wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing
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In this blog post you will find Nagoya obi, otaiko musubi tying instructions, how to wear obi makura, obiage and obijime, the names of the parts of an obi and the shapes and scale of different types of obi.
Let’s start with the folding instructions for Nagoya obis
Opened up your Nagoya obi and at a loss about how to fold it again?
I have put together the instructions below, to show you how to do it. You can drag the image to your desktop to keep a copy for use without having to come online for it.
Further down this page you also will find instructions for wearing an obi makura, obiage and obijime.
You can fold it up smaller, if you prefer, just do 4 folds at the last step instead of 3, then it is smaller but thicker
When I have time, I will draw out instructions for converting a Nagoya Obi into a tsukure (two part, pre-shaped, easy wear) one, with the taiko musuba (taiko knot) section, pre-folded and stitched into its ready to wear shape, and a separate sash, and post the instructions on this blog.
Whether a normal Nagoya obi, like the one above, or a tsukure Nagoya obi, you need an obi makura (bustle pad), for inside the top of the taiko knot, to pad it out, an obiage to hold the makura and the top of the knot section in place and an obijime to hold the centre section of the obi knot in place.
Makura means ‘pillow’ and an obi makura is bustle padding that’s worn inside the top of an obi’s taiko shaped rear knot, to pad out the top of it. The obiage holds the makura in place, though sometimes makuras also have ties.
An obiage is an obi ‘scarf’, worn through the rear knot, over the makura, and tied at the top of the sash at the front, then tucked partially behind the sash. The obiage helps hold the makura and the obi’s rear knot in place. This pink obiage has shibori work; shibori is a very fine tie dye patterning that not only decorates it but makes it stretchy, so it is much longer than this photo of it unstretched makes it look. You can see how the shibori work pulls the patterned sections in, making them narrower than the sections without it.
An obijime is an obi cord, worn through the centre of the obi’s rear knot and around the centre of the sash, tied at the front with the ends tucked into itself at the sides. It helps hold the obi’s rear knot (musuba) and the sash in place.
The diagram below shows how they go together on an obi with a taiko musuba (square taiko knot).
Names of obi sections
The next diagram shows you the names of the parts of an obi, both untied and tied into an otaiko musubi (taiko knot). Despite the fact that the knot is called taiko, meaning drum, and the base of the knot is described as the bottom of the drum, the obi musubi’s name taiko is not because of the Japanese hand drum, it was named after the Taiko Bridge because some geisha wore this new design of musubi at the bridge’s initial opening ceremony and this particular style then became fashionable and known as the taiko musubi and has remained very popular ever since.
Types of women’s obi
The following diagram shows the various types of obi to scale. It’s not very obvious but the fukuro obi is a little bit narrower than the maru obi. Only the sash section of the tsuke (two part) obi is shown. The tsuke’s knot is separate and pre-shaped.
Women’s Obi Types
Darari obi is a very long maru obi worn by maiko. A maiko’s darari obi has the kamon insignia of its owner’s okiya in the other end. A darari obi can be 600 centimetres (20 ft) long.
Fukuro obi (pouch obi) is a grade less formal than a maru obi and the most formal obi actually used today. It has been made by either folding cloth in two or sewing two pieces of cloth together. If two cloths are used, the cloth used for to make the backside of the obi may be cheaper and the front cloth may be for example brocade. Not counting marriage outfits, the fukuro obi has replaced the heavy maru obi as the obi used for ceremonial wear and celebration. A fukuro obi is often made so that the part that will not be visible when worn are of smooth, thinner and lighter silk. A fukuro obi is about 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and 360 centimetres (11.8 ft) to 450 centimetres (14.8 ft) long. When worn, a fukuro obi is almost impossible to tell from a maru obi. Fukuro obis are made in roughly three subtypes. The most formal and expensive of these is patterned brocade on both sides. The second type is two-thirds patterned, the so-called “60 % fukuro obi”, and it is somewhat cheaper and lighter than the first type. The third type has patterns only in the parts that will be prominent when the obi is worn in the common taiko musubi.
