Kobe Fashion Museum: Kimono Exhibit

Literally a few hours ago, I got back from Kobe and seeing the special exhibit at the Kobe Fashion Museum, “Kimono From The Kofun To The Edo Period.”  I’m lucky that Kobe is only a couple of hours from where I live.  If you are able to go before the exhibit ends on January 12, 2016 I highly recommend it.  The official website and information can be found here.

So how was the exhibit you may be asking.  Well, unfortunately, I couldn’t take any photos while I was in the galleries, so this post will be very text heavy I’m afraid.  But here were some of the things that struck me the most.

The exhibit was large.  Three whole galleries to explore.  I came around one corner and expected it to be over when to my delight, there was another great hall full of kimono for me to drool over.  The galleries were set up so that I made two or three trips through the hall to see everything.  Unfortunately, there was very little English.  The woman at the front counter gave me an English pamphlet with some info about the different eras, but it wasn’t that helpful I’m afraid.  I only wish I knew more kanji.  The placards beside each piece were full of info, but there were so many technical, specialized, and advanced kanji that I couldn’t read them.

I seem to remember reading somewhere before I went that these pieces would be reproductions.  If they were, I couldn’t tell.  most of them had small stains, rips, and repairs in them.  By the end of the exhibit, I was convinced that they were real pieces from the time periods.  If they weren’t, then my hat goes off to the curators who managed to age the pieces so convincingly.

One thing that particularly struck me was the apparent difference in width between the sleeve and the back panels of older kimono, especially since I’m used to looking at modern kimono.  First, the sleeves were much more rounded back then, and they were smaller.  I don’t know if it was just the small sleeves that made the back panels look wider, but it looked that a bolt of kimono cloth used to be wider in the past than it is now.

And they were small!  I’m always struck by how much shorter people were in the past.  Even if the kimono were wider, there is no way they would fit my 165 cm monstrous frame!

There is a book available from the museum for 1500 yen and I highly recommend it (you have to ask for it at the front desk).  It makes up for the lack of photos in the exhibit because it has photos of every single piece in it arranged by era.  The part that I was particularly thrilled about was for many pieces, they will list the techniques used to create the piece with illustrations.  In the back, there is a directory with each technique and an explanation.  I’m looking forward to sitting down and painstakingly translating it (or asking somebody with better Japanese to do it for me!)

The museum’s permanent exhibit was also really interesting.  It included different types of dress from France, England, and America from the time of Napoleon until modern day.  These were all reproductions and they clearly stated it on the placards, so it makes me believe all the more that the kimono were genuine pieces.

Overall it was a great experience and I hope you can get out to see it of you are in the area!

A page from the souvenir book showing the progression of the kimono through the different eras.

A page from the souvenir book showing the progression of the kimono through the different eras.

An example page from the souvenir book.  This is a good example of what I was describing with the small sleeves and seemingly wider back panels.  You can also a list of the different techniques used to create this kimono at the bottom.

An example page from the souvenir book. This is a good example of what I was describing with the small sleeves and seemingly wider back panels. You can also a list of the different techniques used to create this kimono at the bottom.

Shichi-Go-San (七五三)

Shichi-Go-San (七五三) is a milestone event that celebrates the health and well-being of three, five, and seven year old children.  Traditionally, three-year-old boys and girls, five-year-old boys, and seven-year-old girls celebrate this event, however many parents nowadays will get all their children dressed up in kimono at the same time regardless of how old they are to get family photos.  The children get dressed in kimono, take photos, and visit Shinto shrines.  The actual date of shichi-go-san is November 15, but children often get dressed up and take photos in the month before this date.

In this article, I’ll outline all the items needed for each age group, and some of the special kitsuke rules for dressing children.

Three-Year-Old Girls

Note: Both boys and girls can participate in shici-go-san, however the boys kimono at three years old is identical (but smaller and oh so cute!) to a five-year-old boy.  Because of this, portion will cover the girls kituske only. 

1. Padding: a towel should be folded in thirds and wrapped around the waist.

The completed look for a three-year-old girl.

