Get Creative – Dress Up Your Obi

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Dress up your obi.

The traditional styles of wearing obis will always be correct but nowadays some kimono wearers are adding a touch of their own style to their obi wearing. They are varying the rear knots more but here I will concentrate on just the fronts. This first picture, of three women, shows the most traditional way to wear one’s obi, obiage and obijime.

The obijime (central cord) and obiage (obi scarf around the top of the obi sash) are not only decorative, they help hold the rear obi knot in place. Until recently, really the only way this look was decorated was by the addition of an obidome, a piece of jewellery that the obijime was threaded through and which sat at the centre front (or slightly off centre front) of the obi sash, instead of a knot in the obijime; the obijime knot is hidden inside the rear obi’s rear knot when an obidome is worn. See an example below.

Modern variations can be seen in the photo below, where the left image shows a little doll and the right shows customised buttons on the obijime.

Over recent years I have seen variations on how the obiage (the soft obi scarf tied round the top of the obi sash) is worn; sometimes tucked into the collar edges of the kimono, instead of tied in the customary centre knot, and, more recently, with a shaped board behind the obi sash, showing above it, with the obiage placed over it to take on the board’s shape, as you can see in the photo below. The three images show, left – folded & tucked obiage instead of tied, middle – obiage shaped over a board and, right – an obiage tucked into the kimono collar edges.

Obijime (obi cord) are usually tied at centre front, in a single knot, with the ends pulled round to the sides and tucked in. Double knots have also become popular, as you can see in two in the picture above, but some women are being much more adventurous with their obijime, obiage and obidome. See a selection of creative examples below.
The girl in pink has various modern twists to her obi wearing; she wears two obijime, one twisted around the other, her obiage is half one colour and half another and not tied at the ends, just tucked in, and above it she has a band of green fabric with two rows of ric-rac braid on top of  it.

The next one has the obiage tied in an offset bow and pearls wound around the obijime, which is worn without the customary knot at the front.

Next shows another with a bow tied obiage and a variation on the obijime positioning.

The girl, below, in the cream kimono has fastened her obiage rather differently and her obijime is tied in an ornate, loopy knot at one side.

This next young lady (kimono styling by Yumi Yamamoto) is wearing a lovely antique kimono, with a flower in the centre of her obi and a band of lace below the obi sash. Lace around obis has become very popular these days. She has another touch that is seen more and more these days, a band of stiffened fabric showing above the obi sash, below the obiage. Note too the lace edge to her han eri (juban under-kimono’s collar), showing at the neck, another recent fad.

The girl below is wearing a katamigawari kimono (meaning half and half, as it is half green floral and half red, like halves of two different kimonos), over which she has an obi with two added bands of lace, a belt with a bow around the centre instead of an obijime and a decorative tassel. (kimono styling by Yumi Yamamoto)

The following picture below shows the use of lace to cover the ohashori (the length shortening fold-over at the waist of the kimono), which may be done if the kimono is too short to allow the ohashidori to show the correct amount below the obi. The obiage hasn’t been tied around the top of the obi yet. The obi looks a touch pulled in by the obijime round it, this can be solved by putting an obi ita (a special stiffening board, sometimes called a mae ita) behind the sash to keep it rigid.

The obis below have, on the left, a belt with a little bow as the obijime and, on the right, a chain with little trinkets as the obijime. I absolutely love that cherries kimono and the haori worn over it is quite unusual, being knitted and lacy. I would just about give my right arm to have one of those mannequins. (kimono styling by Yumi Yamamoto)

The obi below has lace representing the obiage.

The obijime below is done in a very creative way. It’s simple but very effective.

The following two pictures show 4 kimonos worn very stylishly. The red furisode kimono, emblazoned with cranes, has a pretty white shigoki worn below the obi and the blue one, with the stylised pine pattern, has a red, smooth obiage worn below the obi sash, as well as a black obiage at the top of it.

The purple one shown below has a half collar of lace plus a nice bow and drop on the obijime. The red kimono is worn with a lovely striped shigoki below the obi.

The strip of photos below isn’t as clear as I’d have liked but you can see the obi arrangement and the lace jabot at the neck of the kimono. The frilly jabot is simply tied round the neck of the kimono with a thin, white cord. She also has an interesting, very contemporary, felt hat.

