Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kimono Seasonal Flowers, Motifs, and More: June

Awhile back, I found an amazingly detailed kimono seasonality site and marked it for later translation. It goes through each month, and I will be translating it one month at a time.

As a note, this is a translation of a tea ceremony kimono site. The tea ceremony world, I have learned, is among the strictest when it comes to following proper seasonality rules, so bear in mind that these rules are more stringent than the general thinking for daily and casual kimono wearers.

It’s great if a daily wearer can put together an outfit following all of these rules, but very few will look at you funny if you can’t, as it’s hard and can be expensive to collect all the proper pieces. I’m translating this site more as part of my efforts to add to the world of English-language kimono information for those who don’t speak Japanese.

On to the info! Thanks for reading. :)

The Month of June

Komayori ro

This month lined kimono (awase) are replaced with unlined (hitoe). Regarding fabrics, kawari-chirimen silk crepe (an “improved”, more wrinkle-resistant form of hitokoshi-chirimen silk), and komayori ro silk are suitable for wear.

Colors include Chinese bellflower (kikyou) purple 585EAA, thistle red (opinion seems to vary on this one, but the color ranges from light, cool pink to bright cool pink) (azami-no-aka) D8BFD8, indigo (ai) 0F5474, greyish dark green (rikyuu-nezumi) 54745C, and other such cool-toned darker colors are classic choices and traditional, but nowadays lighter colors (colors with more white in them) are worn.

For patterns, “Asiatic dayflower” (tsuyu-kusa), “Japanese pampas grass” (ito-susuki), lilies in general, or other such seasonal flowers or scenery that create a feeling of coolness are essential.
Asiatic dayflower

Asiatic dayflower on left

Japanese pampas grass


Opaque Nagoya obi, made of “tapestry-weave” tsuzure(1)  and shioze(2) fabrics, are used with opaque kimono.
Close-up of shioze

 The standard for transparent kimono is to use Nagoya obi made with tapestry ro (ro-tsuzure), or “Japanese batik” ro (ro-zome), and fukuro obi made of ro or sha silk(3).


But from the middle of the month onward, it’s stylish to hint at the coming summer by pairing a transparent obi with an opaque kimono.

Patterns that can be used include seasonal flowers or classical court patterns (yuu-soku).

Court patterns from ancient times


All accessories should be summer-weight. Obi-age: plain or gradated color ro silk. Obi-jime: thin braid or summer-weight ra silk is good. Naga-juban (one-piece underlayer kimono): ro silk.

Obi-age scarf left, obi-jime cord right

Colors are white, or plain or small-patterned (komon) transparent/pale colors.

The collar (han-eri) should be ro silk in white. Because things can get sweaty with the heat this month, washable polyester collars are useful.

Footwear is low-heeled patent leather, in colors, or Panama style. Coordinating it with the colors of the kimono and obi will create a refined impression.

Notes (original author's)

The wearing of dark colors at the beginning of unlined (hitoe) kimono season is an old custom. Pairing such colors with accessories in cold, clear colors creates a feeling of refreshing coolness. Generally the collar and naga-juban are the first to change over to ro silk, but there are situations where stylish people will also change the obi over to ro early as well.

General Colors

Colors such as Chinese bellflower purple, light green (asa-midori) 84C98B, indigo, greyish dark green, and light blue (mizu-iro) AFDFE4. With dark colors, accompanying colors like white or scarlet (ake) ED1A3D are good.


Hydrangea (ajisai), blue flag iris (hana-shoubu), Japanese pampas grass, lily, green maple leaves (ao-kaede), water patterns (sui-mon), distant mountains (too-yama)


Blue flag iris

See earlier section for Japanese pampas grass

Green maple leaves

Water patterns

Distant mountains

June Flowers

Early/summer chrysanthemums (natsu-giku), evening primrose (tsuki-misou) bamboo lily (sasa-yuri), fringed iris (sha-ga), hydrangea
Early/summer chrysanthemums

Evening primrose

Bamboo lily

Fringed iris

See earlier section for hydrangea.

