Movie Review: O-oku

I just watched a movie.  This movie was full of kimono.  The kimono were the only good thing about the movie.  Everything else was just bad.  The plot was bad.  The acting was bad.  The conflicts were bad.  The special effects were bad.  The twist ending was bad.  Yeah.  It was bad.  But I was still drooling over the kimono.  So without further adieu, I present to you O-oku, A.K.A The Lady Shogun And Her Men.

lady-shogun-1

This story takes place in 1700’s Japan.  A disease has decimated the male population to the point where there are 4 women to every man.  Gender roles are completely flipped on their head in this world.  Mothers are the head of the household, men are sold in marriage (and in brothels) to women desperate to have children, and the shogun is now a 7-year-old girl with an entirely female advisory board.

In this world, we follow our hero Mizuno (played by Kazunari Ninomiya from the pop group ARASHI) the son of a lower-class samurai family.  He decides to pay back his family for their kindness (they refused to sell him to a new woman every night, apparently a common practice for the poor in this world) by joining o-oku, the harem of men kept at the palace for the pleasure of the lady shogun and to father the next in line.

I had a couple of issues with this concept, the first was that all of the servants in o-oku were men.  It just doesn’t make sense.  There is a shortage of men outside, these servants only job is to serve the men who will see the shogun (they never will themselves) so why are they there?  In traditional harems, the servants were all women or eunuchs to ensure any babies born belonged to the ruler.  The ruler is a woman here!!! Of course any kid she produces would be hers!  Get some women servants in and send those other men out into the world to start repopulating!!!!

The other issue I had with this concept was a lot creepier.  Why the *%#! do they have hundreds of sexually mature, 20-40 year old men, ready to serve a SEVEN YEAR OLD GIRL???????  It’s not like o-oku is just always there.  This fact is actually brought up after the girl dies and a new shogun inherits.  There is a threat that she will dissolve o-oku and replace all the existing men with new ones.  So this particular group of men were assembled for a CHILD.  Did nobody on the production team think this through when they were writing this?  It just creeps me out in so many ways!

Okay, okay, rant over.  This movie has issues.  Major issues.  But that’s not why you’re reading this review is it?  You want to see the kimono don’t you?  To me, the kimono don’t save this movie, but they are a nice consolation prize, so here we go!

lady-shogun-13

O-Oku tries to turn traditional gender roles on their head, so in this world, the men are peacocks, strutting around in brightly coloured kimono and hakama, painstakingly choosing fabrics and patterns, and excitingly ordering their formal clothes for the next visit from the shogun.  It truly is a sight to see men dressed in bright colors.  It’s also a treat to see men dressed in clothes that look like they could come out of the Heian era.

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The hakama are so long they drag on the floor.  The actors have to grip the side of each pant leg to lift it slightly, and they must kick the extra fabric out of the way when they change direction.

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It’s fun to watch, and it serves as a slightly funny (but predictable) joke when Mizuno first joins o-oku and steps on the trailing leg of one man’s hakama.

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In fact, our hero stands out from the crowd by insisting on not wearing bright colours, but instead choosing a modest, black set of robes.

lady-shogun-11

Good call (or bad call depending on how you look at it) because the new shogun (after the 7-year-old shogun passes) has a real disdain for finery and expense.  She chooses a more modest wardrobe and insists on it from her advisors as well.

On the very first day, the royal dressmaker introduces concept of an uchikake (a “lift-up robe” according to the subtitles).  The shogun likes the design, but hates the finery of the silk.  Her next uchikake is made from rough tsumugi silk.

Flipping gender roles continues outside of the palace too, with the courtesans and prostitutes in town being men with the women lined up to see them.

lady-shogun-5lady-shogun-4

Okay, have you drooled enough?  Overall, the movie is meh.  But the kimono are stunning.  The costume team deserves a round of applause for their work and I really appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the kimono in this film.