Here’s a nice one, from Tokyo Fashion. See how ornate that obijime is.

Here is an obi with a black taffeta ruffle and a band of maribu feather on an antique kimono. I love the black and white striped han-eri on the juban beneath the kimono and the red and black date-eri on the kimono’s collar edge.

Next, two obiage tied in bows above the sash, an obidome on the obijime and a pink shigoki below the obi.

Another view of the one above, without the blue tint to the photo.

Ok, the next one is not a human but this cat is rather cute and the bunny obidome on the obijime is delightul.

The next two photos, from a designer in Japan, show kimonos that have been shortened, with the cut off fabric made into a skirt and lots of lace and ruffle edges added to the outfit plus an obi with a chiffon band around it and an informally bowed pair of obijime, giving a young, stylish look that is unmistakenly Japanese, with lots of tradition in a very contemporary style outfit. Note, in the first of the photos,  the use of Doc Martin style boots along with a very traditional, white fur kimono shawl on a stand at the bottom.

Next you can see a similar kimono outfit to the black floral kimono above, worn with a organdie sash, with a big flower at the front of the obi and a pretty organdie creation at the back.

Another way to be creative with your obi is to customise the obi itself. This is not a new idea. Below you can see three antique obis that have been customised. The one on the left has hand embroidered kotoji (the bridges that hold up the strings on a Japanese harp called a koto) and the other two are hand painted in oil paints, the purple one with exquisite roses (which are not native to Japan and considered exotic) and the black one with a vase of roses and two cats.

This tradition of customising obis continues and you can see some excellent examples below, with contemporary designs. This black one, by Yield-For-Kimono, is beautifully stencilled with a pair of headphones on the rear and a boombox on the front, both joined by a cable. I especially like the unexpected choice of image for an obi. Brilliant! It turns a mofuku (mourning) obi into one that can now be worn anytime and is no longer confined to use when in mourning.

She is auctioning this wonderful obi and some kimonos on eBay, with all the money going to the Japan relief fund! You can see the kimonos modelled at Yield-For-Kimono and bid for each ensemble on eBay at Red Kimono Ensemble and at Black & Beige Kimono Ensemble (those eBay links may be gone now)

The red obi has appliqued cats on the front of the sash and on the centre of the rear bow knot. Tying the obijime in a casual bow is unusual too.

The obi in the next photo is worn with the obijime and obiage the traditional way but the addition of a red shigoki sash below the obi is particularly pretty.

So, when wearing your kimono outfit, you can bend the rules if you are brave and strict tradition isn’t required. Consider being creative and original and dress up your obi in any way you desire.




  1. Oh wow, I am LOVING all the different ways of customing obi here! I especially love the lace obi trend, and the doll obidome. I’m really into this style of kimono-wearing.

    And how surprising to see a picture of my stenciled headphone obi here lol! I plan on putting a boombox on the front, with a stenciled cord wrapping around and attaching to the bottom of the headphones 🙂

    1. I hadn’t realised that obi was yours. I hope it is ok that I added it; if it isn’t, let me know and I will remove it. I came across it in an image search. I love it. What an excellent choice of graphic. I’d love to see the rest when you complete it. I have credited it to you in the blog post, now I know whose it is. If there is a name I should use instead of Yield-For-Kimono, let me know.

  2. I thought you might like to know, I have recently completed stenciling this obi, and it is now up for sale at ebay, with 100% of the money being donated to relief efforts in Japan.

    1. I have just seen the obi on your blog. It’s fabulous. I will add an ebay link to your kimono ensembles, on my blog by your obi picture, and add the fact that you are auctioning it for charity.
      I love the photos at Yield-For-Kimono that you took of you and your friend; they’re great.
      I am going to give a percentage of profit made over the next couple of months to Japanese relief efforts too. What they have and still are enduring is so awful.

      1. Thank you very much for the link (and the compliment)! Me and my friend had a great time coordinating the outfits, especially since we knew it was going to be for such a good cause.

        I want to thank you for donating part of your profits to Japan. I know of several others who are also auctioning kimono or donating. I hope that together we can raise some good money to send towards the relief efforts. They need everything that they can get right now.

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