ;)

I will also say that after all the prep time and work that goes into Maul (bald cap, handmade horns, full head of paint) the geisha makeup seems like a breeze in comparison.

So there are two of my own kimono-based costumes! If you've done any you'd like to share, any costume that involves a kimono, please send me a link or picture! I'd love to see them. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nihon Buyo - Japanese Dance

If you've never seen any Nihon Buyo 日本舞踊, or "Japanese Dance", NHK's program Japanology did a great episode introducing this traditional art, with in-studio demonstrations, history, footage of professional performers, and even how it's being used as a workout for average people.

At just under 30 minutes, it's best enjoyed when you have some spare time to watch the whole thing, but, like the History Channel, chances are it will suck you in one way or another anyway. ;)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Geisha or Maiko Costumes - Odori Furisode on Ebay

Odori means "dance", which some geisha (and their maiko apprentices) specialize in as one of their arts.

An Ebay seller has just listed several odori furisode at reasonable Buy It Now prices (or if you're feeling brave you could try an even lower Best Offer, which is offered on all four).

The special feature of these kimono is how long they are, as these kimono are meant to trail across a stage during a dance performance. There's no guarantee these are actual maiko kimono (in the case of the long-sleeved ones) or geisha kimono (in the one case with the shorter-sleeved black one) because any professional dancer, from my understanding, could wear this, but they fit the same dimensions and could easily be used in maiko or geisha costumes.

Sort of like ladybugs are red, but not everything red is a ladybug. These kimono could be worn by geisha, but they're not the only ones who could wear them. If that makes sense?

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Go look at the pretty kimono. ;)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Translations: Yukata Fashion - Anecan July 2010

Over on the Immortal Geisha forums, user "tzippurah" is known for uploading a ton of Japanese magazine scans related to kimono. I asked her for permission to translate and repost some of her scans as there's not a lot of translation into English about kimono and such. And it's a fun way for me to work on my Japanese!

She kindly agreed and has my great thanks: I'm not sure when or how often I'll be putting translations up, but I'll try to do a variety of things.

Today is a spread from Anecan July 2010 focusing on women's yukata (summer kimono). The small print is too tiny for me to read, but from what I can see most of it is outfit rundowns with the usual ad copy, item name, and cost list.

(I think in the translation process I learned about six new ways to say "stylish"!)

 Red and pink: eternally beloved colors! With the colors of "Scarlet and Cherry Blossoms," a subtle cuteness for adults… Whether in Western-style clothing or Japanese, red and pink are popular colors.

If you are a maiden dressed in the color and pattern of cherry blossoms, is the old saying "People prefer eating dango sweets to looking at flowers" really true after all?
Wishing for stylish florals… through the magic of yukata, a prediction likely to come true!
 "White and Off-White": a beauty of quiet elegance

A white yukata ensemble finished with crisp designs: must-have accessory? A heart that loves chic sophistication.
 Top: Clad in flower designs… If we stand, Chinese peonies. If we sit, tree peonies. When we walk, our silhouettes will be lily flowers, perhaps?
 In "Shades of Indigo and Light Blue", lively girls!

Thumbs up from traditionalists! Let's enjoy midsummer in cool, refreshing colors.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Darari Obi Ebay Madness

Darari obi だらり帯 "dangling" obi, are a special type worn by maiko (apprentice geisha).

While most obi are around 12-13' long, these obi are much longer to accommodate the beautiful and instantly-recognizable waterfall-style "darari" knot sported by maiko only. They also feature the crests of their geisha house on the very end of the obi, another distinctive trait that separates these obi from normal, fancy obi worn by women in general.

 A row of maiko at a 2010 party, all wearing darari obi. The woman on the right is a full-fledged geisha (or geiko as they're called in Kyoto) and wears the standard otaiko drum knot seen on normal women as well.

Maiko Sayaka in a gorgeous example.

 Maiko on the move! All photos copyright Onihide and used with permission.

