Forgotten Kimonos, Yakuza Hanten & Japanese Manners

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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So many kimonos I had forgotten I had.

When I first started buying kimonos, not realising that I was going to get addicted and buy so many, I didn’t think to keep all the information about each one, such as measurements, age, if that information was known, how much it cost me etc. I didn’t keep any information about the first few hundred garments I bought but eventually it dawned on me that I should, so I started to do it from 2006. Stupidly, I had been saving the information for some months before it then dawned on me that I should also keep the photos provided by the kimono seller.  It took me even longer to think of also printing the information for each and putting it in beside the kimono or whatever it was and yet longer to think to add one of the photos to that printed slip, so I could see what was in the bag without having remove it and unfold it to see that or try to remember what it looked like from just the text description. This means that, on my computer, I have a folder for each year, each containing 12 folders for the months, each containing a folder for virtually every days of the month, each containing numerous folders with information about a garments I bought on that day.  There are thousands of these folders now.

I was searching through those folders recently, way back in the 2006 and 2007 ones, trying to find something specific. Idon’t think I did track it down but I did see many kimonos that I had long forgotten I bought that have been packed away in boxes upstairs since I got them. I have no idea which boxes they are in, sop no idea when I might come across the actual kimonos and add them to my website.

Here are a few of the ones that caught my eye as I searched through those folders.

Colourful Peacock Tomesode Kimono

colourful peacock tomesode

Close up detail

colourful peacock tomesode detail

He may actually be a phoenix but, judging by his body feathers, I think he is a peacock. They tend to be very similarly drawn, with long tail feathers with the ‘eye’ on them.


Gold & Silver Peacock Tomesode Kimono

gold and silver peacock

Detail of the embroidered peacock. The areas that look blue are actually silver.

embroidered peacock detail

This one is definitely a peacock


Spectacular Ships Tomesode Kimono

big ship kimono

Detail of the ship

big ship detail


Cute Print Kimono

This next kimono is not in the boxes, it is one I gave my daughter, but I came across these pictures during my search. It is a kimono in a colour and pattern I have never managed to find again. The pattern, which, at a glance, I initially thought was stylised bunnies, is actually pokkuri (high soled, wooden geta shoes worn by girls and maiko, sometimes called okobo or koppori). The only other time I saw this same design it was on a light blue backgound and on a kimono worn by a maiko (trainee geisha). This is one of my daughter’s and my favourite kimonos. It is a lovely silk crepe.

green zori kimono

Detail of the design

green geta kimono detail


I also found these pictures of a baby boy’s kimono, from the 1950s, that I have kept for myself. It has a very American theme, which was popular in Japan back then, with a cute Wild West design, with Cowboys & Indians (nowadays called Native Americans). It is quite a collectable one.

cowboy kids 1

Details of the design

cowboy kids 2

cowboy kids 3

cowboy kids 4

The back of the kimono

cowboy kids 5


Shimizu No Jirocho Hanten

This next item isn’t one of mine. I couldn’t afford this one. It is a hanten jacket but what makes it unusual is the design on it is that of  Shimizu No Jirocho (1830 – 1893), who was a Japanese gangster (Yakuza). Born in Shizuoka, the adopted son of his uncle Jirohachi Yamamoto, who was a komedonya (middleman-merchant dealing in rice). Although his real name was Chogoro Yamamoto, he was called Jirocho,which was short for Jirohachi’s Chogoro. He took over the komedonya after his uncle’s death but soon turned into a gambler. He built up his following and extended his influence, fighting over territories relating to the Fuji River and maritime transport. In the first year of the Meiji Era (1868), he was appointed Dochutansakugata by the Government-General of the Eastern Expedition. In the same year, the warship Kanrin-maru, of the old Edo Shogunate, was attacked by new government troops while lying at anchor in the Shimizu harbor. Jirocho treated and buried the dead with sincere condolence and became acquainted with Tetsutaro Yamaoka, Takeaki Enomoto and others. After the Meiji Restoration, he engaged in development around the foot of Mt. Fuji and marine transportation business.

The birds on it are chidori (plovers), which tend to flock over the seashore and river beds, and the mon (crests) are katabami (wood sorrel). Below the text there are rolling waves.


