Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Thrifted Kitsuke: Findings in the Wild

Last year, I did a brief series on Thrifted Kitsuke (part 1 & part 2) and finding items to compliment the wardrobe, even if you are not in an area or region where kimono are likely to show up at your local thrift store of choice.

One of the things I stressed at that time is the usefulness of revisits to  your preferred store, as turnover of items is entirely dependent on the donations those stores receive. Patience is rewarded, whether it's in a new scarf that can be used for obi-age or han-eri, or handkerchiefs to keep kimono tidy while worn. And, very occasionally, you may find genuine obi lurking among table-runners or kimono shoulder-to-shoulder with bathrobes and nightgowns.

Quite recently, my own patience was rewarded, as I found a lovely stenciled han-haba obi, simply hanging and waiting for someone to spot it for what it was.

Green han-haba obi with fan motif stenciled in gold.

My other find on that same trip was... well... let's say informative:

From several technical points, this could be considered a women's kimono. The sleeves certainly mark it as such, but there are many points against calling it a proper kimono. The first point is that there is no back seam, meaning that the garment was cut from fabric much wider than a traditional tan (which is usually only about 14 inches or so wide).

The spacing of the patterning is another point: while the embroidery work is beautiful, having such prominent work across the back and symmetrical on both sleeves is neither typical nor traditional placement for patterning. The fact that all of this beautiful thread-work goes WELL past the waist is also quite telling. Remember, on women's garments (which are usually at least as tall as the woman wearing them) a fold would be taken at the waist and all of this work would then be hidden under the obi. This would also be quite uncomfortable, as there is a certain dimensional quality to the embroidery work, and it would likely feel quite lumpy under the obi.

The next point to observe is that the fabric (rayon, according to the printed-in-English label) does not have the hand that one generally associates with the silk, or even synthetics of lined kimono.

Finally, there is the lining itself. Many of the lined kimono in my collection have the lining pieced from two different solid colored fabrics, with the paler fabric used for most of the body and the overlaps and lower portions in a darker, generally complimentary color to the kimono. (Vintage and antique kimono will often have vibrant red linings, but more modern kimono will generally have white.)Whenever I have encountered lined kimono where all pieces of the lining are composed of a white fabric, the edges and hem are often dip-dyed in a color complimentary to the outer fabric. This robe's lining is entirely white, with no coloring at the hems or edges.

A garment like this was most likely manufactured specifically for the tourist trade. It even came with a matching narrow sash, to tie it closed as one might a western-style bath or dressing robe. It is certainly not a garment that should be passed off and worn as a traditional kimono, but there is no reason to not enjoy it's unique artistry around the house.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Nikkei Matsuri

A Nikkei Matsuri several years ago.

One of my favorite festivals of the year is tomorrow, and so, I'm going to take a moment to write about that and put on hold the other two posts I've been working on to catch up with my April Alternative Challenge.

This year, the Nikkei Matsuri promises to be especially lovely because San Jose is hosting a delegation from our sister-city of Okayama, celebrating 60 years of friendship. This will also be the 40th anniversary of the festival itself.

In appearances and timeliness, this festival adheres a little more closely to "Children's Day" than to a "Cherry Blossom" festival, but it is very much a Japanese American Celebration-- hence 'Nikkei Matsuri.'

Artists both local and far come to vend their wares, often featuring traditional techniques in ceramics, fabric-arts and origami. There are exhibits of ikebana and calligraphy, martial arts demonstrations and, of course, great food. It is a wonderfully immersive cultural experience in a community that has over 125 years of history in San Jose.

More information on the festival, as well as the Sister City partnership with Okayama can be found at 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Vocabulary: Asa

A non-geometric representation of asa leaves on yukata

Last year, I began the April challenge with a very similar entry: Asanoha. At that time, I was focusing on examples of the motif, but this year the focus is, of course, a little different as I endeavor to define some of the more common (and not so common) terms that I have come across in my own studies.

Many of the motifs we looked at last year were derived from natural elements and asanoha (hemp leaf or hemp flower) was no exception. But why should the humble hemp plant be immortalized in such a manner? It does not carry the romance of sakura or nadeshiko (both considered to be exemplars of fleeting and feminine beauty).

To my mind, the simple answer is because hemp is practical. Asa can be cultivated and utilized not just for rope, but spun into finer fibers as well. It is a very popular alternative to cotton, and though the weave might be a bit stiffer, it is not uncomon to find unlined (hitoe) kimono woven from asa suitable for summer wear.

Asa also has associations with purity, and as such is often used for the raiment of Shinto priests. With such powerful implications of protection as well as purity, it's no surprise that the asanoha motif would be a popular pattern for garments not made of the fiber itself.

Geometric motif known as Asanoha on a (likely synthetic fiber) obi
If you'd like a little more in-depth history of asa in Japanese culture, I found this article from The Japan Times to be quite informative.

I hope that you will continue to follow me in this more casual survey of terms and phrases as we wend our way through the month!

Monday, March 27, 2017

April Alternative Challenge

Cats know how to take it easy. Sometimes humans need the reminder.

Last year was my first time participating in the A-Z blog challenge and I found that it really helped me focus on what I want this blog to be-- informative. With last year's theme of motifs, I was able to reinforce some of the knowledge I'd already garnered through my study of kimono and kitsuke and then expand upon it.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed participating in last year's A-Z challenge, I've had to admit that, this year, I'm just not going to be able to make that sort of commitment. I won't be totally idle, though! Thanks to last year's challenge, I found a fun blog whose author is hosting an alternative: The April Alternative Challenge

I'm quite certain that I'll be able to manage four posts in one month. I might even push for a little more, since I was already plotting out daily entries for the A-Z challenge, but frankly, some of the letters were stumping me. There will still be an overarching theme this month, while I parse through some common and not-so-common vocabulary in the kimono and kitsuke world. If you have any particular words or phrases you'd like some help in decoding, please feel free to mention them in the comments!