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.

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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.

073

Double Bonus!!!

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

Kitsuke: Juban and Padding

When I first began practicing kitsuke, I struggled. I had wrinkles everywhere, my ohashori was more of a bubble around my waist than a neat fold, and my collars, god my collars! The juban collars would always, always get eaten by the kimono collars, usually within the first few minutes. It took two years of experimentation, trial and error, and sometimes ripping my hair out, for me to slowly realize just how important padding and a proper juban are to making a kimono look good.

The goal of any kitsuke isn’t to make the wearer’s body look good, but to make the garment look good and show off the work of the artisan who made the kimono. Unlike western fashion, curves do nothing for kimono except to give you wrinkles. The ideal shape for kitsuke is a cylinder. Very few, no scratch that, no person on earth is a perfect cylinder. We achieve this look through the use of padding. And every person has their own padding combination that works for them. Some people use padding on their waist or the small of their back to fill in curves, some use padding on their shoulders for the same reason, and most people I know wear a kimono bra, sports bra, or something else that shrinks down anything bigger than an A cup to a flat chest.

A close friend of mine and I have been studying kimono and kitsuke at the same time, but we’re also in a unique situation. She learns from a teacher from the Sodo School of kimono (makers of the biyosugata and authors of The Book of Kimono). On the other hand, I take lessons from a teacher who learned at a small, local school called the Nishi Nihon Wasoukai. Both are valid schools of kimono, and both teach their students different ways of padding to achieve the ideal shape. It’s really interesting for us to compare notes on what our teachers recommend for us for padding and juban. We’d like to share some of those differences with you now.

For those of you new to kimono, please don’t take this as the only way to use padding and a juban. This is just what works for us. You have to find what works for you.

 

What I Do

Kimono Bra

The first layer for both of us is the kimono bra. The combination of the bra and the removable padding inside compresses the bust and makes it firm. There are different styles of kimono bra that are available commercially, some more expensive than others. The one that both of us prefer just happens to be one of the more expensive brands on the market, averaging around 5000 yen. You can find them online here.

http://www.yosooi.co.jp/SHOP/0170024.html

My preferred kimono bra comes with removable padding which you can see on the left hand side.

My preferred kimono bra comes with removable padding which you can see on the left hand side.

Here is a comparison between a regular bra on the left and a kimono bra on the right. It doesn’t look like much, but it makes a huge amount of difference to the finished look.

kimonobra

This is another kimono bra that I’ve tried that was cheaper at the time. You supply your own padding through small towels. I only used this one for a couple of weeks before deciding it wasn’t for me. It made my collars seems to float off of my collarbones in front.

004Some people will actually wear two bras, one close to the skin and one over the juban, but I find this too constricting.

Base Layer

My base layer is unconventional. I always end up changing in front of other people during my lessons and I prefer to be modest. In these photos, I’m wearing my kimono bra, a camisole, and a thin t-shirt. I made sure to choose a t-shirt that wouldn’t interfere with the completed look of the kimono. This means that I chose a shirt with a scoop neck in the front and the back. On the bottom, I’m wearing Japanese thermal underwear called Heat-tec, but any pair of leggings will do.

Base Layer

Padding

On top of my base layer, I put my padding. Every person has their own combination that works for them. I use a commercially produced hip pad to fill in the small of my back. The pad on its own is not enough, so I use two staggered towels to fill in the rest. I use the thinner of the towels on the bottom of the pad so that it doesn’t add to the natural, excessive, padding I have further down. I don’t use any padding on my front or waist. For me, the fabric of the datejime is enough to fill it in.

hippad

Juban

I started off using a full length naga015juban, but I found that it would separate very easily and expose my legs if I sat in seiza for two long. I tried out a two piece nagajuban and I like it so much more. First, the skirt is wide enough that I don’t have to worry about my legs making an unscheduled appearance. Second, it’s easier to adjust the top when I only have to worry about half the fabric.

 

012

I have modified my juban slightly from the original, out of the package version. This juban came with a chikara nuno (my original full length one did not. I had to add it) but I was advised to attach it to the juban so that it wasn’t hanging loose. I also added a han-eri so that the korin belt would have something significant to grab onto.

You can see the stitches I used to attach the chikara nuno.

You can see the stitches I used to attach the chikara nuno.

I also use a commercially produced erishin to keep the collar crisp. My teacher taught me that when held upright, the erishin looks like a mountain. When I put it into the juban collar, the top of the mountain should still be a mountain (not a valley).

Putting on the skirt of the juban is simple. I make sure that the left side is over the right side, and I also make sure that the hem is high enough that there is no chance it will peek out from under the kimono.

