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Kitsuke Vocabulary

July 23, 2009

So, now that we know how to wear a kimono, I think it’s important that we learn some basic vocabulary.  This way not only do we look like we know what we’re doing, we sound like it too!

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By kawaiiclare

In my last post, I might have used a lot of words that sounded like pure gibberish to some of you.   Maybe you’re wanting to learn more about kimono in general, but you find it’s hard to gather all the information you need at once.  Or, maybe you just need to brush up on your kitsuke vocab.  Whatever the case may be, you’re sure to find lots of information here.

The basics:

Kimono: should be obvious, but a kimono is a traditional Japanese garment, it can be made in many different styles and materials.

Kitsuke: the art of wearing a kimono.  No, you don’t just put it on and then tie a ribbon around your waist!  There is a technique you must follow when putting a kimono on.  If you’re going to do something: do it right.

Obi: the belt that ties around the kimono.  Like the kimono, there are many styles of obi.

Getting a little more advanced:

ohashori: waist fold for women’s kimono.

Juban: layer under the kimono.  This protects the kimono from your sweat and the oils from your skin.  It’s a major faux pas to wear a kimono without some form of juban.

Hakama: those poofy pants you see samurai wearing in old pictures.  Not only samurai wear them, of course.

Tabi: the “ninja socks.”  Essentially, socks where the big toe is separated from the other toes.

Can you identify everything this maiko is wearing?

Maiko a Gion, Kyoto (by Jomind)

by Jomind

Differences between Men’s and Women’s kimonos:
Sleeves on a man’s kimono will be sewn to the body of the kimono.  Men’s kimono should be long enough to come to about the ankle.  A woman’s kimono should be about as long as she is tall so that she can fold the extra fabric in at her waist.  Women’s sleeves are rounded at the outer corner, open on the inside, and hang free under the arm.  This is to allow easy arranging of the kimono.  Regardless of gender, the kimono is ALWAYS, ALWAYS wrapped left side over right.  The only time this is reversed is when the kimono is worn by a corpse.

Types of women’s kimono:
Yukata: any anime fan has seen the yukata.  A yukata is a cotton summer kimono.  Back in the day, everyone in Japan would wear these as bathrobes.  It is the most casual of the kimono, and is worn by both men and women.

Komon: a kimono with a small, repeating pattern.  Generally considered to be casual, but can be dressed up with the right obi and accessories.

Iromuji: a solid colored kimono which is either completely without pattern or has a subtle pattern.

Tsukesage: kimono which only has a pattern on the bottom, below the knee.  The pattern will be hidden when sitting on the knees in traditional Japanese fashion.  Not sure what the reason for this is… maybe to look more humble?

Houmongi: kimono generally with pattern across the sleeves, shoulder and bottom, and sometimes on the seams. Appropriate for formal occasions for both married and unmarried women.

Furisode: a bright, colorful kimono with long, swinging sleeves.  It is formal wear for young, unmarried women.

Tomosode: a formal kimono worn by married women.  It is generally black with a detailed, colorful pattern at the bottom.  Often mon can be found on the back.

Uchikake: A bride’s kimono with a padded bottom hem.  These are equally beautiful as they are expensive.

Bride’s furisode:  not to be confused with Uchikake.  A bride’s furisode is essentially a long, trailing furisode with a padded hem, worn by brides.  The photo below is of a bride’s furisode which is part of my collection.

Men’s kimono:

It used to be back in the day that men’s kimono could be extravegant like women’s, too.  Today, that’s not usually the case.  Of course, like women, men have yukata and more formal kimono as well.  What determines how formal a man’s kimono is are the color, material, and number of pieces a man wears on or with his kimono.  For example, a man wearing a yukata is less formal that a man wearing a pale blue kimono, who is less formal than a man wearing a dark blue kimono, who is less formal than a man wearing a dark blue kimono and haori, who is less formal than a man wearing a dark blue kimono with haori and hakama.  Got it?  Good!

