Saturday, 8 May 2010

Starting Summer

Summer starts in the world of wafuku, kimono, on June 1st. It matters not what whimsy the weather is involved with, it starts on June 1st. After the coldest April for 41 years, including a decent snowfall after the cherry blossoms, we are suddenly up in the high 20s (centigrade) after only one week of May. It is time for koromogai. This means the packing away of the winter wardrobe and the airing of the summer one. For most of us, when its up near 30 degrees, a lined kimono, with lined underwear, (that makes 4 layers, and 8 at the front where everything is double), not to mention the under underwear, and the obi and all its accompanying accessories, is a little too much like a sauna for comfort. So from June 1st, we may wear an unlined kimono with unlined underwear. The silk may be thinner, too. Sha and akashi silk are two examples, though a fine crepe is also good. For July and August, ro, sha, cotton or linen may be worn. Many women, prefering to bend the rules a little rather than ruin their kimono with sweat, don summer wear sometime in May. This makes good sense because even summer kimono is hot. Japanese summer makes one want to remove layers, as much as possible.

The art of summer kimono is about faking cool. One should look cool as a cucumber, in order to make the people around you feel cool. It is no good boiling and steaming, with a bright red face and trickles on your neck. You literally have to play it cool, fake it, for your fellows. Because of this logic the designs and colours on summer kimono tend to be muted, even dull. Small wild flowers, wading or sea birds, fish and waves or flowing water are frequent motifs, designed for the cool you. Though a plum or pink might be seen, a bright red summer kimono I have never encountered.

Here are a selection from my collection. A wading stork on an antique black ro, and sea birds on a woven kimono from Okinawa. Vines and lilies on antique kimono, both ro, and iris on a cotton yukata. There are two obi, one pale blue with squares of summer flowers, and an antique one which is reversible black and white, with cartwheels in a swamp. Can they trick the gazer into a cool oasis?


  1. Would the reversable black and white obi be a chuya or an odori obi? I personally have not seen such a dramatic reversable obi such as this one for everyday wear.

  2. This obi is narrower than the regular width. I think it is a kind of chuya obi, but I think it is made out of two kimono. in the meiji period they often wore a black one over a white one with the same design. otsui. The reason I say this is that the designs do not come where you would expect them to come, so you have to tie it in a very strange way, in order to get the design to show at the front and on the taiko section. I don't know much about dance, so I do not know if there are and differences in the placing of the pattern, but I do not think that this was a purpose made obi. I think it is converted kimono.