When you put on the skirt, be sure that it is high enough that it won't show under the hem of the kimono.

When you put on the skirt, be sure that it is high enough that it won’t show under the hem of the kimono.

The top of the juban is where all the magic happens. When I put it on, the korin belt is already threaded through the chikara nuno. To make sure that your korin belt is the right length, measure it against your shoulders. It should be the same width as your shoulders.

Use the width of your shoulders to measure your korin belt.

Use the width of your shoulders to measure your korin belt.

I pull down the back collar so that it’s lower than where I actually want it to end up. My collar usually creeps up a bit while I’m getting dressed. This makes sure that it ends up in the right place by the end of the process.

Grab both collars with your left hand and the center of the back of the juban with the right hand and pull several times until it moves smoothly.

Grab both collars with your left hand and the center of the back of the juban with the right hand and pull several times until it moves smoothly.

According to Liza Dalby in her book Kimono, an average collar has enough room to fit a fist between the collar and the neck. Geisha wear their collars significantly lower. According to Dalby, this is due to the fact that the nape of the neck is considered an area of “erotic focus” in Japanese culture. For more demure women, a collar that is set back the width of three fingers is also acceptable.

Once the back of my collar is in place I bring the korin belt through the miyatsuguchi (the arm hole) and attach it to the juban, a couple of centimeters above the bottom of my ribcage. The other end goes around to the same place on the left side of the juban. After this, my collars are more or less where I want them. I now just have to tug on the juban to get them exactly where I want. This is a huge advantage of using the two piece juban as I have three places that I can tug on quite strongly to get the desired look. Ideally, I want the collars to cross right in the middle of my neck while covering the hollow of the neck.adjusting_juban_collar_2(1)

Once everything is in place, I use a datejime to keep my collars in place. I usually give everything one last tug to make sure the collar stays where I want it to.

068_-_Copy

Here is my final look.

070

 

What She Does

My friend Jen has a very different system of getting dressed. Like me, her first layer is a kimono bra, but after that, everything changes.

Her base layer is a unique juban.

018

First, this juban includes a thin erishin in the collar. This is used later on to provide a hook for the kantan eri (I’ve also seen it being called an eri sugata).

The very thin eri shin that fits in this style of juban.

The very thin eri shin that fits in this style of juban.

Sliding the eri shin into the juban.

Sliding the eri shin into the juban.

Second, it also includes Velcro on the sleeves to attach sleeves too, although she never attaches juban sleeves.(Sorry about no photos of this part.  White velcro on white fabric doesn’t photograph very well).  Finally, it has pockets sewn inside designed to hold specially made pads. The two half circles are designed to fill in the collarbones, and the triangular pad is designed to fill in any gap in the bust area, but she doesn’t usually use that pad.

Pockets for the padding.

Pockets for the padding.

The orientation of all the pads.

The orientation of all the pads.

Next comes the most important part, adjusting the collar on the juban. If the collar is not low enough in the back it will affect the collars in the front as well as the look of the kimono. Her teacher always encouraged here to pull it really, really low. She pulls on the back until it is low enough, then secures it with the ties attached to the juban.

JenJuban

This is how she looks after the juban is on with nothing else added.

Jenbegin

Once the juban is on, she also uses some cotton wrapped in gauze to fill out her shoulders. (Sorry, no photos of this part).

While I put my padding under my juban, she puts hers on over top. She uses two tea towels sewn together with a tie at the end. It wraps around the waist to fill it out.

Jentowel

The front view of the towel, before and after.

The side view of the towel, before and after.

The side view of the towel, before and after.

Next comes the kantan eri. To make it extra stiff, Jen uses two erishin instead of one.The kantan eri has stitching on the underside that holds the erishin in place.

The double eri shin inside the kantan eri.

The double eri shin inside the kantan eri.

This is one of the most important bits of her underlayers. To start with, she will hook the kantan eri onto the erishin in her juban.

Hooking the kantan eri onto the juban.

Hooking the kantan eri onto the juban.

Here’s the rest of the process.

The final step for Jen is to use the same commercial hippad that I use. However, she pulls the inner pad up slightly to get the right look.

the hippad with the inner pad pulled up slightly.

the hippad with the inner pad pulled up slightly.

The hippad in place.

The hippad in place.

The final look.

The final look.

Tips:

Do what works for you. Experiment. Find a combination of padding and juban that gives you a shape you’re happy with. It may take time (it took me two years and I’m still experimenting!) but the results will be worth it.

Don’t be shy on pulling your collar down at the back. Chances are it will creep up during the process of getting dressed, so the lower the better.

I hope you enjoyed reading!  Good luck with your kitsuke!