A photogtaph of Shimizu No Jirocho

Shimizu No Jirocho photo


I like all sorts of vintage things, not just Japanese ones, and I recently went through old clothes of mine with my daughter. Things I used to wear 20 years ago. She went home with the last of my 1950s dresses, having got most of my other vintage clothes some time back, and among them I found a 1980s dress I used to wear that I had put vintage buttons on. Neither of us wanted the dress, so I removed the buttons; I have no idea what they will be put on next. They are made of painted wood, with metal loops on the back, and are in the shape of black gloves with a light blue edge to the cuffs. They used to be my mother’s when she was young (she’s now 91) but she can’t recall where or when she got them. They always made me think of Schiaparelli (1890–1973) and her Surrealists inspired designs. I think Schiaparelli used glove shaped buttons. I particularly remember her fabulous shoe shaped hat and her Lobster Dress, with the lobster on the sash painted by Dali. Here is a photo of my buttons.

vintage hand buttons


A television show I particularly like is The Big Bang Theory. Every so often I have noticed that the character Penny wears trousers that look as though they have been made from vintage kimonos. I spent absolutely ages trying to get a screenshot of her wearing some. The best I could manage was the one below.


The Big Bang Theory Penny


In Japan, it ‘s considered very rude to talk on a phone, play noisy digital games, eat or drink on public transport. It is also considered very rude to so those first two things in a cafe or restaurant and very ill mannered to talk on a mobile phone or to eat or drink when walking in the street. The Japanese are very well mannered and considerate people and abide by this public etiquette. There are exceptions to the no eating rule, though; on long distance trains one can eat and the stations even sell special bento box meals for these journeys. The sign below shows two examples of what not to do – play a noisy game or eat.

transport etiquette




Furoshiki, Fukusa & Oriental Eyes

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Japanese Furoshiki – the multifunctional cloth
Furoshiki are Japanese wrapping cloths. Typically, the Japanese tie these cloths in a variety of very clever ways to wrap gifts and make bags and suitcases. When it comes to folding and tying, no one does it better than the Japanese.

The 2 pictures below are from an instructional video clip here


You can see how to tie a bag like the one below in the Kakefuda Kyoto Famous Furoshiki Store’s  instructional video clip here


Got a laptop like the one below to wrap or something the same shape? Check out the instructional video clip here

You can find those clips and more here.


For printed instructions, check  out the following pictures. Click them for enlargements, which open in a new window…



























Here are some of my furoshiki

Two large, silk furoshiki



Another item the Japanese use to cover gifts is the fukusa, like the ones shown below. Fukusa are also used at tea ceremonies. Traditionally in Japan, gifts were placed in a box or on a wooden or lacquered tray, over which a fukusa was draped. The choice of a fukusa appropriate to the occasion was an important part of the gift-giving ritual. The practice of covering a gift became widespread during the Edo or Tokugawa period (1615–1867).

Fukusa, unlike furoshiki, do not get tied, they are just laid over the item. The one above, on the left, is woven from gold lacquer coated thread, with a design of oshidori (madarin ducks) and ume (plum blossom) and the tassels are in the form of minokame (turtles with a trail of algae behind them). The type on the right is often given with wedding gifts; the kanji on it, called kotobuki, can be translated both as congratulations and as longevity.

The antique silk fukusa above has fabulous, deeply couched, golden embroidery in the centre, in the form of a mon (crest); this mon is sasa (bamboo). This will have been an extremely expensive fukusa when new.


The fukusa above has flying cranes, which represent longevity and loyalty.


These fukusa are in the form of wallets, the grey one is given to someone in mouring and the golden one would be given as a wedding gift. They would be given with money in them.


You also get fukusa like the one shown in the picture above, with a little bone or plastic button, which often come complete with a lacquered tray inside. You sometimes see these ones with Buddhist scripture all over them.


Oriental Eyes

I absolutely love the Japanese eyes, with their lovely almond shape and single eyelid but many Japanese people prefer the oxidental eyes with the double eyelid. They feel it makes the eyes look bigger. Sadly, this has led to many having cosmetic surgery to give them double eyelids that crease in the middle like oxidental ones, which also tends to reduce the lovely almond shape. A less drastic solution is the one you see below in the video clip, showing some fluid that is applied to the lower part of the eyelid, making it slightly rigid when it dries, forcing it to crease when the eye opens and therefore look like double eyelids. It gives the folding eyelid without destroying the lovely almond shape and it is not permanent. Assuming the stuff being applied is harmless, I hope this catches on more than cosmetic surgery, as it means they don’t lose their beautiful oriental eyes and can choose to go back to their natural look at any time. I’m not anti cosmetic surgery at all, I just love oriental eyes and envy those with them and I hate to think of anyone with them permanently destroying their own natural eye appearance.