Wedding couple (by zephyr_jiza)

by zephyr_jiza

Types of obi:
Hanhaba: Casual obi to be worn with a yukata.  It is only half as wide as other obis (thus the name).  A nicer hanhaba obi could be worn with a komon.  Look for embroidery, or gold or silver threads (gold or silver thread=automatically more formal).

Nagoya: Named for the city where it was first made, the Nagoya obi is easy to identify.  It has a narrower section at one end (it’s folded and sewn in half).  The narrow part is wrapped about the waist, while the wider part becomes the musubi.  Wear with komon, houmongi, iromuji, or tomesode.

Fukuro obi: An obi patterned on a little more than 50% of one side.  It has the same measurements as the maru obi, but because of the manner in which it is patterned, it is less expensive to make.  However, once worn, the fukuro obi looks like the maru obi and can be worn in formal situations.  Pretty smart, right?  Wear fukuro with furisode, tomesode, iromuji, houmongi, or komon kimono.

Maru obi: Most formal obi, patterned fully on both sides, with the biggest dimensions.  Due to the inconveniences of wearing it, the Maru obi is usually only worn to the most formal events.  Wear Maru obi with houmongi, tomesode, or furisode.

darari obi: a maiko’s obi

SHOW ME THE OBI !  A Maiko's Spectacular Fashion Statement in Old Kyoto, Japan (by Okinawa Soba)

by Okinawa Soba

Heko: a man’s obi.  It is a wider obi with a softer material.

Kaku: a thinner man’s obi with a stiffer material.

Misc and accessories:

Mon (aka kamon): family seals, usually round, often found on tomesode and other formal kimono

korin belt:  Usually an elastic belt with clips on either end.  It keeps the kimono in place when worn.

datejime: also keeps things in place.  Can be a type that ties or a type that has velcro on it (the latter is sometimes referred to as a “magic belt”).  Either one is really nice to have.

kimono slip:  a slip to wear under the kimono and juban

obi-makura: as the name implies, it’s a little pillow used in tying the obi.  There are a few different kinds.

obi-age: a scarf like piece of silk or other material, used to hide the obi-makura

obi-jime: decorative cord tied over the obi

obi-dome: a bead or brooch-like decoration put on the obi-jime.  Check out pictures of maiko to see some great obi-dome.

obi-ita: a stiff board that is worn to keep an obi flat and unwrinkled.

zori: these look like platform sandals and are to be worn with kimono, although I’ve seen them worn with Western style clothing as well

geta: wooden sandals with teeth, less formal than zori

okobo (aka pokkuri): maiko’s tall geta

Musubi: various obi knots

Here’s an example of a men’s musubi

Blue kimono (by Compound Eye - 1st book at Blurb now!)

by Compound Eye

There!  Did I miss anything?!

Is your brain is about to explode from informational overload?  I hope this post was helpful.  Feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2009 5:17 am

    Yay! Now peoples won’t be confused… unfortunately, I think I always will be. lol

    Very informative!

  2. malcontentcontent permalink*
    July 29, 2009 1:39 am

    Thanks. Maybe we’ll see less “kitsuke gone wrong” lol

  3. January 4, 2011 3:57 am

    I am a hapa kepani, or rather, I’m half-Japanese, and I was wondering when you said that all people wear it left over right….. except corpses
    You see, when I was younger my grandmother used to say
    “Remember, Mitsuko (My Japanese name, the one she called me by), Sensei told me, Kuruko (my sister, she took dancing lessons) told me, Fujima told me, women wear it left over right, and men go right over left.”
    So I was wondering where you heard that from?

    • malcontentcontent permalink*
      June 1, 2011 9:43 pm

      Well, I don’t know what your grandmother told you, but I was always told by my various Japanese friends and teachers that kimono are only worn left over right. You can look up any various number of English and Japanese sources to see this repeated any number of times. Here’s one good one that has a lot of information. Don’t forget the Immortal Geisha wiki, either. And if you can read Japanese, do a search for 着付け or 着付 or 着物.


  1. Kimono Coordination « Kawaiiclare's Blog

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