The Art of the Kimono

The Art of the Kimono

The Japanese kimono is one of the world’s most fascinating garments, not only because of its beauty but also because of its history, as well as its longevity. While the kimono is an ancient garment with a history going back to Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), it has stood the test of time amazingly well and is still regarded as one of the most attractive (and comfortable) forms of clothing ever created.

Kimono Styles

In the beginning, kimono (the word in Japanese is the same in its plural form) were simpler in style and were worn with trouser-like skirts known as hakama. Sometime later the hakama was discarded, and the obi, a wide sash, was added. It wasn’t until the Kamakura period ( 1185-1333) that color combinations became fashionable, and today’s formal kimono still reflect colors and designs based on themes, seasons and even family and political ties.

Since ancient times, Japanese men and women have typically worn heavier silk kimono in the fall and winter, and lightweight linen and cotton kimono in the spring and summer.

A simple kimono, such as a household kimono or man’s casual kimono, is worn much like a robe. A classic formal kimono (such as the style that’s synonymous with geisha entertainers) is a much more complicated affair, enhanced with an elaborate obi, a wide sash that is tied around the middle and enhanced with a makura, an obi bustle pad in the back. A cord, known as an obijime, is tied in front to keep the obi in place.

Are Kimono Still Worn in Japan?

Is the kimono still being worn in Japan? The answer is a resounding yes. The kimono is still a staple costume in many types of traditional Japanese theater, including classic kabuki and noh. In real life, however, most Japanese restrict their kimono-wearing to special events and festivals, such as the November 15 children’s festival Shichi-Go-San, or Shogatsu (January 1-4), the Japanese New Year.

However, you can still see the kimono being worn in the streets of Kyoto, Japan’s center of kimono culture — although chances are that most of the people wearing kimono will be tourists. Kyoto is also the site of Japan’s famed geisha schools and teahouses, and tourists spend hours waiting for a glimpse of these talented kimono-clad performers. According to those in the know, if you want a photo, the best place to wait is in the historic Gion district at around 5:45 pm, when geisha are on their way to their evening engagements.

While in Kyoto, you can purchase a kimono from one of the town’s many specialty kimono shops, as well as rent them by the hour. When you do, be sure to pick up the proper tabi socks (with a separate big toe) and zori (kimono sandals) to complete your outfit. You can even get a geisha makeover, complete with fancy kimono, makeup and studio photos of yourself, for a reasonable price.

Taking a Language (and Kimono) Trip to Japan

Each year, thousands of people in the US learn Japanese online, teaching themselves Japanese words and vocabulary via websites. If you’re wondering how to learn Japanese online or how to read kanji, be sure to visit Nihongo Master, which offers a wide range of Japanese language lessons for every level. While you learn, Nihongo Master online also entertains you with manga-style comics and puzzles, making lessons not only more fun but easier to relate to and remember.

One of the best ways to learn Japanese is to take a language trip, where you can immerse yourself in the written and spoken language — as well as the culture — of this fascinating country. If you love the history of kimono, you can make it a kimono trip as well by taking a journey to Kyoto. For many, a trip to Japan isn’t complete without seeing at least one kimono-clad geiko (the Kyoto word for geisha) or maiko (apprentice geiko), either in performance or walking to a gig. While you’re there, be sure to treat yourself to an authentic kimono from one of Kyoto’s many kimono shops. It’s the best possible souvenir you could bring home from a trip to Japan.

Traveling Through Tokyo and the Importance of Timing

Traveling Through Tokyo and the Importance of Timing

When you first arrive in Tokyo, you might be tempted to hire a taxi from the airport to your hotel. If you do, be prepared to fork over a lot of yen. The better option by far is to take the train. Just follow all of the Japanese passengers–they’ll be heading the same way.

Tokyo is a lot like New York City. You’ll rely on the train to take you most places and only use taxis when absolutely necessary.

The Lines

There are five main JR lines within Tokyo that you should know.

Yamanote Line

This train line runs in a circle and connects all of the major city centers.

Keihin-Tohoku Line

This train line runs parallel to the Yamanote Line on the eastern half.

Chuo/Sobu Line

This train line runs across the Yamanote Line and provides slower, more local service.

Chuo Line (Rapid)

This train line connects Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station and provides fast, constant service.

Saikyo Line

This train line runs parallel to the Yamanote Line on the western half.

Tokyo is 845 square miles in size, which makes it impossible to walk across. You need to know your way around, but you also need to know what times you can rely on the trains. The trains stop around 1 AM, so your last ride should start at 12:30. If you miss the train, you face an expensive taxi ride back from wherever you are.

For example, a taxi from the Roppongi district to the Ueno district runs about $60 USD. Comparatively speaking, you can purchase an unlimited use ticket for the subway lines in Tokyo for 1,590 yen, or around $15 USD.

Prepaid IC Cards

Another option is to purchase a prepaid card; the prepaid IC card. These are one of the most recommended ways to get around Tokyo due to their convenience. The price is around the same as that of a single-use pass, but a prepaid card lets you use any bus or train just by swiping it over a card reader.

Other Options

A final option is to consider renting or purchasing a bicycle during your stay. Travel by bicycle is common in Japan, and it is a great way to navigate the winding streets of Tokyo. It also provides an excellent way to see the city up close and personal that public transportation just doesn’t have.

Whether you visit Tokyo for business or for pleasure, make sure you know how to get around the city without paying a huge fare–or worse, finding yourself stranded.

Phrases to Know

One of the most difficult aspects of navigating Tokyo is the vocabulary. If you do not know what phrases to look for and listen for, it can be hard to find your way around. Here are a few of the most common words you are likely to encounter.

Basu

This word is simple. It means “bus” and is pronounced how it is read.

Kuruma

“Kuruma” is the Japanese word for “car.”

Jitensha

This word means “bicycle.”

Densha

This word is one you will encounter often. It means “train.”

Takushi

This word means “taxi.”

Take the time to learn a few basic Japanese phrases and you will find it much easier to make your way around the city. Learn to ask for directions (and learn a few key phrases to listen for) and you will enjoy your trip to Japan much more than if you spend most of your time lost.

Images via Wikimedia, Pixabay