Okinawan Kimono and Textiles

Sigh.  Golden Week was a couple of months ago, and it’s only now that I found the time to write this post.  What’s Golden Week?  It’s a string of national holidays all in a row and it seems like the whole country goes traveling during that time.  We were no exception.  My husband and I finally made it down to Okinawa after six years of living in Japan.  It was a great and surprising trip.  I had always heard that people from Okinawa identified themselves more as Okinawan than Japanese, and until this trip I couldn’t really understand why.  Okinawa really is like a different world.  It was its own independent kingdom for a long time (the Ryukyu Kingdom) and was a tributary state of both the Chinese and Japanese Empires until Japan fully annexed it as Okinawa Prefecture during the Meiji Era.  They had their own king, their own culture, their own language, and their own food.  This division is still very palpable today.

And this division even holds true to the kimono of Okinawa.  Before I went, I already knew about bingata kimono, but I didn’t know much else, and there wasn’t a lot of information that I could find online.  I arrived in Okinawa intending to add a bingata kimono to my collection, but I quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to be that easy.  And in fact, I never did get a bingata kimono, mainly because they were so expensive, and they were so different that I would have to build up an entirely new outfit from scratch.  I couldn’t just pair a traditional bingata kimono with a Nagoya obi and be done with it.

I’d like to outline everything I discovered about Okinawan kimono and textiles in a logical fashion, but first, I have to include a disclaimer.  I am not an expert on Okinawan kimono.  The information that I am presenting to you is based on my observations and my interactions with the local people of Okinawa during my four day trip.  This information is not a complete or exhaustive list.  There isn’t a lot of information in English on Okinawan textile history.  I did pick up some books while I was there, but they are in Japanese and will take some time to translate.  They will probably add some more insight as I work my way through them.

And with that, let’s look at some of the differences!

 

#1: The Kimono Market

If, like me, you go to Okinawa with the intention of adding a bingata kimono to your collection, you may be disappointed.  Unlike mainland Japan, there is almost no second-hand market for kimono in Okinawa.  There’s a couple of reasons for this.  First, the most famous textile, bingata, was reserved for the upper classes, which already limits the amount of stock available.  Second, the Battle of Okinawa destroyed almost everything in its path.  I lost count of the number of times I read a plaque saying “This is a recreation of something that was destroyed in the war.” And of course this applies to kimono and textiles as well.

You really only have two options in Okinawa.  The first is to buy new products, which can be very, very expensive.  The cheapest I saw was a bingata dyed yukata for ¥120,000.  A kimono could easily cost you ¥650,000 as could an obi.  That is so beyond my price range that I can’t even imagine spending that much on one garment.  And they were stunning garments.

Your second option is to buy a polyester recreation.  These are worn by people working in the tourist industry.  These kimono will set you back around ¥15,000.  I considered getting one of these, until I realized how different the construction and the kitsuke is (more on that below).

If that’s still too much for your budget, you can get a sample of bingata.  In every tourist area, there are bingata bags, furoshiki, scrunches, aprons, and even boxer shorts.  It’s all synthetic materials and dyes, but if you want to bring a bit of it home with you and can’t afford a full kimono, it’s another option.

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The bingata furoshiki that I bought in compensation for not buying a kimono.

 

#2: The Textiles

Again, disclaimer time.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of Okinawan textiles.  It’s just a list of the ones I found most interesting during my travels.

Bingata (紅型)

I’ve mentioned bingata above, but I haven’t explained exactly what it is.  There are dozens of different methods for bingata dyeing and for a complete explanation, you can check out the Kimono Dictionary website here.  Generally though, bingata has a few outstanding characteristics.

  • Bright colors: Vibrant colors are a trademark of bingata, with the most famous color being a bright yellow.  Red, purple, green, and blue are also popular colors to use.
  • Tropical designs: Okinawa really is the Hawaii of Japan.  You will find the occasional plum or cherry blossom, but you will more commonly find tropical birds, flowers, and natural phenomenon depicted on bingata.
  • Natural dyes: Today, the dyes used are mostly synthetic, but traditionally, they would use plant dyes such as hibiscus and indigo.  Artisans who are trying to revive and preserve the bingata tradition also use natural plant dyes today.

