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.