The completed look for a three-year-old girl.

2. Nagajuban (長襦袢): This juban does not have any sleeves.  The haneri is colorful and includes children’s patterns such as rabbits and toys.  The collar should be sitting right against the neck.  girls don’t lower their collars until they are ten-years old.

3. Kimono (着物): The kimono is brightly patterned with tucks in the shoulders.  sometimes, this kimono has an ohashori sewn in at the correct height to make it easier to get dressed.

4. Obi (帯): three-year-old girls do not wear an obi.  As a substitute, a shibori obi-age can be tied around the waist in place of an obi, but it is not necessary.

5. Hifu (被布): The hifu is the apron or overcoat.  Nowadays, it is worn exclusively by three-year-old girls.

Five-Year-Old Boys

Note: girls do not traditionally celebrate shichi-go-san when they are five years old.

1. Padding: One towel should be folded in thirds and wrapped around the waist.

A juban for five-year-old boys. The lack of sleeves makes it easier to dress a squirming child.

A juban for five-year-old boys. The lack of sleeves makes it easier to dress a squirming child.

2. Nagajuban (長襦袢):  This juban does not have any sleeves. The haneri for the boys is solid white or grey (unlike the girls).  The back of the collar should be sitting right against the neck.  The koshihimo should be tied as high as possible to keep the collars in place.

3. Kimono (着物): the kimono that this studio uses for the boys are a solid color with no patterns.  tucks are sewn into the shoulders.  The koshihimo should be tied as high as possible to keep the collars in place, while still remaining hidden underneath the obi.

The obi tied in an ichimonji musubi.

The obi tied in an ichimonji musubi.

4. Obi (帯):  The boys have a choice between a pre-tied obi and a regular (albeit child-sized obi).  If a regular obi is used, it should be tied in an ichimonji musubi (very similar to a chou-chou musubi but the obi is folded in half instead of three mountains). The height of the obi should be determined by measuring the length of the hakama first.  The hakama should reach to the child’s ankles.

These hakama are pre-tied. There is a snap sewn to the back of the cross and it snaps into place at the correct height. The straps pull tight and are tied at the back underneath the hakama.

These hakama are pre-tied. There is a snap sewn to the back of the cross and it snaps into place at the correct height. The straps pull tight and are tied at the back underneath the hakama.

5. Hakama (袴):  When dealing with kids, the more tricks you can use to make things easier, the better.  Hakama, like obi, can come in tsuke (pre-tied) forms as well as the regular version.  For the pre-tied version,the cross at the front is sewn into shape, the ties all come around the back to tie under the hakama and out of sight, and the cross has a snap on the back that attaches it to the hakama at the correct height.

6. Haori (羽織):  After putting on the haori, secure the haori himo, and fold the collar down in half at the back.

Here you can see the solid-coloured kimono, haori, haori himo, hamaka, and ken (the short sword)

Here you can see the solid-coloured kimono, haori, haori himo, hamaka, and ken (the short sword)

7. Ken (剣): The ken (short sword) is slipped into the hakama on the left side, and tilted so that the top is slanted to the center of the chest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven-Year-Old Girls

Note: boys do not traditionally participate in shichi-go-san when they are seven years old.  I have the most pictures of this process because it is the most difficult. 

towels used as padding

towels used as padding

1. Padding: towels go across the chest and wrapped around the waist.

this nagajuban has no sleeves to make dressing easier.

This nagajuban has no sleeves to make dressing easier.

2. Nagajuban (長襦袢):  This juban does not have any sleeves, and the haneri (usually with cute, childlike motifs like rabbits) is already attached.  The collar of the juban should be flat against the neck.  Only when a girl turns ten does the collar drop down.

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the kimono with a nii-juu age. About 1 cm of juban collar should be visible.

Here is the kimono with a nii-juu age. About 1 cm of juban collar should be visible.