 

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Examples of bingata fabrics that show the bright colors and tropical designs.

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Some of the natural materials used to create the traditional dyes, along with the brushes used to apply the dye over large areas.

Shuri-ori (首里織)

When I resigned myself to the fact that I could never afford a true bingata kimono, I turned my attention to shuri-ori, the local weaving technique.  There are five different types of weaving and they can be roughly broken down into those created for the upper classes (using many different colors) and those created for the lower classes (using only two colors).

The interesting thing about shuri-ori is that, unlike many other types of weaving such as nishijin, there is no right or wrong side.  The obi that I bought came off the loom completely reversible.

It was also a lot more affordable.  I spent ¥15,000 on my obi.  It’s a cotton hanhaba, complete with certifications from the shuri-ori quality control associations.

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My own shuri-ori obi.  Perfect to wear in the summer heat!

For more information (in Japanese) you can look at www.shuri-ori.com

Bashofu (芭蕉)

Just before I left, my kitsuke and wasai teachers told me to look out for bashofu.  I’m glad I did.  Bashofu is fabric made from the fibre of the banana plant.  I managed to get a sample and I can see it being really effective for a tropical climate.  The only examples that I saw during my trip were in a museum unfortunately. The process to create bashofu has in excess of 30 steps and is way, way, way beyond by budget.

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examples of bashofu.  At the bottom is the raw material.  The top left is an example of the fibres that are half-way through the process, and the upper right shows the completed threads.

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Here’s an example of the final garment.

#3: The Kimono Construction

There seem to be two different types of kimono found in Okinawa; Those based on the standard Japanese construction, and those unique to Okinawa.  Bingata kimono can be made in either fashion.  I noticed three main differences in the construction of the kimono.

  • The sleeves are attached to the body of the kimono, even on women’s kimono.  In addition, there is a bit of webbing under the sleeve.
  • The sleeves are open at the front.
  • There is no kurokoshi (the seam going across the back) in Okinawan kimono.

okinawa kimono

#4 The Kitsuke

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Traditional Okinawan kitsuke.

  • For men, the obi is tied in the front instead of the back.
  • For women, the collar is not pulled down low at the back of the neck.
  • Women do not have an obi.  The kimono is tied at the waist with a colourful koshihimo, and the end of the koshihimo dangle in front.

I only had access to tourist kimono, and I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but even in the museums, there were clear differences in the kitsuke I saw in the displays.

I hope you enjoyed this cursory look at Okinawan kimono.  If you have a chance to visit Okinawa, I highly recommend it!

It’s Official! Kimono Prices Are Going Up!

Okay, maybe it’s not “Official” official.  Does anecdotally official count?  Because that’s all I really have.  But it does confirm in my mind what I’ve thought was going to happen for a while.  But first, a little background.

It seems like at least once a month, I come across a news article featuring someone in the kimono community bemoaning the decline of the industry.  The master artisans are retiring or passing away, and nobody wants to learn the craft.  These articles usually talk about their efforts to revitalize the industry by (1) getting younger people interested in kimono (2) making kimono more accessible or (3) creating new objects and projects using the same techniques that are used to create kimono.

Here’s just a short list of articles that I’ve found in the past year or so along these lines.

In my mind, it’s simple supply and demand.  As the artisans retire or pass away, the supply of hand-made silk kimono will dwindle.  At the same time, these kimono activists are trying to increase demand for kimono to keep the industry alive.  Something has to give somewhere and prices will rise accordingly.

I’ve also heard some rumors in the past few months regarding certain secondhand stores (no, I won’t name names).  According to what I’ve heard, a large chain of recycle kimono stores has struck a deal with a large chain of general recycle shops to supply them with kimono (for those outside Japan, recycle is the general term for a second-hand store here.)  Sure enough, I have been noticing a rise in prices at that particular chain of recycle stores over the last few months, especially when it comes to well-crafted pieces like furisode, full shibori, or oshima tsumugi.

