New Motifs and an Update!

Hello Everyone!

I feel as if I’ve been neglecting this site, and for that I apologize!  It’s been very busy here.  My town recently finished it’s largest festival of the year called awa odori, I am currently making use of my kitsuke license to give lessons to others once a month, I am now taking wasai lessons twice a month (plus homework!) and I’m working on some larger scale, long-term projects as well (Let’s just say, if you didn’t know I had a youtube account, you may want to check it out now.  It’s going to get interesting in the next few months).  That combined with my regular work (you know, the kind that actually earns me some money) and just living and taking care of the house, well, a lot of things that I have planned find themselves pushed to the back-burner.  Sometimes repeatedly.

With that being said, I decided that today would be a blog day, so I have created a lot of new pages, mostly on motifs, which has been badly neglected since the end of spring!  First, we have nadeshiko a popular flower on yukata and appropriate for summer or autumn kimono.  Next, we have asagao aka morning glory, one of the few flowers that represent summer.  Finally, I’ve started a new category of motifs, geometric patterns.  The first pattern I decided to focus on was the sayagata or linked Buddhist swastikas.

And with all that work, I decided it would be a good idea to let you all know what some of my sources are for motif information.  My library is growing quite large, and I’ve listed the titles I use on a regular basis here so you can check them out yourself.

Hope you have all had an amazing summer!  I know I’m looking forward to the temperature dropping again.  I will definitely have more choice in my kimono wardrobe (I currently only have one full set of summer appropriate kimono, obi, and accessories.  It’s sad.)  And I’m looking forward to all the kimono related activities, articles, blogs, and videos I have planned from here until the end of the year.  It’s going the busy.  Can’t wait!

Awa Odori Women’s Kitsuke

For 360 days of the year, my adopted town of Tokushima (徳島) is a quiet little town. But for four days every August, from the twelfth to the sixteenth, the population triples, the downtown core is filled with the sound of drums and flutes, and people are dancing in the streets! It’s awa odori (阿波おどり) the largest dance festival in Japan, and the second largest dance festival in the world.  The motto of awa odori, translated into English, is “We’re fools for dancing, and you’re a fool for watching, so you might as well dance!” And people take that to heart. There are official dance stages where the dancing is organized and orderly, but it’s just as common to see groups breaking out into dance in the middle of the streets and to pull people in to dance with them. It’s an incredible four days and I look forward to it every year.

So why am I writing about a festival on a kimono blog? Simple. The kimono and kitsuke of the female dancers are really, really, unique. A friend of mine, Jaimmika, has been learning how to dance for the past year and she was kind enough to show me her costume. The entire outfit costs about 20,000 yen to put together, and they can be ordered from specialized shops located in Tokushima City. Each dance troupe (ren/) has their own costume and their name is often proclaimed in multiple places on their outfit.  This particular group is called Yasaka Ren and I’ve counted at least five places where they have printed the ren name on various parts of their outfit.  Each outfit is unique, not just from other groups, but from kitsuke rules in general.  So lets take a look at this unique form of kitsuke.

Kimono or Yukata?

The first question I asked was, “Is this a kimono or a yukata?” Honestly? I have no idea. The garment is made of polyester, it’s really, really, short (123 cm to be exact), it’s unlined, the collar is a typical semai eri found on most yukata, and they fold it like a juban, not a kimono! So what do I call it? A kikata? A yumono? Just for simplicity’s sake, I’ll call it a kimono from here on out. I still have no idea what category it would be put in. It’s in a category all on it’s own.

Here, you can see just how short the kimono is. You can also see the name of the dance group written at least three times on the garment.

Here, you can see just how short the kimono is. You can also see the name of the dance group (yasaka ren) written at least three times on the garment.

So What’s Familiar?

There are some elements of this outfit that any kitsuke student will recognize without trouble. First, there are the tabi. Nothing special there. Just plain, white, cotton, tabi. There is also a nagajuban, but this juban is a split one (top and bottom) and only top half is worn. They also use a datejime or magic tape (the kind that uses Velcro) to secure the collars in place (no korin belts though).

The juban has no sleeves, and only the top half is used.

The juban has no sleeves, and only the top half is used.

The obi is a solid black, cotton, hanhaba obi. A regular obi makura and obiita are also used. The obi is tied in different ways for each group, but Yasaka Ren uses a kata musubi. The obi is always secured with a brightly colored obijime that really stands out against the black obi. The color of the obijime and obiage will vary depending on the group.

So What’s Different?  

Short answer: A lot.

For the long answer, lets look at this outfit from the toes up to the head.

 

Geta:

The geta are officially called rikyu geta (利休下駄). These geta are designed so that the ladies can dance on their toes. Yes, their toes. I’ve done it. It hurts. I don’t know how they do it. I never want to again.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

It’s actually easier to dance and walk on your toes. The geta are unbalanced, and if you put your weight on your heels, the geta will dump you on your backside. I came pretty close to being dumped a couple of times the one year I decided to wear them.

The hanao (straps) are always white and red, and they stain the tabi terribly (mine are still stained three years later), so the dancers replace their tabi regularly.

The dancers have two pairs of geta. One is for dancing outside and the other is for dancing on stage. The stage geta have strips of bicycle tire on the bottom teeth and on the toes. This stops the shoes from slipping and from damaging wooden floors. There is also extra padding between the toes on the stage geta.

In the forground are the stage geta. You can see the bicycle tire on the front of the geta and on the teeth. There is also extra padding on the hanao between the toes.

