There are typically two types of clothing that the Japanese wear: the Japanese clothing (和服, wafuku), such as kimonos, and Western clothing (洋服, yōfuku). Japanese culture has been greatly impacted by the rest of the world throughout history. One of the most noticeable changes in Japanese culture is the clothing: traditional and modern day clothing.
- East and West Influence
- Types and styles of Japanese clothing
- Dressing in kimono
While the traditional ethnic garments of Japan are still in use, they are mainly worn for ceremonies and special events, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies (seijin shiki), and festivals. In more recent years, western clothing is worn often in day-to-day life. While the westernization of fashions has continued at a rapid pace, the kimono lives on in Japanese culture.
East and West Influence
Modern Japanese fashion history might be conceived as the very gradual westernization of Japanese clothes. The woolen and worsted industries were completely a product of Japan’s re-established contact with the West in the 1850s and 1860s. Before the 1860s, Japanese clothing consisted entirely of a great variety of kimono.
They first appeared in the Jomon period, (14,500 B.C. ~ 300 B.C.), with no distinction between male and female.
After Japan opened up for trading with the outside world, other clothing options started to come in. The first Japanese to adopt western clothing were officers and men of some units of the shogun's army and navy.
Sometime in the 1850s these men adopted woolen uniforms worn by English marines stationed at Yokohama. To produce them could not have been easy. The cloth had to be imported. Perhaps the most significant of this early adoption of Western styles was its public origin. For quite a while, the public sector remained as major champion of the new garb.
The style only grew from there, moving out from the military to other lifestyles. Soon, courtiers and bureaucrats were urged to adopt Western clothing, which was thought to be more practical.
The Ministry of Education ordered that Western-style student uniforms be worn in public colleges and universities. Businessmen, teachers, doctors, bankers, and other leaders of the new society wore suits to work and at large social functions. Although western-style dress was becoming more popular for workplaces, schools, and streets, it was not worn by everybody.
Since World War II most areas have been taken over by western clothing. Thus, by the opening of the twentieth century, western dress was a symbol of social dignity and progressiveness. However, the vast majority of Japanese stuck to their fashions, in favor of the more comfortable kimono. Western dress for street wear and Japanese dress at home remained the general rule for a very long time.
An example of Eastern influence from Japan that spread to the rest of the world is evident in the late 1880s. An ordinary wool blanket was used as a shawl for women, and a red blanket was featured in Vogue for winter wear.
Until the 1930s, the majority of Japanese wore the kimono, and Western clothes were still restricted to out-of-home use by certain classes. The Japanese have interpreted western clothing styles from the United States and Europe and made it their own. Overall, it is evident throughout history that there has been much more of a Western influence on Japan’s culture and clothing. However, the traditional kimono remains a major part of the Japanese way of life and will be for a long time.
Types and styles of Japanese clothing
An example of a Japanese clothing is the kimono; the kimono is a traditional garment. Japanese kimonos are wrapped around the body, sometimes in several layers, and are secured in place by sashes with a wide obi to complete it. There are accessories and ties needed to wear the kimono correctly.
The modern kimono is not worn as often as it once was. Most women wear western-style clothing and only wear kimono for special occasions. In modern Japan, kimono are a marked feminine costume and a national attire. There are multiple types and subtypes of kimono that a woman can wear: furisode, uchikake and shiromuku, houmongi, yukata, tomesode, and mofuku, depending on her marital status and the event she attends.
Dressing in kimono
The word kimono literally translates as "thing to wear", and up until the 19th century it was the main form of dress worn by men and women alike in Japan.
Traditionally, the art of assembling the kimono was passed on from mother to daughter. Today this art is also taught in schools, and the technique is the same. First, one puts on the tabi, which are white cotton socks. Then the undergarments are put on followed by a top and a wraparound skirt. Next, the nagajuban (under-kimono) is put on, which is then tied by a datemaki belt. Finally, the kimono is put on, with the left side covering the right, and then tied with an obi. (It is important to not tie the kimono with the right side covering the left because this signifies the dressing of a corpse for burial.) When the kimono is worn outside, zori sandals are traditionally worn on the feet.
There are types of kimonos that are worn for different occasions and seasons. Women typically wear kimonos when they attend traditional arts, such as a tea ceremonies or ikebana classes. Girls and young single women wear furisode: a colorful style of kimono with long sleeves that are tied with a brightly-colored obi.
During wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom will often go through many costume changes. Shiromuku or uchikake are worn by brides, which are heavily embroidered white kimonos. Grooms wear black kimonos made from habutae silk.
For funerals, men and women wear plain black kimonos. (It is acceptable to wear black suits for weddings and funerals.)
The "coming of age" ceremony, Seijin no Hi, is another occasion where kimonos are worn. At these annual celebrations, women wear elaborately colored kimonos, often with boas. Other occasions where kimonos are worn today include New Year, graduation ceremonies, and Shichi-go-san, which is a celebration for children.
Kimonos are matched with seasons. Awase (lined) kimonos, made of silk, wool, or synthetic fabrics, are worn during the cooler months. During these months, kimonos with more rustic colors and patterns (like russet leaves), and kimonos with darker colors and multiple layers, are favored. Light, cotton yukata are worn by men and women during the spring and summer months. In the warmer weather months, vibrant colors and floral designs (like cherry blossoms) are common.
Up until the fifteenth century kimonos were made of hemp or linen, and they were made with multiple layers of materials. Today, authentic kimonos are made of silk, silk brocade, silk crepes (such as chirimen) and satin weaves (such as rinzu). Modern kimonos that are made with less-expensive easy-care fabrics such as rayon, cotton sateen, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fibers, are more widely worn today in Japan. However, silk is still considered the ideal fabric for kimonos.
Kimonos are typically 39-43 inches long with eight 14-15 inch-wide pieces. These pieces are sewn together to create the basic T-shape. Kimonos are traditionally sewn by hand. However, even machine-made kimonos require substantial hand-stitching.
Kimonos are traditionally made from a single bolt of fabric called a tan. Tan come in standard dimensions, and the entire bolt is used to make one kimono. The finished kimono consists of four main strips of fabric—two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves—with additional smaller strips forming the narrow front panels and collar. Kimono fabrics are frequently hand-made and -decorated.
Kimonos are worn with sashes called obi, which hold it in place and keep the front closed. Obi serve this practical function and are aesthetically pleasing. Obi are about 13 feet long and 12 inches wide. There are two types: fukuro-obi, which have a design only on one side, and nagoya-obi, which are narrower in the middle to make them easier to tie around the body.