However, for me, the final confirmation came this weekend when I was out shopping.  My absolute favourite recycle shop is a local one (not a chain) that operates as an NGO/NPO.  The workers there can’t get a job in the regular workforce for various reasons, so they get work experience at the shop.  They get all their stock through donations, so when they sell it on, it’s really, really, cheap.

Or at least it was.

I would find incredible pieces there for incredibly cheap prices.  One of my favourite formal pieces is from that shop and I only paid ¥2500.  I routinely get kimono there for less than ¥1000, sometimes as cheap as ¥350.  I think the most I ever paid for a single piece was ¥3000.  It was very easy to break my wallet and I never left that store without something in my shopping bag and a grin on my face.

But when I went there this weekend, I was hit with a case of sticker shock.  There were very few pieces lower than ¥2000.  With the fast turnover of this store, I’m betting the ones cheaper than that were just old stock that hadn’t sold yet.  There was a gorgeous furisode that was on sale for ¥8000.  It’s not an unfair price, but before that visit, I would have expected a price of ¥4000 or less.   There was also an oshima tsumugi piece there for the unheard of price (for that shop) of ¥6500.  Gasp!  Shock!  Horror!

Yes, yes, yes, I know.  Those prices aren’t all that bad.  In any other location, I would have been happy to find those pieces at those prices.  Just not at this shop.  It would be like finding anything is a secondhand shop for full price.  Even if it is brand new and still in the box, you don’t expect the price in a secondhand shop to be the same as in a retail location.

Yes, in my mind, the days of cheap kimono are over.  I can only see prices rising from here.  My already expensive hobby is about to become even more expensive.  I’m sorry wallet and bank account.  I think you’re going to be losing a little more weight in the near future.  Or I won’t have to pay for an expensive second closet to hold everything.  Either way, [music plays] “it’s the end of the world as we knooooow it!”

BTW, I never do any kimono shopping online.  If you do, please comment and let me know if you’ve noticed a price increase at all in the past year.  I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Kanoko (鹿の子) Fawn Spots

Name: Kanoko (鹿の子) Fawn Spots

Seasonal Association: None

When to Wear It: All Year

Auspicious: No

History: This motif is especially popular as a shibori motif, although it is possible for it to appear in other media as well. Its name comes from the resemblance to the spots on the back of a baby deer.

Identification: Kanoko can be divided into two broad categories, kanoko that is created using the technique of shibori dyeing, and kanoko that is created using other media.

 

Shibori Kanoko

There are six different types of shibori kanoko, each with its own name, binding technique, and features.  Not every technique features a photo, but I will update as I find examples.

1) Hon Hitta Kanoko (dots within squares)

This pattern consists of squares with sharp edges, with the smallest possible dot spot of color in the middle. The dots are bound on the bias of the cloth, and when they are completed, they will be viewed on the diagonal in a grid pattern. A kimono fully patterned with hon hitta kanoko (called sou hitta) is a highly prized garment. Hon hitta kanoko is the most difficult type of kanoko shibori to create.

chuu-hitta kanoko

chuu-hitta kanoko

2) Chuu Hitta Kanoko (Medium dots within squares)

This pattern resembles hon hitta kanoko, except for a few key differences. The edges of the squares are not as sharp or crisp as in hon hitta kanoko, and the circles in the middle are larger and more irregular than in hon hitta kanoko.

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yokobiki kanoko

 

 

 

3) Yokobiki Kanoko (square ring dots)

This pattern consists of square or rectangular rings that are irregular in size and form.

 

4) Tatebiki Kanoko (linked dots)

Like its name suggests, this pattern consists of small dots, spaced close together and appear like beads on a string. These dots are usually used to create linear designs.

5) Te-hitome Kanoko (half dots)

This pattern consists of oval or almond shaped resisted (no dye) areas and a spot of dye in the middle that only takes up half the space available.

6) Tsukidashi kanoko (spaced dots)

The pattern is a subtle and more subdued than hon hitta kanoko and is more appropriate for older women. It is also a common pattern to find on shibori obiage.

 

Kanoko Created With Other Media

The following are examples of the kanoko motif that are not created using shibori.

This kanoko mimics the look of hon-hitta shibori kanoko.