Patterns Associated with June

Open folding fans (sen-men), flat and round fans (uchiwa), firefly cages (hotaru-kago), flutes (fue) because they are played at summer festivals, drums (taiko)

 More (Original Author) Notes

-“Unlined kimono during the rainy season (tsuyu)”: Kimono become unlined in June, but there are two types of unlined kimono, transparent and opaque. Before the rainy season begins, opaque fabrics are used. Once the rainy season begins, transparent are used.

-Examples of fabrics include soft, unlined chirimen silk in various types such as “willow” (yoryuu), “daybreak” (shinonome), and “Takasago” (place name)(4). Nowadays, improved versions of these are sold under the name “kawari-chirimen”.

-An example of transparent fabrics is “koma-yori” ro. It’s made of twisted silk threads, so it’s thicker than normally-woven ro. Another characteristic is its firmness.

-Because summer-weight kimono are worn from June to the last part of September, it’s convenient to have one on hand.

-Obi change over to summer-weight obi. If we think about it, opaque obi go with opaque kimono, and transparent obi go with transparent kimono. Nagoya obi made of tapestry-weave, gold brocade (haku-nishiki), and shioze silk are worn with opaque unlined kimono. Since long ago, it’s been considered harmonious to wear tapestry ro or ro Nagoya obi beginning halfway through June and onward. “Sha” obi are popular, but probably fit best with a type of ro called “koma-ro” transparent kimono.

-With white naga-juban, the material becomes “ro”. Collars are white “ro”, and obi-age change to “ro” as well.

Translator Footnotes

(1) Tsuzure: a variation on plain-weave fabric where the pattern is woven using the horizontal threads. Introduced from China in the Nara period, and a specialty of Kyoto’s Nishijin area.

(2) Shioze: a type of fine (habutae) silk using very fine vertical threads and thick horizontal threads, moistened and tightly woven. After weaving, the fabric is scoured and dyed.

(3) Basically, ro, sha and ra are all open “gauze” weaves. If you’re curious, here is a detailed explanation of the difference between a ro, sha, and ra weave.

(4) “Willow” gets its name from its slightly bumpy vertical texture, resembling the draping branches of the willow tree. “Daybreak” has a slightly bumpy horizontal texture (perhaps implying a sunrise?), and I can’t find any specifics about Takasago other than it’s apparently high-end. Total conjecture, but it might be named after the famous play/motif, which celebrates a husband-and-wife pair of enchanted trees in two different places, one being in Takasago. They appear as an old man and old woman and are considered good luck and symbols of a full and happy life.

Translator Notes

-I enjoyed learning several new terms doing this month, but I think my favorite is the whimsical-looking hotaru-kago, “firefly cages”. It’s apparently a rare motif as I’ve never seen one and couldn’t find an example online, but I’ll definitely have an eye out for it now. :)

-The original author repeats several points, so with certain common terms I am using the Japanese name on first mention only. If you’re unsure of something, feel free to ask and I can clarify. I may rearrange the order of things starting with the next month, July.

-The number next to the color name is that color's hex code as used in HTML. Keep in mind the exact shade may vary as well: cross-checking traditional color-name sites with actual kimono venders, the Chinese bellflower lavender, for example, can range from a light cool lavender to the more vibrant one in the post.

-While the wording “opaque” and “transparent” may seem a bit awkward, it’s the closest translation: they are “sukenai” (not transparent) 透けない and “sukeru” (transparent/see-through) 透ける, respectively.

The original Japanese text can be found here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Common Motifs - Karako

An old series I haven't done in a while, Common Motifs is back!

Kara-ko, 唐子 "(Ancient) Chinese child" is one of those motifs people seem to love or hate. Some, like me, find the chubby little guys adorable while others don't care for their stylized look.