Right now on Ebay three darari obi are up for auction, and the prices are climbing steadily. Considering how hard they are to come by, paying hundreds of dollars for one isn't unheard of. Good luck if you decide to try for one!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Houston Japan Fest - Yabane and Shamisen

This past weekend was Houston's annual Japan Fest, where over 20,000 people gathered to enjoy Japanese traditional music and martial art demonstrations, crafts, children's games, shopping, and on the pop culture side, cosplay and spontaneous "battlegrounds" popping up.

I went both days, and my favorite outfit of the weekend was the one I wore Saturday, a fun and casual take on an ultra-classical yabane kofurisode (short-sleeved furisode) softened by adding pink accessories and a cherry fake collar to mimic a juban underkimono layer underneath. Technically you need a juban for any kimono over a yukata in formality, but I'm not wearing one with a lined kimono in 86 degree heat to an all-day outdoor event.

For the obi, I tied it in the popular "tateya" (standing arrow) pattern often seen with furisode.

Yabane 矢羽根 is a stylized vertical pattern of typically interlocking arrow fletchings, worn centuries ago by servants on samurai estates, if I recall correctly. Eventually fashionable townspeople began wearing the pattern and it's been a popular design ever since.

(I was also interviewed in this outfit by a local news station, so for my fellow Houstonians: if you happen to see a woman in this outfit on Channel 39 that was me. Hopefully I don't sound as dorky as I think I did. ^_^;)

At a later point I'll put up a tutorial for the mock obi-jime (pink cord) I made for this outfit. It was both simple and cheap and is something I'll definitely do again if I can't get hold of a real one in time.

Here's me in the outfit with Yutaka Oyama and Masahiro Nitta of "Oyama x Nitta Duo", an award-winning shamisen duo that performed at the festival. My kitsuke needs a lot of work, but I was happy to meet them and enjoyed their show!

If you'd like to know more Carnegie Hall put together an informative page when they played there last month, and here's one of their videos, Karma, on Youtube. Very sweet guys, and talented!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kids' Kimono Seminar

As I've mentioned, I've recently started a Japanese language and culture club at the school I teach at. A few weeks ago I brought in a few women's kimono (yukata, houmongi, furisode) and this week brought in a full formal men's outfit to show the kids.

It was very interesting to see their reactions to both, as my audiences are usually teens and older. Like older age groups, they loved the long sleeves of the furisode, but unlike the older audiences a lot of them found the red obi/black yukata example pairing I usually show to be tacky. ^_^;

One girl shares my opinion that the guys' stuff is much higher on the cool scale than the girls'. And it's always fun to hear the "oooos" when I show an audience the plain black men's haori jacket, talking about it, and then turn it around to show them the beautiful painting inside.

It was also a new challenge dressing myself over my own clothes while standing on a chair so everyone could see the entire outfit, as I didn't have the stage I usually do. Getting my feet through the voluminous legs of split hakama while balancing on said chair was fun, but not something I'd like to do again!

I think the next time we touch on clothing and accessories I'll bring in an authentic wedding wig and see what they think.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Update and Helping Japan

My love of kimono is still very much here, even if I haven't been blogging lately! I've started an informal Japanese club at the school I teach at, taken in kimono to show my kids, and am slowly walking the club, a group of wonderfully smart and eager kids, through basic Japanese phrases. :)

However, on a more serious note, tonight I wanted to ask anyone reading to please send along donations, prayer, kind thoughts, or anything they can to the people who have suffered and are still suffering in Japan due to the earthquake, tsunami, aftershocks, and ongoing nuclear scare.

Sendai was the first city I ever lived in in Japan, and one I still hold very dear. It's been rough watching all the footage coming from there without being able to go to Japan and be there to help somehow, but in a very small way I'm now trying to help by donating my own money and spreading the word as much as I can.

Please help me by continuing to spread the word. With its economy going through rough times, Japan has a long, hard road ahead of it in rebuilding.