“To dye for”

November 10th, 2008 by Anna

One of the loveliest articles on kimono I’ve seen in a while, on a kimono artist I’ve admired for years: The San Diego Union-Tribune — To dye for:

Itchiku Kubota’s works reach back to a mythic golden age of Japanese textiles.

In 1937, a promising 20-year-old Japanese artist, Itchiku Kubota, paid a visit to the Tokyo National Museum. He saw a fragment of a 17th-century textile with imagery so vivid he stared at it for hours. The technique used to make it, tsujigahana, was lost to history. But Kubota vowed to recreate it in his own work.

“This find seemed like a revelation from God,” he would recall, “and I vowed then to devote the rest of my life to bring its beauty alive again.”

An exhibition catalogue of Kubota’s, and Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota are both available on Amazon for very reasonable prices. A few more online photos of the exhibit can also be found here, where clicking on the thumbnails will open a “super-sized” view that gives a much better idea of the kimono in three dimensions. The Itchiku Kubota Art Museum has its own website, in Japanese of course.

Up close, his work is awe-inspiring. Keep in mind he saw that tsujigahana fragment in 1937: “Kubota didn’t have an exhibition until 1977 simply because he wasn’t satisfied with his method until then.” Forty years later. I was able to find a video about tsujigahana dyeing, also in Japanese, that shows more common tsujigahana designs on kimono.

Kimono reading galore!

March 12th, 2006 by Anna

There have been several articles on kimono in the news recently. From The Globe and Mail, Japanese artist Mamechiyo has recast the traditional garment as a decidedly contemporary art form, discussing her kimono and her North American debut show in Toronto, Canada (which runs until April 2). An excerpt from the end of the article:

Mamechiyo doesn’t see the kimono merely as an art form on which to juxtapose modernity; back home she agitates for its revival as daily clothing. She says it’s enjoyed a renaissance in the past three or four years.

“It’s about living kimono as a lifestyle, a philosophy.”

For Mamechiyo (who has not seen the costume-Oscar-winning Memoirs of a Geisha), wearing a kimono is almost a meditative act.

“When you wear a kimono, it takes effort. It takes longer and is restrictive. It gives you the opportunity to think and remember things. It slows you down,” she says. “Everyone has in themselves sincerity and the ability to feel delightful in things around them.”

The V&A Museum has a beautiful real-life and online exhibition: Fashioning Kimono: Dress in early 20th century Japan. In a nice contrast to the usual focus on formal kimono, there are amazing everyday kimono! From the introductory article:

Although western-style clothes were gaining popularity among women, the kimono continued to be worn. The traditional cut of the garment remained the same, but the motifs were dramatically enlarged and new designs appeared, inspired by western styles such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Their striking patterns reflected the confident spirit of the age and provided an exuberant visual statement for the modern, independent, urban woman.

Finally, costume designer for the film Memoirs of a Geisha Colleen Atwood recounts how she learned about kimono in How to get that kimono right. I appreciate that she ends with “a real purist of this would have a heart attack,” because on seeing the film’s kimono, I indeed did… :) However, reading about her discovery of kimono is nonetheless interesting!

Digital Yukata

November 29th, 2005 by Anna

Opening the kimono to everyone is an article about Frenchwoman Maia Maniglier’s introduction to and love affair with kimono. Today she is “a passionate kimono advocate who is now pushing the boundaries of kimono design by meshing traditional garment-making with cutting-edge digital printing.” At the end, Maniglier gives some basic useful tips for buying kimono to wear, and two websites are mentioned:
o GO West! in kimono, an “imaginary kimono shop” in French and English
o Nakashiyama, in Japanese

The book mentioned in the article is available on Amazon Japan: パリジェンヌの着物はじめ (Parisienne no kimono hajime).

Kimono hime

November 15th, 2005 by Anna

Princess Sayako of Japan is going to be married soon, and held a farewell ceremony in which she wore a beautiful juunihitoe.

For a very different “kimono hime” (hime is Japanese for princess), scans of volumes 4 and 5 of the magazine have been posted to the LiveJournal group kimonoworld. Taisho chic with a modern perspective — the lace accents are great fun! There are also some hairdos from that period that I’m definitely going to try.

o Kimono Hime vol. 4
o Kimono Hime vol. 5 (both on Amazon Japan)

Kimono as a canvas

October 23rd, 2005 by Anna

Another enjoyable article to peruse, this one with beautiful photos and a little information on symbolism: Kimono exhibit shows beauty of Japanese garment (exhibit in Colorado, USA).


“[A kimono is] a big garment— a big canvas. The Japanese are masterful at asymmetry and kimono are superb examples. They are balanced but not perfectly symmetrical.”

Kimono designs also tell a lot about the Japanese culture and history through the use of symbolism.

Cherry blossoms and plum blossoms are typically used to symbolize spring and new life, Sparks said. “They were used by the Samurai warriors on their protective clothing because they were thought to be a symbol of courage,” she said of the blossoms that can typically be found braving the winter weather.

This exhibit illustrates kimono not only as a form of dress but also as a form of art and cultural expression, said Martha Denney, CSU director of international education.