If you're one of those people who like them, karako are a pan-seasonal motif ok for any time of year, and can add a special "good luck" or "auspicious" feeling to your kimono outfit if you wear them to a happy event. :)

Below are examples from three Nagoya (casual-semiformal) obi, and one kurotomesode (most formal kimono for married women).

All images courtesy of Ichiroya and used with permission.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Now on Tumblr!

Just a quick note here!

I may be late to the party, but I now have a Tumblr account. :)

Its focus will be photos I snap of kimono-related stuff and general life in Japan, as well as reblogs of related things I think y'all might like. In no way will it affect my productivity as a human bei-- wait, did I just spend an hour looking at kimono scans? XD

Friday, November 23, 2012

Wasou Kimono Class Update!

My casual matroshka-doll pattern zori.
All this fall and winter, one morning a week, I load up my little carry-on suitcase with kimono goodies and trundle off to my kimono-wearing (kitsuke) class. It’s something I look forward to all week. :)

As I mentioned in an earlier post. I’m studying with the Wasou school, and I’m happy to report I’ve had an excellent experience with them so far. It turns out I and the other student in the early class are more advanced than most beginners, in the words of our teacher, so we’ve been able to move quickly through the basics and focus more on getting little details right.

Our teacher is a kind and enthusiastic woman, who is unfazed by my foreignness and very pleased that I’m interested in kimono. She’s quite surprised at how much I know already and she and my fellow student were happy to hear that I am doing my best to help educate English-speakers about kimono.

The first few classes have focused on basic casual dressing and otaiko knots. We bring our own kimono and accessories, and she walks us through the steps, giving us tips and advice. A couple of tips I’ve picked up so far:

- When wrapping the kimono around your hips, the seam on the right front panel should vertically line up with the middle of the split in your tabi.

- Korin belts: for convenience’s sake, clip them to the back of the kimono’s sleeves before you put the kimono on. That way it’s already in reach when you need to clip them to the collars later during the dressing process.

- When you go to sit seiza (on your knees) in a kimono, keep your knees a little wider than usual as you kneel and when you sit the kimono won’t be too tight across your thighs and legs.

And for the vintage collectors and wearers out there, a reassuring note about seasonal motifs. I asked about them, and my teacher said that while seasonality is important in things like tea ceremony, not many people will be upset if you wear a particular pattern out of season in a casual situation.

Why? In modern times, most women have so few kimono asking for a head-to-toe casual seasonal outfit is just not possible for most. I was happy to hear that the kimono world is becoming more flexible and open-minded in this regard, and hope it’s a sign of the kimono’s continuing rebirth with younger women in Japan.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Japanese Folktales: The Mysterious Tama-Geta

I'm working on my write-up of Sapporo and my kimono classes, but in the meanwhile... :)

"Japanese Folktales" is a new series born of my love for folktales and my ongoing practice with the Japanese language. Every now and then I'll post my original translation of a folktale I myself haven't seen available in English yet. The first is a tale about greed and odd footwear!

The Mysterious Tama-Geta

Note: Geta are casual wooden sandals, and "tama" ("round" or "jewel") type geta are unique-looking ones with a rounded-off single peg on the bottom of each sandal, as you can see in the picture on the right. They're meant to be worn for balancing practice, not for actual travel.

Long ago, a boy named Sasuke lived together with his mother. One day, his mother fell gravely ill but they didn’t have enough money for a doctor.

“If this keeps up, she’s going to die! I’ll go to rich Old Man Gonzou and borrow some money,” Sasuke thought to himself. And with that, Sasuke set out to visit the old man.

Upon hearing what Sasuke wanted, Old Man Gonzou shouted, “What? You say you want to borrow money? If you want to borrow any, you’ll have to plow my fields!”

Wanting to help his mother as quickly as he could, Sasuke did his best and was able to plow the fields in one day. But Old Man Gonzou shouted, “Huh! Well, I’m still not loaning you money. Next, you’ll need to carry a lot of water out to the fields by bucket!”