Fukuro Nagoya obi or hassun Nagoya obi (“six inch Nagoya obi”) is an obi that has been sewn in two only where the taiko knot would begin. The part wound around the body is folded when put on. The fukuro Nagoya obi is intended for making the more formal, two-layer variation of the taiko musubi, the so-called nijuudaiko musubi. It is about 350 centimetres (11.5 ft) long.
Hakata obi (obi of Hakata) is an unlined woven obi that has a thick weft and thin warp.
Hoso obi (thin sash) is a collective name for informal half-width obis. Hoso obis are 15cm (5.9 in) or 20cm (7.9 in) wide and about 330cm (10.8 ft) long.
Hanhaba obi (half width obi) is an unlined and informal obi that is used with a yukata or an everyday kimono. Hanhaba obis are very popular these days. For use with yukata, reversible hanhaba obis are popular: they can be folded and twisted in several ways to create colour effects. A hanhaba obi is 15 centimetres (5.9 in) wide and 300 centimetres (9.8 ft) to 400 centimetres (13 ft) long. Tying it is relatively easy, and its use does not require pads or strings. The knots used for hanhaba obi are often simplified versions of bunko-musubi. As it is more “acceptable” to play with an informal obi, hanhaba obi is sometimes worn in self-invented styles, often with decorative ribbons and such.
Chuuya obi or Hara-awase obi is an informal obi that has sides of different colours/designs. Chuuya is often spelled chuya and means daytime and night time; the earliest chuuya obis were bright on one side and black on the other, like night and day, hence the name. Chuuya obi were used by iki-suji ladies in ancient Japan; iki-suji means a kind of kimono expert, such as a Geisha. Chuuya obi are now obsolete and are collectors’ items. They are fequently seen in pictures from the Edo and Meiji periods, but today it is hardly used. A chuuya obi has a (usually) dark, sparingly decorated side and another, more colourful and festive side, this way the obi can be worn both in everyday life and for celebration. The obi is about 30 cm (12 in) wide and 350 cm (11.5 ft) to 400 cm (13 ft) long.
Heko obi (soft obi) is a very informal obi made of soft, thin cloth, often dyed with shibori. Its traditional use is as an informal obi for children and men and there were times when it was considered totally inappropriate for women. Nowadays young girls and women can wear a heko obi with modern, informal kimonos and yukatas. An adult’s heko obi is the common size of an obi, about 20 centimetres (7.9 in) to 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and about 300 centimetres (9.8 ft) long.
Hitoe obi (means “single-layer obi”). It is made from silk cloth so stiff that the obi does not need lining or in-sewn stiffeners. One of these cloth types is called Hakata ori. A hitoe obi can be worn with everyday kimono or yukata. A hitoe obi is 15 centimetres (5.9 in) to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) wide (the so-called hanhaba obi) or 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and about 400 centimetres (13 ft) long.
Kobukuro obi is an unlined hoso obi whose width is 15 centimetres (5.9 in) or 20 centimetres (7.9 in) and length 300 centimetres (9.8 ft).
Kyo-bukuro obi (capital fukuro obi) was invented in the 1970s in Nishijin, Kyoto. It lies among the usage scale right between nagoya obi and fukuro obi, and can be used to smarten up an everyfay outfit. A kyo-bukuro obi is structured like a fukuro obi but is as short as a nagoya obi. It thus can also be turned inside out for wear like reversible obis. A kyo-bukuro obi is about 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and 350 centimetres (11.5 ft) long.