“This is also great because one way for people to gain access to a culture is through their aesthetic forms,” Denney said. “You can talk to someone about Japan, but if they can see this beautiful art form… It’s a way to look at and appreciate how a culture perceives things differently.”

The kimono boom

September 18th, 2005 by Anna

An article in The Japan Times Online goes In Skeptical Quest of a Boom, getting off to a depressing start in Tokyo, of all places (like me, those of you who follow kimono are probably going “Tokyo?! What were they thinking!”), and then finally being put on to the trail of, well, the rest of the country, and Mamechiyo. This is where the article gets interesting!

“The restricted movement it imposes forces you to slow down and think,” she said. “You have to watch your sleeves when you go to pick things up, for example.”

[…] Mamechiyo pointed out that the key to the boom is in understanding the difference between kimono worn to weddings or the coming-of-age ceremony, and kimono for fashion. Formal kimono are worn for the benefit of others, so they have to conform to accepted standards as a mark of respect. But when you wear kimono on an everyday basis, you do it for yourself, and then you can do whatever you want.

“All the strict conventions of kimono are relatively recent inventions,” she explained. “If you go back a bit further, people were wearing their obi tied at the front and all sorts of interesting things, so playing with kimono is part of the heritage.”
But despite having signed a deal with a yukata manufacturer and having her designs on sale in department stores across the nation this summer, this cutesy creator is wary of moving into mass production.

“We have a close relationship with our customers,” she explained, showing me an album of Polaroid snaps of them wearing her designs outside the 2-year-old shop. “I don’t want to lose that.”

I’m often skeptical of all the kitsuke schools that profess you have to get a “certificate” to dress in kimono properly, so seeing one of the reines du kimono herself say “all the strict conventions of kimono are relatively recent inventions” and “playing with kimono is part of the heritage” is simply wonderful. This is what I’ve seen in my years of observation and study, and really, when you know that women were dressing themselves in kimono for hundreds of years without “kitsuke degrees”, it makes perfect sense. Of course one should learn the significations and history of kitsuke, I’m not advocating throwing everything to the wind, but one shouldn’t be stifled by rules of a rigidity that never existed in the first place, either.

In parting, I’ll leave you with links to photos from my 1936 “Kimono” book, that show just how much variation there was:
o Finished taiko musubi (crooked by contemporary kimono school standards!)
o Bride dressed in hikifurisode (note wrinkly collar!)
o Bride and attendants (more “crooked” taiko musubi — at the most formal of events)
o Taiko musubi (yet another variation, this one plump)
o Front and back views of same kimono (note her “crooked” obi in front and how low her obijime is)
o Woman in haori sewing (lots of haneri showing)


August 24th, 2005 by Anna

A very nice article on the Japanese tea ceremony turned up today: Tea ceremony: Part of Japanese culture. It has a more in-depth history than most articles on it usually do, and includes the following narrative of a ceremony the reporter attended, as told by the Japanese host:

The guest carries a packet of folded papers on which sweets should be placed before eating. A special cake pick is used to cut and eat moist sweets but dry sweets are eaten with the fingers. Receiving a bowl of tea, place it between you and the guest and bow to excuse you for going first. Then put it in front of your knees and thank the host for the tea. Pick the bowl up, put it in the palm of the left hand and raise it slightly with a bow of the head in thanks. Turn the bowl so that the front, distinguished by a kiln mark or decoration, is away from the lips. Drink and wipe the place you drank from with your fingers. Turn the front of the bowl back to face you. Put the bowl down on the tatami in front of you and with your elbows above your knees pick up the bowl and admire it. When returning the bowl, ensure that the front is turned back to face the host. After symbolically purifying all the utensils, the host blends water with the tea using a bamboo whisk. There are two different consistencies of tea–koicha, which is smooth and thick, and usucha, thin tea, which is whisked to froth. After receiving the bowl, the guest places it in the left hand, steadying it with the right. The guest gives a silent bow of thanks and turns the “face” of the bowl away from his or her lips before drinking.

Kimono arts on display

August 13th, 2005 by Anna

Those of you who can make it to Squamish, British Columbia are in for a treat: Kimono and fibre arts on display at the Squamish Library’s Foyer Gallery in a show named “Release”. From the article:

Keiko Kiyota acquired her kimono making skill in Japan in a four-year apprenticeship to a master kimono maker.

Utilizing this skill, she began making Osaikumono in addition to kimono and exhibited her work at galleries and exhibitions in Japan. In 1999 Keiko moved to Vancouver and has been concentrating on Osaikumono as well as Oshie, exhibiting her work in the Vancouver area, and teaching classes.

Osaikumono is a traditional craft from the Edo period (1603 to 1867) where flowers, dolls, animals, etc. are made from kimono material. Each was originally designed as a koto pick bag or incense bag. Oshie, another traditional craft from the same period, is a relief like picture again made from kimono fabric. Each piece is carefully hand sewn, stitch-by-stitch, making good use of the textures, colours, patterns of Japanese fabrics, including kimono and Obi.

Author Kumiko Sudo has a wonderful book on osaikumono: Omiyage. I have this book and simply adore it. As I also found today, Sudo is coming out with another book of the same that looks absolutely lovely! Kokoro no Te (Handmade from the Heart).