In the foreground are the stage geta. You can see the bicycle tire on the front of the geta and on the teeth. There is also extra padding on the hanao between the toes.

 

Susoyoke and Kimono

I’ve put these together for a very good reason. First, in regular kitsuke, the susoyoke in in the realm of undergarments and it’s never seen. However, in awa odori kitsuke, the kimono is hiked up high to show the susoyoke. Because of this, the susoyoke is brightly coloured (the colour depends on the group) and uses thicker than normal fabric. The kimono is hiked up to a specific angle in the front, and a specific height in the back. This height depends on how tall the dancer is. The length of visible susoyoke must be the same on all dancers in a group, so a taller dancer will have the kimono sit lower, and shorter dancers will have the kimono sit higher. This rule also applies to the obi. All the obi in the group must be at the same height.

But this explains why the kimono is so incredibly short. Less kimono means less bulk that has to be tucked in under the obi.

Here you can see a group of dancers from a different ren. All their obi are the same distance from the ground.

 

Inrou (印籠)

The inrou is the small case, usually wood, that is attached to the obijime. It’s used to hold money or other small items. They come in several shapes, but two of the most common are a small wallet shape, and a small gourd that sometimes has a sake cup attached, although this design is definitely more common on male dancers. The name of the ren can also be written on the inrou.

The inrou of this ren.

The inrou of this ren attached to the obijime.  This ren uses both the wallet form and the gourd form.  No sake cup though!

 

Tekou (手甲)

Awa odori kitsuke includes sleeves. Sleeves with western style cuffs. And buttons. Seriously.

The sleeves are called tekou (literally meaning arm armour). They have elastic on the top and are slipped on under the regular sleeves of the kimono. Why? Mostly for aesthetic purposes and to highlight the arms of the dancers. The dance involves holding your hands up above your head for a long period of time. The white fabric on everyone’s arms definitely looks striking.

Here is the susoyoke, the inrou, and the tekou all together. The elastic end of the sleeve sits under the regular kimono sleeve.

Here is the susoyoke, the inrou, and the tekou all together. The elastic end of the sleeve sits under the regular kimono sleeve.

 

Amigasa (編み笠)

The hat is officially called an amigasa, but I like to call it a taco hat. Admit it, you can never unsee it now can you? It’s a straw hat that is tied on the head in a unique way. Depending on the ren, the hat can be angled forward to cover the face entirely, but Yakasa Ren doesn’t do that.

It's a taco hat!

It’s a taco hat!

 

Kasamakura (笠枕)

This pillow is what holds the amigasa at it’s traditional, impossible, angle. It’s made of styrofoam and it’s covered in rubber mesh that holds the amigasa in place. Dancers have to arrange their hair in a high bun to support the kasamakura, but once the hat in in place, it is almost impossible to see it unless you are deliberately looking for it.  There is also padding on the bottom that make it comfortable to wear.

the kasamakura.

the kasamakura.

The dancers have to have their hair in a high bun to support the kasamakura.

The dancers have to have their hair in a high bun to support the kasamakura.

Here's the kasamakura from the back.

Here’s the kasamakura from the back.

 

The Final Look

The obiage is very visible, and the obijime is tied in a double knot. Both tassels are pointing up as this is a celebratory and happy occasion. You can also see the ren name once again written on the shoulder.

The obiage is very visible, and the obijime is tied in a double knot. Both tassels are pointing up as this is a celebratory and happy occasion. You can also see the ren name once again written on the shoulder.  In this group, the juban collar doesn’t show, but in other groups, the collar is visible.  As long as everyone in the group is dressed the same, it doesn’t matter.

The inrou hangs unobtrusively on the right side near the musubi. In this picture, you can also see just how short the kimono is. The pink you see is the susoyoke plainly visible.

The inrou hangs unobtrusively on the right side near the musubi. In this picture, you can also see just how short the kimono is. The pink you see is the susoyoke plainly visible.

The obi is a plain cotton hanhaba obi. All groups use a black obi, but the other accessory colours are chosen by each individual ren. The obi is tied in a kata musubi knot, but this can change with each group.

The obi is a plain cotton hanhaba obi. All groups use a black obi, but the other accessory colours are chosen by each individual ren. The obi is tied in a kata musubi knot, but this can change with each group.

The final touch is an uchiwa placed behind the musubi. Again, the ren name is printed on the uchiwa. I think at this point I've counte five times that I've seen the name of the ren on this outfit.

The final touch is an uchiwa placed behind the musubi. Again, the ren name is printed on the uchiwa. I think at this point I’ve counted five places that I’ve seen the name of the ren on this outfit.  You can also clearly see the kasamakura under the hat.

The final look! In this picture, you can see the tekou on her arms. It makes for a striking sight when a group of women dance together.

The final look! In this picture, you can see the tekou on her arms. It makes for a striking sight when a group of women dance together.

 

Added Bonus!

I dance awa odori every year.  The ren that I join is not nearly as serious.  They don’t have professionals to dress us, nor do we practice beforehand.  It’s just for fun, so please excuse the poor kitsuke.  This picture is from the time before I learned proper kitsuke, and I now know that the person who dressed me didn’t know what was happening either.  It was still fun, but boy did my feet hurt at the end of the night!  I also didn’t have a kasamakura, which is why my hat is so flat.  Beside me is my favourite dancing fool!  His tabi are actually cushioned and waterproofed at the bottom, and they act as shoes by themselves.

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Double Bonus!!!

Here’s a video (my first serious attempt at video editing!) of the dressing process!