The following day, Sasuke set about carrying the water. But he was given a bucket with a small hole in it, so that no matter how much he tried he was never able to bring enough water all the way to the fields. “You lazy boy! I’m not loaning you any money. Go home!” And with that the old man sent Sasuke away.

The rejected boy trudged wearily away and some time later came to a Shinto shrine. “I’m so hungry. I can’t walk anymore. What should I do, I wonder?” He sat down, and started dozing off.

“Clack clack! Clack clack!” Was he dreaming? The sound of someone walking on tama-geta grew closer, and an old man with a kind face came into view.

“Look, it’s Sasuke, the boy who’s worried about his mother! To you I give these tama-geta. When you wear them, if you fall down a gold coin will appear. But every time you fall down, you’ll get a little shorter. So don’t overdo it falling down!”

Sasuke nervously answered, “Y-Y-Yes. Thank you very much!” And the man disappeared with a poof.

“Huh? Was that a dream? But the sandals are still here!” He timidly tried putting the sandals on, but they were tama-geta after all, and so he ended up falling over with a thump when he tried to stand.

“Ow, ow ow!” he said, and Clink! went the sound of a dropped coin.

“It’s a gold coin!” Sasuke was overjoyed. With the gold coin in hand, he hurried to the doctor. After a visit from the doctor, his mother quickly got better. Not wanting to abuse the power of these strange tama-geta, they put them away and went back to their daily lives and hard work.

A while later, Old Man Gonzou came around to see how Sasuke and his mother were doing. Peeking in, he saw them enjoying a bountiful meal. “Hey, hey! How did you two afford this? So you came to my house to borrow money even though you had this kind of money in the first place?”

“Now, now, calm down. There’s a reason for this!” And Sasuke explained the story of the tama-geta.

“What? Tama-geta that give gold coins? Amazing! But something like that should be owned by a rich man like me, not paupers like you. I’ll take them now.” And Old Man Gonzou returned home with them.

Upon returning, he immediately laid out a large cloth in his house so as not to dirty the floor. Putting on the tama-geta, he stood atop the cloth. “Heh, heh, heh. First, one fall!” he said, and fell over with a thump.

Clink! A gold coin appeared. “Oh! It’s the real thing!” he said.

And so, after that he began to sing: “Fall down, fall down! Gold coins for me! Clink, clink! Clink, clink! Gold coins for me!” Old Man Gonzou excitedly fell down again and again.

“Oh! So many gold coins! I’ll make a pile bigger than me! I’ll be the richest man in Japan!” He didn’t notice that every time he fell down he was getting a little smaller.

Meanwhile, Sasuke remembered that he had forgotten to tell the old man about how you’d get smaller each time you fell down. In a panic, he hurried to Old Man Gonzou's home.

From the closed-up house he could hear clinking sounds. “Old man! Old man!” he called, but there was no reply. He tried as hard as he could to open the door, and it finally opened, clinking gold coins streaming out.

“Oh no! Mr. Gonzou! Where are you?” Pushing aside the coins he entered the house, and found the old man, now the size of a grasshopper, next to a mountain of gold coins. But Old Man Gonzou was still falling and standing, falling and standing, coins appearing one after another.

Finally, when the old man had shrunk to the size of a tiny insect, he flew away and was never seen again.

After that, Sasuke took over Old Man Gonzou’s house and became a millionaire, spending his life with his mother in happiness.

Greed isn’t a good thing, is it?

The End 

Translation © 2012 The Kimono Lady
The original Japanese tale: 不思議な玉下駄

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Comments Missing and Free Kitsuke Classes

The bad news first... I have very limited blogging skills. I just open, write, and post. Today I decided to go into the Dashboard and try things out and get all fancy!

So I saw I had a ton of comments, all of which I had read on the blog itself. So I decided to delete the giant pile of what I thought were comment notifications so I would be better informed when new ones popped up. Nope. I instead ruthlessly and unwittingly deleted every comment that's ever been made on this blog, 50 at a time. >_< It took me a while. I wondered why there wasn't a button to delete all the notifications at once...