Snow… man, robot & squirrel… snow play!

wafuku new year

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Christmas has passed and New Year beckons.

I loved having snow thick on the ground here on Christmas day, it’s been so long since we had a white Christmas. My daughter came home to spend Christmas here and, even at 36 years old, was really excited by the snow.

On Christmas day we started making a snow man, by 27 December we had built a snowman, called Lyle, a Kid Robot and a snow squirrel and were quite exhausted by it.

In the photos below, you can get an idea of the snowy conditions and the outcome of all our snow play. The first shows my daughter in part of the back garden, the second shows the snow topped, permanent sculpture there, a stylised mule called Mr Lamb.

In next few photos you can see us making the snowman. He got named Lyle because my daughter decided to add a quiff and he suddenly looked a bit like Lyle Lovett. We used some ash from the log fire in the house to outline his hair a touch. He was built near the front of property, to be seen through the kitchen window

Next was Kid Robot, built on the lawn called the washing green.

It was started in daylight but time flies when carving a snow figure and we continued to work after dark, relying on a little light from the house reflecting off snow. Most of the light in the photos below is from the camera flash.

Next his chin was bulked out a bit, his mohican adjusted and his eyes worked on but he got crumbly towards the end of his construction, so we stopped at that and didn’t add the ear discs for fear of the head breaking off (again).

We then moved to the top back lawn, to make the next and final thing, before it got too dark and the snow got too icy to manipulate. The final one we made was a snow squirrel, because we like watching the squirrels scampering about on that lawn. By then it was pretty dark and the snow had thawed enough to have dropped off the trees but snow still lay over the ground and had got quite icy on the surface, so it was hard to work. It’s still there and I’d like to make some adjustments to it but it’s now so frozen and the snow on the ground is powdery below a crisp frozen layer and none of that lends itself to making changes to the squirrel, so I’ll leave it alone now

The picture below, printed on a man’s, silk juban kimono, shows geisha building snowmen. Notice the extremely high geta they have on their feet, to raise them out of the snow.


A happy New Year to you all.

Mon and Kamon – Japanese Crests – Japanese Kimonos

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Japanese Mon & Kamon

Mon means crest and kamon means family crest. The origin of the Japanese family mon goes back to the eleventh century. Each of the high ranking officers of the day began using a specific textile designs on their most formal wear, to be worn at the Imperial Court by all courtiers. Then they started having them on their carriages as well. The designs steadily became more refined and elegant. These emblems later became the formal mon (crests) we know now and were always put on formal garments.

When the Heian period ended and the samurai warrior class took over the government, at the end of the twelfth century, the warriors used their own emblems on their banners, flags, weapons and hanging screens to identify their camps and headquarters in the time of war. The warriors, who recognized that they were less cultured than the nobles, copied with admiration what the courtiers did

When the roll of fabric is dyed for a kimono that will have mon on it, discs of fabric are masked with rice paste, to be left undyed and white, the mon design (chosen by the person having the kimono made) is then stencilled onto the white disc. There is always a seam at the centre back of the kimono, so the roll of kimono fabric has half circles left in the correct place at the edges so that, when sewn together, it forms a disc for the mon at the centre back. Kimono fabric is produced in rolls (bolts) and every roll for a man’s kimono is exactly the same size, every roll of women’s kimono silk is the same size (and longer than for a man’s one), every roll of haori silk is the same size etc., so any pattern or mon disc on the garment is printed or masked out on the roll at exactly the right place for when it is cut out. This is why these garments vary very little in size; any slight variation in size is due only to the amount of seam allowance when sewn. They have no darts or other shaping of any kind, everything is rectangular.

A mon makes a garment a formal one, suitable for formal occasions. It can have one, three or five mon; the more mon it has, the more formal the occasion it is deemed suitable for. Garments with mon are divded into three types: itsutsu mon (5 mon), mitsu mon (3 mon) and hitotsu mon (1 mon).

There are different styles of mon too. In the picture below, showing three variations of icho (ginko) mon, you can see three versions of a the mon: hinata – full sun (left), kage – shadow (middle), and nakakage – mid shadow (right). The more subtle versions are for slightly less formal occasions. There are also embroidered mon, called nui mon.