3. Kimono (着物):  These small, child-sized kimono have some key differences from adult kimono, most notably that there are tucks sewn into the shoulders of the kimono, and the sleeves are furisode length. Here are some of the key things to remember when dressing a child.
(a) The koshihimo that secures the kimono is tied higher up on the body than on an adult kimono.  This gives the illusion of longer legs.
(b)About one centimeter of juban collar should be showing.
(c) The left side seam of the kimono should be running straight down.  It should not be pulled to the front.
(d) In order to match up the okumi seams, it is usually necessary to create a nii-juu age (a double ohashori).  This has the added benefit of moving all of the bulk of the kimono high enough so it will be hidden by the obi.

This is the back of the pre-tied obi before the bow is inserted. Folding up one corner gives it a nice look.

This is the back of the pre-tied obi before the bow is inserted. Folding up one corner gives it a nice look.

The bow should be high enough that the tips are visible over the shoulders.

The bow should be high enough that the tips are visible over the shoulders.

4. Tsuke obi (付け帯):  With children, it’s important to make everything as easy as possible, and this is especially true for the obi.  wrap the waist portion of the obi around the waist and match them at the back.  fold up the bottom corner of the obi to create an aesthetically appealing look, and insert the obi bow.  The top tips of the bow should be visible from the front over the shoulders.

Here is the shigoki tied at the back. The tails should be the same length.

Here is the shigoki tied at the back. The tails should be the same length.

5. Obijime (帯締め):  for such a formal occasion, a stuffed obijime is used.  For a two-toned obijime, the gold end should end up on the left side of the child, and the knot should be centered with the cross of the juban and kimono collars.  Since this is a celebratory occasion, both tassels should be pointing up.

6. Obiage (帯揚げ):  A shibori obiage is always used, and fancy ties are encouraged.  My teacher has developed a unique way of creating a flower in the obiage.

7. Shigoki (扱き):  the shigoki is a red scarf that is wrapped around the bottom of the obi.  It should be folded first in thirds, then in half.  With the edges pointing up,  match up the bottom of the obi with the folded edge of the shigoki. Wrap it around the back, and tie in a nice big bow on the left hip.

Here is the completed front view.

Here is the completed front view.

8. Hakoseko (筥迫): This decorative touch should be slipped into the collars of the kimono above the obi.

9. Sensu (扇子): The fan should be placed on the left side behind the obijime.  The top of the fan should be angled inwards.

Art Aquarium at Nijo Castle, Kyoto

From October 23rd to December 14th 2015, Nijo Castle in Kyoto played host to an art aquarium.  Honestly, I wish I had heard about it sooner, but I heard about it last week and decided to take a trip up to Kyoto to check it out.

The theme was goldfish, and they were everywhere.  I love goldfish, especially on kimono, and the displays outside were incredible.

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But I was there for something else.  Two things to be exact.  The first was called Kagyoryoran Monyozu no Ma (The Room for Flower and Fish Blooming in Profusion pattern).  It was a display of many kimono representing the 72 divisions of the traditional Japanese calendar.  Each kimono represented one of these divisions and included seasonal motifs and goldfish.  It was absolutely gorgeous, at least the parts I could see.  I was disappointed to find that most of the kimono were hidden behind other kimono, or were so far away it was impossible to make out any details.

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The other thing I came to see was traditional dancing.  It was called “The Dance of Nijushisekki and Shichijuniko”  The dancer uses a kimono that has been specially designed for the season based on the old calendar with 72 divisions. It was quite spectacular and I only wish I had a better seat!

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The official website can be found at http://artaquarium.jp/en/kyoto2015/

Shichi-Go-San

Shichi-Go-San (七五三) is a milestone event that celebrates the health and well-being of three, five, and seven year old children.  Traditionally, three-year-old boys and girls, five-year-old boys, and seven-year-old girls celebrate this event, however many parents nowadays will get all their children dressed up in kimono at the same time regardless of how old they are to get family photos.  The children get dressed in kimono, take photos, and visit shinto shrines.  The actual date of shichi-go-san is November 15, but children often get dressed up and take photos in the month before this date.

For more information on how to dress a child for shichi-go-san, click here.