Maru obi (one-piece obi) is the most formal obi. It is made from cloth about 68 cm wide and is folded around a double lining and sewn together. The ornate pattern is along the entire length and on both sides. Maru obis were at their most popular during the Taisho and Meiji-periods. Their bulk and weight makes maru obis difficult to handle and nowadays they are worn mostly by geishas, maikos and others such. Another use for maru obi is as a part of a bride’s outfit. A maru obi is about 30 centimetres (12 in) to 35 centimetres (14 in) wide and 360 centimetres (11.8 ft) to 450 centimetres (14.8 ft) long, fully patterned and often embroidered with metal-coated yarn and foil work.
Nagoya obi, or when differentiating from the fukuro Nagoya obi also called kyu-sun Nagoya obi, the nine inch nagoya obi) is the most used obi type today. A Nagoya obi can be told apart by its distinguishable structure: one end is folded and sewn in half, the other end is of full width. This is to make putting the obi on easier. A Nagoya obi can be partly or fully patterned. It is normally worn only in the taiko musubi style, and many Nagoya obis are designed so that they have patterns only in the part that will be most prominent in the knot. A Nagoya obi is shorter than other obi types, about 315 centimetres (10.33 ft) to 345 centimetres (11.32 ft) long, but of the same width, about 30 centimetres (12 in). Nagoya obi is relatively new. It was developed by a seamstress living in Nagoya at the end of the 1920s. The new easy-to-use obi gained popularity among Tokyo’s geishas, from whom it then was adopted by fashionable city women for their everyday wear. The formality and fanciness of a Nagoya obi depends on its material just like is with other obi types. Since the Nagoya obi was originally used as everyday wear it can never be part of a truly ceremonial outfit, but a Nagoya obi made from exquisite brocade can be accepted as semi-ceremonial wear. The term Nagoya obi can also refer to another obi with the same name, used centuries ago. This Nagoya obi was cord-like.
Odori obi (dance obi) is a name for obis used in dance acts. An odori obi is often big, simple-patterned and has patterns done in metallic colours so that it can be seen easily from the audience. An odori obi can be 10cm (3.9 in) to 30cm (12 in) wide and 350cm (11.5 ft) to 450cm (14.8 ft) long. As the term “odori obi” is not established, it can refer to any obi meant for dance acts.
Sakiori obi is a woven obi made by using yard or narrow strips from old clothes as weave. Sakiori obis are used with kimono worn at home. A sakiori obi is similar to a hanhaba obi in size and extremely informal.
Tenga obi (fancy obi) resembles a hanhaba obi but is more formal. It is usually wider and made from fancier cloth more suitable for celebration. The patterns usually include auspicious, celebratory motifs. A tenga obi is about 20cm (7.9 in) wide and 350cm (11.5 ft) to 400cm (13 ft) long.
Tsuke obi (also ccalled tsukuri obi or kantan obi) is any ready-tied obi, often in two parts, the sash and the knot, making it very easy to put on. It was first invented to aid women with arthritis who could no longer pull hard enough to tie their obi knots but it became popular with other women too, because it is so quick and convenient. The tsuke obi is fastened in place by ties. Tsuke obis are normally very informal and they are mostly used with yukatas but also available as more formal two-part nagoya obis.
White obi: In a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony, a bride will wear a white obi on her white kimono. In the Edo era, a widow may dress in all white to signify that she will not remarry. Thus, some very old, white obi may not have been used for weddings. The bride will change into numerous outfits on her wedding day, often brightly coloured ones as well as the white Shinto one. Formal obis worn by men are much narrower than those of women (the width is about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) at its most). The men’s obi is worn in much simpler fashion than women’s: it is wrapped around the waist, below the stomach and tied with a simple knot in the back.
Women’s Obi Accessories
Obiage is a scarf-like piece of cloth that covers up the obimakura and keeps the upper part of the obi knot in place. These days it is customary for an unmarried, young woman to let her obiage show from underneath the obi in the front. A married woman will tuck it deeper in and only allow it to peek. Obiage can be thought of as an undergarment for kimono, so letting it show is a little provocative.