A family may choose a mon that is associated with their family (a family mon is called a kamon) or just opt for one they like instead. They are seen on all sorts of items in Japan: clothing, signs, boxes, ceramics, banners etc.

Women are not obliged to adopt their husbands’ family mon, they may wear their maiden mons, called onna mon. Below you can see mon on two silk, women’s tomesode kimonos; one kimono with an oil painting of mountains and one with an embroidered winter scene.

There are hundreds symbols used in mon and many variations of each. Some popular emblems are sasa (bamboo) leaves, yotsume (4 eyes, a mon of four diamond shapes), tsuta (ivy), kiri (paulownia), tachibana (citrus/mandarin), ageha (butterfly), ume (plum blossom), katabami (wood sorrel/oxalis/clover), mokku (gourd), papaya slice, hanabishi (diamond flower), sensu (folding fans), tsuru (cranes), fuji (wisteria) and myouga (Japanese ginger).

Over the centuries many new mon emblems have been developed and many variations designed of old ones

The most frequently seen (by me, at least, and I have seen thousands of kimonos) are ivy, plum blossom, ginger, butterfly and, especially, paulownia. You can see a paulownia mon on pink in a photo above and, below, some information about paulownia in Japanese mythology.

The mon in the picture below is an interesting one; it is a Japanese mafia mon, worn at induction ceremonies.


Kiri (paulownia): A deciduous tree, native to eastern Asia. In Japanese myths it is said to have the only branches phoenix will land on. It is very popular in traditional Japanese art, particularly textile art where it is often seen on beautiful women’s kimonos and a very popular mon (crest) motif. It is also the flower symbol of is the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan. Paulownia is also known as foxglove tree and princess tree.

An exquisite, antique, itsutsu mon tomesode kimono, with hand applied textile art showing treasure ship festival floats and busy people


A hitotsu mon

Men’s Japanese Kimono Outfit

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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The full, formal, men’s wafuku outfit can be seen below. The full length kimono is worn tucked inside the hakama. Over the top, he wears a haori kimono jacket. Haori are fastened with a haori himo, which is hooked onto the inner edges of the haori. Men’s himo should not be untied, as they are very complex to re-tie, one simply unhooks the himo at one side to open the jacket. A himo is not essential for more casual wear of a haori kimono jacket. Himo are bought separately and moved from one haori to another. The white one in the picture is a very formal himo; for more casual wear, one would wear a smaller, simpler one, usually of a more muted colour.

One of the main differences between men’s and women’s kimonos is the sleeves. The sleeves of women’s are unattached from the body for over half their depth and are open at the inner edge, not sewn closed, whereas men’s kimono sleeves are attached either all the way down or with just an inch or so unattached at the body edge. Women’s sleeves have to be free from the body for a greater depth because they wear such a deep obi and the sleeve must not get in the way of it, so the sleeve hangs free of the body for much of its depth. Men’s obis are relatively narrow, so the deep sleeves can be attached much further down the body.

Another notable difference between men’s and women’s kimonos is the length; women’s kimonos are extra long, as they are worn with a large, length adjusting fold-over at the waist, held in place with a koshi himo tie, whereas men’s kimonos are worn without the length adjusting fold at the waist.

Setta sandals have thong toes and are worn with tabi socks.

Men’s kimonos are not always worn with hakama and haori, the picture above shows the full outfit for formal occasions. The kimono, worn underneath the hakama and haori, is held closed with a kaku obi, which is also used to help keep the hakama up.

Mens’ kimonos are usually very subdued in pattern and colour, although their under kimonos (jubans) and haori linings are often striking but the outerwear kimonos are usually muted in colour and design. The reason men no longer wear very brightly coloured and very decoratively patterned outer kimonos is that, way back, rich merchants started wearing extremely ornate, expensive kimonos, often more expensive and fancy than nobles or those of the samurai class could afford, so a law was passed stating that only nobles and samurai class could wear fancy outer kimonos, all other men had to wear only muted ones (unless worn for theatrical purposes such as dance performance or weddings etc). They took to putting wonderful textile art on their juban underwear kimonos and on haori kimono jacket linings, which became known as hidden beauty, since it didn’t show on the outside, and the merchant classes and commoners started to feel superior about that, it seemed more classy than the ostentatious garments of garish, vivid colours and numerous fancy brocades that the nobles and samurai class continued to wear.

Here’s a link to How to put on a man’s haori and attach and tie a man’s haori himo. Women’s himo are tied differently, you can see how to tie a woman’s haori himo here