The moral of the story is don't let me near Dashboard. So if you notice your comments are missing, I apologize. It's because I'm an idiot.

But hopefully a better-dressed idiot soon.

The good news: Thanks to a newspaper ad passed along by a friend, I am now enrolled in Wasou's free autumn kitsuke classes!

Wasou is one of the big kimono schools here in Japan, which exist to help Japanese women learn how to wear kimono ("kitsuke") and become more knowledgeable about them. They exist because kimono are no longer a part of daily life for most younger Japanese women, so while they know a bit they're usually not much more familiar with them than your average American.

The lessons (15 in all) are truly free minus a few small fees here and there (300 yen for a student photo taken your first day, 1,200 yen for a bento box lunch during a couple of "lunch seminars", and 8,000-12,000 yen for an optional all-kimono party at a local hotel at the end of the course). The way Wasou makes its money is if you choose to purchase any kimono or obi at the two lunch seminars, where kimono and obi makers come and basically do a trunk show.

Wasou also makes a few bucks off of any dressing doo-dads you choose to buy that they demo for you during the first class: elastic koshihimo cords that are more comfortable than the traditional cloth ones, bias-cut collars that never wrinkle, etc. They made a few bucks off me once I saw how handy some of the things were. :)

Once I have a few more lessons I'll post more about my experiences with the school. And hopefully not delete anything along the way! Arrrrgh!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Seasonality Motif Chart for Kimono

Just like Western clothing, where you wouldn't wear a tanktop in December in most places, or a Christmas-themed sweater in July, kimono follow certain seasonal patterns in construction and motifs. Here is one seasonal chart I've translated, notable for its inclusion of motifs for each month. Most I run across only list construction details or general seasonal designs.

If you're not familiar with Japanese culture, a few might seem odd (for example, carp banners are a traditional decoration for Children's Day, held in May) but as you look through the months, you can see that most of the motifs are a reflection of nature at that time in the year.

If you're interested in the Japanese name for a motif or have any questions, let me know! :)

Life in Japan: Getting a Sagawa Package Redelivered

At some point of your life in Japan, if you order things, you're probably going to have a package delivered by the Sagawa company. Officially "Transport Communication Sagawa", they will leave a slip in your mailbox if you're not home to receive your package. You must be home to sign for it.

The slip, in Japanese, tells you how to have it redelivered through an automated phone system. Here's a simple, easy breakdown of what to press and when for those of you who don't speak Japanese or hate trying to follow formal Japanese on the phone (like me ;) ):

1. Call the redelivery number. The one in large red is a free call for anyone with a house phone. Cell-phone users will need to call the smaller number beneath it, which will incur whatever your normal cell-phone contract charges for calls.

2. After the automated voice explains what you have to enter, you will hear a beep. Enter your phone number. (You don't need to hit # or anything afterward).

3. Wait for more talking, and after the beep, enter the four-digit store-branch code.

4. More talking, beep. Enter the package number (marked with a red arrow pointing at it on the slip).

4. More talking, beep. Enter the day you would like the package redelivered. For the same day, press 0. To get the package redelivered on the same day, you must schedule redelivery by 6pm that day. For the 5th of the month, enter 05. For the 25th, 25.

5. More talking, beep. Enter the time slot you'd like. 7 is any time that day, 1 is during the morning, and then the numbers designate 2 hour slots onward up until 9pm that night.

6. At this point the automated voice should repeat back to you what you chose and ask for confirmation. Beep! At this point, enter 1 (we're assuming you followed the steps correctly and/or understand enough Japanese to hear the numbers for the day and time). If you're not sure, press 2 to make changes to the day and time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kimono Weekend in Sapporo!