Miyako Odori

History

Miyako (都) means capital and odori means dance, thus making the name, “The Capital City Dance.” The first performance of Miyako Odori took place in 1872, three years after the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869. The goal of Miyako Odori was to counter the loss of status that came when the capital was moved. The first dance was choreographed by Yachiyo Inouye the third, the master of the Kyomai Dance School and performed by the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu. It was such a success that it has been performed every year since then.

Every year, there are things that remain the same about Miyako Odori. The Kyomai School is always responsible for choreographing the dancing, and the maiko and geiko of gion always perform the dances (the other geisha districts have their own dances). There are always eight scenes and the scenes always progress from a spring themed dance to summer, then autumn, then winter, and finally back to spring. The kimono for the chorus dancers are usually blue (some years are green) with small modifications in the design and the obi are usually red. Both kimono and obi always have motifs from all four seasons. The kimono are always created by kyo-yuzen artists and the obi are always woven by nishjin artists.

Undated photo of a past performance of Miyako Odori.

Undated photo of a past performance of Miyako Odori.

Undated photo of a previous Miyako Odori performance.

Undated photo of a previous Miyako Odori performance.

Undated photo of a previous Miyako Odori performance.

Undated photo of a previous Miyako Odori performance.

Logistics

Miyako Odori takes place every year during the whole month of April, with four shows happening each day. Buying tickets has gotten much easier over the last few years. Tickets start going on sale in September, and you can order them through the official website here. I went this route. They emailed me a confirmation number, and on the day of the show, I showed up at the box office, showed them the email confirmation number on my phone, and picked up the tickets. Quick and painless.

There are three classes of tickets you can choose from. Second class seats are 2500 yen, first class seats are 4200 yen, and special class seats are 4800 yen. The more you pay, the better your seats are in the theatre. In addition, the special class tickets allow you to experience a tea ceremony performed by a geiko, complete with a souvenir plate to take home. I decided to go for the special class tickets.

Getting to the theater is very easy too. The dances are held in Gion Corner, a theater that is used to showcase a mix of different traditional arts to tourists for the rest of the year. It’s in the middle of Gion and there are signs and lanterns everywhere announcing the path. If that isn’t enough, the crowds of people and the police directing them should be a dead giveaway.

One of the many posters lining the street to the theatre.

One of the many posters lining the street to the theatre.

The entrance to the theatre itself. The rain that day destroyed my plans of wearing kimono.

The entrance to the theatre itself. The rain that day destroyed my plans of wearing kimono.

The Tea Ceremony

Before we entered the tea ceremony, we went through a mini museum, if you will, that showcased a history of the tea ceremony and the instruments that are used. You can also see kimono and obi from past performances. We were all herded into a waiting room that looked out onto a beautiful Japanese garden. It had the added bonus of letting us sneak a peak of the geiko about to perform the tea ceremony preparing in a room on the other side of the garden!

A sneek peak of what was to come!

A sneek peak of what was to come!

The tea ceremony I felt was very touristy. It was held in a large room with tables and stools for the guests to sit at. As soon as you walked in, waitresses directed you where to sit and they served out the sweets on the souvenir plates. After that, the geiko and maiko came in and the shutters started snapping. I admit, I was guilty of taking photos as well, but after three or four shots just to remember everything, I put the camera down and tried to enjoy the ceremony. But I have to say, it was very difficult with the man in front of me who never put down his large, professional grade camera with a zoom lens. He was snapping photos every few seconds and it took away from the mood. No cameras were allowed during the dancing and I think the same policy should be enforced for the tea ceremony.

While the geiko was preparing the tea, the waitresses were serving bowls of matcha tea. Nobody touched the tea or the sweets until there was an announcement over the loudspeaker saying it was ok to start eating. The tea prepared by the geiko was served to one random guest by the attending maiko and once again the shutters went off like crazy. The whole thing lasted about ten minutes, and at the end, everyone wrapped up their plates and were herded through to the “souvenir center” while waiting for the theatre to open up.

The tea room.

The tea room.

The geiko preparing the tea.

The geiko preparing the tea.