This kanoko mimics the look of hon-hitta shibori kanoko.  It has been woven into the pattern of this obi.

These kanako dots have been dyed.

These kanako dots have been dyed.

 

 

Obi Makura (帯枕)

Makura (枕) translates to pillow and this piece of komono (kitsuke accessory) is used to both support and give some volume to a musubi. There is more than one kind of makura, all with slightly different shapes and purposes.  This guide should give you a better idea of the different types of makura available so you can make the right choice when buying yours.

A Note On The Measurements:
length: the horizontal measurement of the makura
width: the depth of the makura (several makura are wider on top)
height: the vertical measurement of the makura

018length: 21 cm
width: 2cm (bottom) 5cm (top)
height:8 cm

This makura could be considered the “standard” makura, but I use that term lightly. This makura is designed for casual musubi. It is particularly suited for tying the otaiko musubi (お太鼓結び) with a Nagoya obi.

 

020length: 26 cm
width:2 cm (bottom) 4.5 cm (top)
height: 8.5 cm

The makura looks very similar to style (A) but it is longer. This makura is designed to be used when tying the more formal nijyuudaiko musubi (二重太鼓結び) or variants of it. It provides a flatter top to the drum of the musubi.

 

021length: 19 cm
width:2 cm (bottom) 5 cm (top)
height: 11 cm

This makura will give great volume to any musubi that requires it and it’s particularly suited for traditional furisode musubi such as the fukura suzume musubi (ふくら雀結び).

 

 

023length: 21 cm
width: 2 cm
height: 9 cm

This makura is sometimes called a tsunodashi makura. This name refers to its popularity in tying the tsunodashi musubi (角出し結び) although a koshihimo will work just as well. The tsunodashi musubi doesn’t require the volume that is given by the other makura, so this makura is much thinner than the others. It is also much stiffer to provide the support needed. This makura may also be used by older women who do not want much volume in their otaiko musubi.

006length: 19 cm
width: 4 cm
height: 9 cm (makura only) 27 cm (overall)

This makura goes by several different names (including sugata obi makura) and its popularity seems to depend on both the kitsuke school that you study under and personal preference. Personally, I prefer to use a traditional makura as I find that any musubi I tie with this makura does not feel secure on my back for very long.

Some of the advantages of this makura include…
(i) tying obi on yourself that are otherwise difficult or impossible (such a fukura suzume)
(ii) tying Nagoya obi that are too short
(iii) providing back support

007length: 8.5 cm (makura only) 17 cm (overall)
width: 6 cm
height: 8 cm (makura only) 23 cm (overall)

This makura is called a biyosugata, and it was developed by the Sodo School of Kitsuke. This makura is not available in stores and can only be ordered from teachers certified by the Sodo School. It acts in a similar manner to the sugata makura (E), but it has more straps and snaps to hold everything in place. This makes any musubi tied on it more secure than the sugata musubi.

 

010length: 20cm
width: 2 cm
height: 12 cm

I included this “makura” because it can be very deceiving upon first glance. This is not actually an obi makura. It is padding for the lower back. It looks similar to the tsunodashi makura, but it is missing the stiff middle layer and it has different dimentions. Buyer beware!

 

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Here are all the makura in a side by side comparison.

Kimono Diary: December 2015

Yes, it’s been a while.  It’s also been a very, very busy December for me with lots going on.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the Twelve Days of Kitsuke video series that I’ve been posting in the meantime.  Here’s what been happening with me lately.

First, I got to help some friends move into a new home just before Christmas.  The house is a large, traditional style Japanese house with tatami flooring, sliding doors, and everything else you would expect to find.  The last owner died around five years ago and the family now lives in the Kansai area.  They have no interest in the house or contents and have been generous enough to let my friends (and me!) take what we want from the house.  This is hue to me because between tansu and closets, there are around 100 kimono scattered throughout the house.  I’m currently sorting them into three categories.

  1. Are you sure the family doesn’t want this valuable/possibly sentimental piece?  Maybe you should double check before I give it a new home?
  2. These are incredible pieces that I would love to add to my collection!
  3. These are really common pieces that I already have or I can’t wear because they’re too small.