I visited Sapporo, Hokkaido over this past Obon break for a couple of days, where I and a friend ran across an awesome mini "omikoshi" street festival, visited several kimono shops and a flea market, and randomly saw around ten people on the street in kimono in just two days (a huge number for what I'm used to seeing in my city of Akita). I also purchased some kitsuke-related books at the huge Kinokuniya bookstore. Here's the view from the hotel of Sapporo Station. :)

First, the festival! While walking through downtown Sapporo, Sunday the 19th, we bumped into this small neighborhood event: a local temple had sent out its holy artifact in a parade, where the artifact is carried around in a special "portable shrine" (omikoshi 御神輿). Neighborhood residents help carry it, calling out "Wasshoi!" as they bounce it down the street. The idea with omikoshi is that the gods, residing in the holy artifacts, like to be taken out of their temples and around the town every now and then, or they get angry and will cause misfortune. I have some video of this too that I'll upload later on. The participants are in "happi", the traditional coats with crests or designs worn for festivals.

I also spotted these two gentlemen, who were kind enough to let me get a picture of them in their summer kimono and even spoke to me in cheerful, simple English. Awesome guys! :D (Many adult Japanese don't like their faces in photos online, so that's why all of mine are cut off to only show the outfits.)

Our wanderings took us past a flea market happening in the large, narrow park that runs through downtown Sapporo, where kimono and obi were available at various stalls for 500 yen and up, though kimono seemed to be going for around 3,000-5,000 yen. Not finding any I liked (I'm very picky about condition and most of them had flaws of some kind) we went on our way to a second-hand shop my friend found online for me, called Tansu-ya.

Tansu-ya たんす屋, located on the 4th floor of the Lafiler (ラフィラ) department store next to Susukino station, is a national secondhand kimono chain. It featured very good to excellent condition kimono, obi, and accessories. Obi were available from 1,000 yen in a small bargain bin all the way up to 20-30,000 yen for high-class formal ones. Kimono ranged from around 3,000 yen to 40,000 yen.

The kimono were mostly yukata, komon, tsumugi, basically the various daily wear types for adults. I snagged a new ro (summer weight) synthetic juban (underwear kimono) for 1,000 yen.

Some kimono shops (usually places that sell new ones) tend to be very high-pressure and hard selling, but the Tansu-ya staff were a nice change of pace. Polite and friendly, they didn't try to push me into any purchases and were even honest with me and said they didn't have any kimono that would fit my 140cm "wingspan" (yuki - 裄) sleeve-length requirements, rather than try to talk me into shorter ones. (Ideally, kimono more formal than yukata should hit at or below the outside wrist bone when your hand is resting at your side if you're interested in "proper" wear rather than just for fun.)

In the same department store I ran into this lovely kimono-wearer, who was very happy and surprised to hear English-speakers are interested in kimono.

If you're interested in window-shopping, or have thousands of dollars to spend on new kimono (hey, you never know :D ), two shops are very close to the main Sapporo train station. One is in the Daimaru department store, attached to the huge Sapporo train station(I want to say the 7th floor?), and the other is a few doors down from the Gracery Hotel, just across the train station plaza from the cute, giant star clock mounted on the mall/station exterior. These were hit and run window-shopping expeditions so I don't remember more details about them. Here's a photo from the Daimaru store: the obi aren't folded in half like they would normally be, from my understanding, so they won't get fold lines in them before they're sold.

Also very close to the station is Kinokuniya, the famous book store. The kimono/kitsuke section is, as you walk in, part of the set of shelves off to the right on the first floor, next to tea ceremony books. They had almost every issue of Kimono-Hime for 1200 yen, plus a lot of books on kitsuke how-to, as well as pretty photo collections of obidome, kimono, etc. I picked up a 2008 nice kitsuke book by the publishers of kimono magazine "Nana-oh", and a very detailed 2007 book on sewing your first kimono and related pieces. Reviews to come down the road as I read and use what I find in each book.

I have heard there are several used kimono stores in Sapporo and hope to check them out down the road should I find myself in Sapporo again. The shop clerk at Tansu-ya recommended one called "Ko-Danuki" (小狸 - Little Tanuki). If you're in or have been to Sapporo, do you have any favorite stores? Let me know! :)