Getting married, eloping or renewing vows in Japan is more than just a ceremony, it is a Japanese experience. Whether or not a couple chooses to have a Japanese inspired ceremony, or have a western style event, the fact that they are in Japan is a big influence on the type of experience they are going to get. Vow renewals and elopements are a great excuse for bringing quintessential Japan into your special event.
In order to better appreciate the experience of a wedding, elopement or vow renewal in Japan, it probably helps to further understand the culture and certain elements of it. In this post, we will turn to the Kimono. A staple of Japanese culture, it encompasses many styles, the Japanese still wear them for various occasions in Japan, throughout the year.
Whether the casual, lightweight yukata they wear during summer festivals, or the expensive, high quality furisode they wear for formal occasions, the kimono is part of the fabric of Japanese life, and is probably one of the first things that comes to mind when one thinks of Japan.
Very Brief History
Kimono literally means “thing that is worn”, and like most things in Asia, it has its roots in China. Between 300 & 1185 AD immigration from mainland Asia brought many cultural elements which have since been absorbed into Japanese society and culture. One such item was the Kimono. They traditionally wore this with a Hakama, a kind of skirt with trouser-like divides.
By the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), the kimono had become an everyday item of clothing. Layering came into fashion; hiyoku (floating linings) was a second kimono that people wore beneath the first, giving it the layered look. And, it is thought that the Kamakura Period is when the traditional Japanese color combinations were born. These colors were usually based on seasons, gender or sometimes on political and family ties.
It Starts to Take Shape
During the Muromachi period (1392 – 1573) people began to wear the undergarment, Kusode, without the “Hakama”. This in turn, gave rise to the invention of the “Obi” (belt/sash) which was required to keep the kimono closed. At this point, it pretty much resembled the modern kimono.
Later, during the Edo era (1603 – 1867) they started to employ wider “obi”, longer sleeves and an increasing array of material and styles, giving rise to the Kimono that is worn today. And, despite the many attempts to fully modernize Japan during the later part of the Edo era, the Kimono, as with much of traditional Japan, weathered the assault, and has remained central to Japan’s identity.
These days, kimono remain popular for many reasons, mainly for being versatile. They can easily layer or alter them to suit the season: heavy silk kimonos for autumn and winter and light linen and cotton kimonos, known as yukata, for the summer. The Japanese still commonly wear Yukata during seasonal summer festivals and fireworks displays.
Today’s the Japanese consider fine silk kimonos to be works of art, that will fetch a tidy sum; sometimes as much as $20,000!
The Japanese traditionally make Kimonos from a single strip (bolt) of fabric, called a tan, measuring 36cm by 11.6 meters long. They then cut this into smaller strips (panels), two for the front and two for the back of the kimono, with smaller strips for the sleeves and collars. They made these so that they could take the kimonos apart, wash the panels separately, and then sew them back together again. You can easily imagine just how time intensive kimono maintenance was, and still is! They use the entire bolt in the finished kimono. This means that there is plenty of fabric within the clothing for easy tailoring.
They are very har- wearing and last a substantial amount of time, surviving multiple owners and generations in one family. Even in their afterlives, the Japanese use the kimono material to make handbags, covers, table runners, patches and even wall art!
The Japanese traditionally used hemp, linen, silk or satin to make kimonos. However, these days there is a focus on easy maintenance and lower costs, so they use fabrics such as cotton, polyester, rayon and other synthetic materials.
As you have probably gathered by now, Kimonos are quite intricate garments with multiple components. Some of the most integral parts include the following:
Kimono – The main, outer garment, which uses a variety of materials including, cotton, linen, wool, and silk.
Obi – The outermost sash that they tie around a kimono. They can tie the knot in a variety of decorative ways.
Juban – The undergarment used specifically with kimonos.
Koshi-himo – A sash that they tie at the waist to secure the kimono in place.
Datejime – A belt that they fasten over the kimono, but under the obi, to help the obi keep its shape.
Tabi – Socks specifically worn with traditional Japanese footwear.
Geta / Zori – Traditional types of footwear worn with kimono. They somewhat resemble modern sandals.
Today, it is not uncommon to see both men and women wearing kimonos or yukatas on the streets, either during their daily lives or for special events, such as weddings, funerals or tea ceremonies. In certain cultural centers, such as Kyoto and Nara, people wear kimonos as business attire, for example in ryokan (Japanese style inns) and some restaurants.
Serendipity Flower and Wedding
We encourage Serendipity Flower & Wedding clients to take full advantage of being in Japan, and really experience the culture. For us, it is not just about the wedding, elopement or vow renewal, but about being in Japan. We recognize that people choosing to have their special day in Japan also want to experience Japanese culture. Probably the easiest way to do that is through a kimono photoshoot at a beautiful Japanese garden or park. We can easily arrange this!
If you are not planning to marry, elope or renew vows, but would like to experience a bit of Japan while you are out here, feel free to contact us for a unique kimono photo-shoot. We will be happy to arrange a personalized plan especially for you.