My friends have asked me to help them choose kimono as gifts for family back home, so once the sorting is done, I’ll give them first choice from category two before I go to town!

Next, I got to wear kimono for Christmas!

And I forgot to take photos of it!

Blah.

Oh well.  I was going out for Christmas dinner with some friends and I had some restrictions I had to think about when I was choosing my outfit.  First, I knew that smoking was going to be an issue at the restaurant.  As would strong food smells.  I didn’t want to wear silk just because I couldn’t wash it afterwards to get all the smoke and food smells out.  That limited me to my polyester collection.  I also had to balance between wearing enough layers to be warm on the walk to and from the restaurant, but also so that I wouldn’t overheat while I was in the restaurant.  Well, I succeeded on the second goal, but I kinda failed on the first, especially on the walk home when it got really, really cold.  With these restrictions in mind, I couldn’t put together an outfit in appropriate Christmas colors, so instead I decided on Japanese celebratory motifs and chose an obi with shochikubai (pine, bamboo, and plum) on it.

Just after Christmas, I went to Tokyo for a few days to renew my passport.  And of course, I couldn’t resist some kimono shopping.  I got some incredible pieces and I was very, very grateful for the second bag that I took with me.  As I get them co-ordinated, I’ll post photos of them!

Finally, I had a quite New Years at home with my husband.  At midnight, we walked up to the local temple and rang the bell.  On New Year’s Day, we went to a local shrine to offer a prayer for the new year.  My prayer never changes.  Good health.  I figure, if you have your health, everything else will eventually fall into place.

Of course, I wore a kimono that day.  And I took pictures this time!!!

Waiting in line to offer a prayer.  I was the only person in kimono, and I felt more conspicuous than ever!

Waiting in line to offer a prayer. I was the only person in kimono, and I felt more conspicuous than ever!

This shrine normally doesn't have any attendants, so I suspect these miko are local college students earning some extra cash.

This shrine normally doesn’t have any attendants, so I suspect these miko are local college students earning some extra cash.

This cute omikuji (a prediction of your fortune) was in the shape of a kimono!

This cute omikuji (a prediction of your fortune) was in the shape of a kimono!

Lunch!

Lunch!

Me in my kimono in front of the shrine.

Me in my kimono in front of the shrine.

This kimono happens to be a houmongi with a bamboo motif.  It's difficult to see, but there is silver embroidery subtly placed among the dyed design.

This kimono happens to be a houmongi with a bamboo motif. It’s difficult to see, but there is silver embroidery subtly placed among the dyed design.

The back of the kimono has a single crest, embroidered in silver thread.

The back of the kimono has a single crest, embroidered in silver thread.

I love this obi!

I love this obi!

This obi has so much going on!  I can only wear it at New Years.  the lobster is an auspicious motif that has ties to the special food served on New Years (osechi).  The bamboo and cranes are also auspicious.  The kanji is "kotobuki" and it means celebration or a long life.

This obi has so much going on! I can only wear it at New Years. the lobster is an auspicious motif that has ties to the special food served on New Years (osechi). The bamboo and cranes are also auspicious. The kanji is “kotobuki” and it means celebration or a long life.

 

Finally, I made some New Year’s resolutions.  Well, some are resolutions, and some are goals.

Resolution #1: Use what I have.  I will shop for kimono and accesories with what I already have in mind instead of buying things that are pretty.  I am trying to save more money this year, and I admit that most of my disposible income goes towards kimono.

Goal #1: Keep working on long term projects and building this website.  I have some ideas in mind, but they haven’t been planned out yet, so I won’t say what they are just yet!

Goal #2: Keep working on my Pop Culture Kimono series.  I have only completed one video in the series so far, but I want to do more!  I’ve already chosen the media I want to talk about, I just have to write a script.  Oh, and do the recordings.  Oh yeah.  I need to edit it together too.  Guess I better get to work!

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu everyone!  I hope you have a wonderful 2016!