History

As kimono has another name gofuku (呉服? literally “clothes of Wu (呉)”), the earliest kimono were heavily influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing, known today as hanfu (漢服? kanfu), through Japanese embassies to China which resulted in extensive Chinese culture adoptions by Japan, as early as the fifth century ce[4]. It was during the 8th century, however, when Chinese fashions came into style among the Japanese, and the overlapping collar became particularly a women’s fashion[4]. During Japan’s Heian period (794–1192 ce), the kimono became increaslingly stylized, though one still wore a half-apron, called a mo, over it [4]. During the Muromachi age (1392-1573), the Kosode, a single kimono formerly considered underwear, began to be worn without the hakama pants over it, and thus began to be held closed by an obi “belt” [4]. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the sleeves began to grow in length, especially among unmarried women, and the Obi became wider, with various styles of tying coming into fashion [4]. Since then, the basic shape of both men’s and women’s kimono has remained essentially unchanged. David Bowie made it a fashion statement on stage in 1972 with his Ziggy Stardust character. Kimonos are a great work of art. [4].

Textiles

Kimono for men are available in various sizes, but kimono for women are typically of a similar, larger size and are adjusted to body size by tucking and folding. An ideally tailored kimono has sleeves that end at the wrist when the arms are lowered. Men’s kimono should fall approximately to the ankle without tucking. A woman’s kimono is longer to allow for the ohashori, the tuck that can be seen under the obi.

Kimono are made from a single bolt of fabric called a tan. Bolts come in standard dimensions – about 14 inches wide and 12½ yards long[4] – and the entire fabric is used to make one kimono. The finished kimono consists of four main strips of fabric – two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves – with additional smaller strips forming the narrow front panel and collar[4]. Historically, kimono were often taken apart for washing as separate panels and resewn by hand. Because the entire bolt remains in the finished garment without cutting, the kimono can be retailored easily to fit a different person.[4]

The maximum length of the sleeve is dictated by the width of the fabric. The distance from the center of the spine to the end of the sleeve could not exceed twice the width of the fabric. Traditional kimono fabric was typically no more than 36 centimeters (14 inches) wide. Thus the distance from spine to wrist could not exceed a maximum of roughly 68 centimeters (27 inches). Modern kimono fabric is woven as wide as 42 centimeters (17 inches) to accommodate modern Japanese body sizes. Very tall or heavy people, such as sumo wrestlers, must have kimono custom-made by either joining multiple bolts of fabric together or weaving custom-width fabric. source

Traditional kimono are sewn by hand, and their fabrics are also frequently hand made and hand decorated. Various techniques such as yūzen dye resist are used for applying decoration and patterns to the base cloth. Repeating patterns that cover a large area of a kimono are traditionally done with the yūzen resist technique and a stencil. Over time there have been many variations in color, fabric and style, as well as accessories such as the obi.

Kimono and obi are traditionally made of silk, silk brocade, silk crepes (such as chirimen) and satin weaves (such as rinzu). Modern kimono are also widely available in less-expensive easy-care fabrics such as rayon, cotton sateen, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fibers. Silk is still considered the ideal fabric, however, and is a must for formal occasions.

Customarily, woven patterns and dyed repeat patterns are considered informal; Formal kimono have free-style designs dyed over the whole surface or along the hem[4]. During the Heian period, kimono were worn with up to a dozen or more colorful contrasting layers, with each combination of colors being a named pattern[4]. Today, the kimono is normally worn with a single layer on top of a slip style undergarment. The pattern of the kimono can also determine in what season it should be worn. For example, a pattern with butterflies or cherry blossoms would be worn in spring. Watery designs are common during the summer. A popular autumn motif is the russet leaf of the Japanese maple; for winter, designs may include bamboo, pine trees and plum blossoms.

Old kimono are often recycled in various ways: altered to make haori, hiyoku, or kimono for children, used to patch similar kimono, used for making handbags and similar kimono accessories, and used to make covers, bags or cases for various implements, especially for sweet-picks used in tea ceremonies. Kimono with damage below the waistline can also be worn under hakama to hide the damage. Historically, skilled craftsmen laboriously picked the silk thread from old kimono and rewove it into a new textile in the width of a heko obi for men’s kimono, using a recycling weaving method called saki-ori.

According to the “Latter Chronical of Japan” (日本後記; Nihon Kōki), drinking of tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th century, by the Buddhist monk Eichū (永忠), who had returned to Japan from China. This is the first documented evidence of tea in Japan. The entry in the “Latter Chronical of Japan” states that Eichū personally prepared and served “simmered tea” (煎茶, sencha) to Emperor Saga who was on an excursion in Karasaki (in present Shiga Prefecture) in the year 815. By imperial order in the year 816, tea plantations began to be cultivated in the Kinki region of Japan.[1] However, the interest in tea in Japan faded after this.[2]

In China, tea had already been known, according to legend, for more than a thousand years. The form of tea popular in China in the era when Eichū went for studies was “brick tea” (団茶 dancha?). The brick tea was made by steaming and pounding tea leaves, pressing this into moulds, and drying this until hard. This then would be ground in a mortar, and the resulting ground tea decocted together with various other herbs and/or flavorings.[3]

The custom of drinking tea, first for medicinal, and then largely also for pleasurable reasons, was already widespread throughout China. In the early 9th century, Chinese author Lu Yu wrote the Chá jīng (茶經, the Classic of Tea), a treatise on tea focusing on its cultivation and preparation. Lu Yu’s life had been heavily influenced by Buddhism, particularly the ZenChán school. (This form of Buddhism is known as Chan in China and Zen in Japan). His ideas would have a strong influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony.[4]

Around the end of the 12th century, the style of tea preparation called “tencha” (点茶), in which powdered tea was placed in a bowl, hot water poured into the bowl, and the tea and hot water whipped together, was introduced by Eisai, another Japanese monk returning from China. He also brought tea seeds back with him, which eventually produced tea that was of the most superb quality in all of Japan.[5]

This powdered green tea was first used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, samurai warriors had begun preparing and drinking matcha as they adopted Zen Buddhism, and the foundations of the tea ceremony were laid.

Tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice,” and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of wabi. Wabi, meaning quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste, “is characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry [emphasizing] simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and [celebrating] the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.”[6] Ikkyū, who revitalized Zen in the 15th century, had a profound influence on the tea ceremony.

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyu, perhaps the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master, Takeno Jōō‘s, concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms in Japanese architecture and gardens, fine and applied arts, and the full development of chadō, “the “way of tea”. The principles he set forward – harmony ( wa?), respect ( kei?), purity ( sei?), and tranquility ( jaku?) – are still central to tea ceremony.

Many schools of Japanese tea ceremony have evolved through the long history of chanoyu, and are active today.