My bowl of tea.

My bowl of tea.

My sweet on the souvenir plate, along with my ticket.

My sweet on the souvenir plate, along with my ticket.

The souvenir center had the usual Kyoto and Japanese souvenirs; books, postcards, snacks and such. But they also had something really unique. They had taken kimono and obi from previous years and made different souvenirs out of them. There was everything from bags and wraps to smaller things like coin purses and tissue cases. I indulged in a tissue case. And I do mean indulged because these items were not cheap. Not that I expect them to be. After all, they are made from kimono and obi created by some of Kyoto’s finest craftspeople. I just wish my budget could have allowed me to get the 7000 yen purse made from an obi that I was drooling over.

A slightly blurry photo of souvenirs made from previous year's kimono and obi.

A slightly blurry photo of souvenirs made from previous year’s kimono and obi.

A clearer photo of the souvenirs.

A clearer photo of the souvenirs.

The Dances

I guess buying my tickets six months in advance really paid off. We got front row seats! We could literally see the dancers sweating! And it gave me a great vantage point to look at their kimono and their kitsuke. Nothing in their kimono, obi, or accessories shifted or moved. It was absolute perfection. In fact, at some points I thought it was too perfect. For the chorus dancers, their obi was tied at the back with two tails. When they spun, only the bottom third of the tails moved with the force of the spin. The upper two thirds of the obi stayed perfectly in place. I suspect that there’s a couple of stitches keeping the tails together and stopping them from moving too much! Still gorgeous to watch, but I’m not going to use their kitsuke as a model to shoot for. It’s like using an airbrushed model as a reference for how skinny you should be. Just not realistic.

An obi on display. Can you spot the small stitches that keep the two halves in place?

An obi on display. Can you spot the small stitches that keep the two halves in place?

One thing I would highly recommend for everyone is to pick up the program that they offer for 700 yen. It has a description of every scene in English as well as headshots of every maiko and geiko performing on stage as either a dancer or a musician. It was a huge help for me to understand what was happening in each scene, and it’s a great souvenir for after. There are some great pictures inside of each scene that they perform.

The cover of my program for Miyako Odori.

The cover of my program for Miyako Odori.

A page out of the program with a description of a scene in both Japanese and English.

A page out of the program with a description of a scene in both Japanese and English.

A sample page of the headshots of the geiko and maiko that appear in the performance. This can also be found in the program.

A sample page of the headshots of the geiko and maiko that appear in the performance. This can also be found in the program.

Every year, the dances start with an opening scene with the chorus dancers (in the recognizable blue kimono) showcasing that highlights of the dances to come. The number of dancers for Miyako Odori has steadily declined over the years as the population of maiko and geiko has also declined. In her book Geisha, Liza Dalby claims that during her time as a geisha in 1974-75, the ranks of the dancers would be filled out with high school girls. I don’t think this is the case nowadays, but I do question some of the “maiko” in the opening scene. With front row seats, it was easy to see the dancers’ faces, and some of them looked to be on the plus side of forty years old. They still danced beautifully, but I wonder what their story is. Are they just geiko who are filling out the ranks, or are they dance students who have been recruited? All I know for sure is that some of the ladies on stage were too old to be maiko.

The remaining seven scenes always go in order from spring to summer, autumn, winter, and then back to spring. The year that I went (2015) the dances included a story about the western goddess and her peach of immortality, a scene from the Tale of Ise, Minamoto no Taiko and the Earth Spider (she had spiderwebs on her obi!) and two lovers traveling in winter mountains. The dancing was incredible, but I would have never understood what was haping without that program!

My favourite kimono! This is the Spider Queen. Check out her obi!

My favourite kimono! The dancer on the right is the Earth Spider. Check out her obi!

The Kimono

What can I say?  The kimono on display were gorgeous.  I loved examining them between the tea ceremony and the dances.  Here’s a sampling of what I saw.

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A unique green kimono!

A unique green kimono!

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Added Bonus!

Here’s a video of the 143rd Miyako Odori, the show that I got to see.