Obidome is a small decorative accessory (obi ‘brooch’) that is fastened onto obijime at the centre front of the obi. The obijime threads through it and, when an obidome is worn, the obijime is tied at the back, inside the rear knot, instead of at the front. It is not used very often nowadays.
Pocchiri is a maiko’s especially ornate obidome. These maiko obidome are very decorative and very large. Once they graduate to full geisha/geiko, they no longer wear an obidome at all.
Obi-ita is a separate stiffener that keeps the obi flat, as it stops it creasing when one bends. It is a thin piece of cardboard covered with cloth and placed between the layers of obi when putting the obi on. Some types of obi-ita are attached around the waist with cords before the obi is put on.
Obijime is a cord, about 150 centimetres (4.9 ft) long, that is tied around the obi and through the knot, and which doubles as decoration. It can be a woven string, or be constructed as a narrow sewn tube of fabric. There are both flat and round obijimes. They often have tassels at both ends and they are made from silk, satin, brocade or viscose. A cord-like or a padded tube obijime is considered more festive and ceremonial than a flat one.
Obi-makura is a small pillow that supports and shapes the obi knot, it acts as bustle padding. The most common knot these days, taiko musubi, is padded out at the top with a makura.
Men’s obi types:
Heko obi (soft obi) is an informal, soft obi, free flowing and usually made of shibori (tye-dyed) fabrics, traditionally silk. It is tied very informally. The adult’s heko obi is as long as a normal obi at 300cm (9.8 ft) to 400cm (13 ft), but relatively wide at up to 70cm (28 in). Adult men wear the heko obi only at home but young boys can wear it in public, for example at a summer festival with a yukata. On men it is tied to sit just below the belly at the front and tied slightly higher on the waist at the back.
Kaku obi (stiff obi) is another obi used by men. A formal kaku obi is about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) wide and 400 centimetres (13 ft) long and depending on its material, colours and pattern is suited to any and all occasions from everyday wear to a close relative’s funeral. A kaku obi typically is made of hakata ori which has length-wise stripes and woven pattern based on Buddhist symbols and is worn tied in the simple kai-no-kuchi knot.
A Netsuke is an ornament suspended from the top of the obi and worn mostly by men. A pouch or container (remember, kimono have no pockets) can be attached with a cord and the netsuke stops the cord pulling out of the obi, securing the pouch that hangs below the obi.
Children’s Obi Types
Sanjaku obi (three foot long obi – but it is not the Imperial foot measurement of 12 inches) is a type of men’s obi. It is named after its length, three old Japanese feet (about 37.9 cm / 14.9 inches). The obi is sometimes called simply sanjaku. During the Edo period it was popular among the people as the obi for yukata-like kimonos because of its ease of use. According to some theories, the sanjaku obi originates from a scarf of the same length, which was folded and used as a sash. A sanjaku obi typically is shaped like a kaku obi, narrow and with short stitches. It is usually made from soft cotton-like cloth. Because of its shortness, the sanjaku obi is tied in the koma musubi, which is much like a square knot.
Shigoki obi was utility wear in the time of trailing kimonos, and was used to tie up the excess length when going out. Nowadays the shigoki obi’s only function is decorative. It is part of a 7-year-old girl’s outfit for celebration of shichi go san. Most often it is red or vermillion, sometimes bright green, with tasselled ends. You can see an woman wearing one on a white kimono in a photo on many of my women’s kimonos’ detail pages.
Heko obi A soft obi, like men’s heko obis, but in bright colours, usually tie died. Tied in a soft, simple bow at the back.
Tsuke obi (pre-tied, 2 part) is a popular obi used for children because of its ease of use. There are even formal tsuke obis available for children. These obis correspond to fukuro obis on the formality scale.
The picture below shows an extended obi makura, known as azuma sugata, also known as a karyou makura, which aids in tying a variety of obi knots, such as fukurasuzume knots (sparrow knots), like the ones you see below it.
Displaying an obi
Here are some very nice ways to display an obi, which are actually really simple to do.