Kimono traditions in Japan

The Japanese kimono has been worn for over a thousand years and is renowned the world over for its elegance and beauty. Kimono-wearing in Japan follows a complicated protocol, depending on sex, age, season and degree of formality required. Fabric, pattern and colour are combined in various ways to achieve an effect that is appropriate to the occasion, and even the width of the sash and the way it is tied are significant.

In modern society, the formal Japanese kimono with its wide, corset-like “obi” (sash) around the waist is worn only on special occasions. For more casual wear, such as at home, in hotels or spa resorts, men and women turn to cool, lightweight cotton kimonos called “yukata“ (bathrobes), especially during the hot Japanese summers.

Women’s kimonos are brightly coloured, often with flowers, birds or blossoms, while men’s kimonos are more conservative in colour and design. A more subtle difference is that men’s kimono sleeves are square-edged, but women’s are curved. An unmarried woman’s sleeves hang very low compared to a married woman’s (sometimes reaching her ankles), and designs for young ladies are typically more colourful and busy than for those of a more mature age.

A single-layer kimono is worn in summer, a lined kimono in winter. Colour and motif combine to reflect the season: for example, cool colours and cherry blossoms for spring, darker colours and chrysanthemums or maples for autumn.

Both men and women wear their kimono with the left side overlapping the right. Only a corpse is dressed right over left.

Kimono literally means “thing-to-wear”, or “clothing”. The plural is also “kimono”, but “kimonos” is commonly used too.

For more information on traditional Japanese kimonos, please see our Links page.

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