Kimono in Modern Japan
Modern vs. Vintage Kimono Styles
The kimono has long been integral to our perception of Japan and Japanese culture. However, after World War II its popularity declined and now it tends to be reserved for traditional cultural events rather than for use as an everyday item of clothing.
Kimono tend to be worn at events such as:
- Weddings – family are obliged to wear kimono; guests are given the option
- Concerts – musicians tend to wear kimono and some of the audience might do too
- Festivals – certain festivals require a specific type of kimono to be worn
- Holidays – in holiday resorts (especially those that have hot springs), guests are encouraged to wear kimono in their rooms and sometimes around the rest of the resort
What is a Kimono?
A kimono is a traditional item of Japanese clothing – in fact, the literal translation is ‘thing to wear’. It’s a T-shaped, straight-lined robe with long, wide sleeves and an ankle-level hem. They are wrapped around the body with the left side over the right – unless you are dressing the dead for burial – then tied with a sash, known as an obi. This ensemble is traditionally completed with split-toe socks and sandals such as zori or geta.
Modern Kimono vs. Vintage Kimono Styles
As times have moved on, so too has the role of the kimono in terms of clothing and fashion. Kimono are simply far less practical for the younger generations of Japanese society to wear day in, day out. The traditional kimono outfit can comprise of up to 12 separate items, and often the wearer must be dressed by someone who has had special training. Formal kimono in Japan also tend to be expensive and must be looked after extremely carefully.
The purposes of modern kimono are much different to those of vintage kimono. There is still room for kimono in traditional ceremonies and festivals, but when it comes to everyday clothing, the Japanese have been heavily influenced by the West over recent years.
Japanese men rarely wear kimono nowadays except at formal occasions for which they are worn traditionally, such as tea ceremonies and weddings. Some older women continue to wear them on a daily basis, but this is becoming increasingly rare. Professional sumo wrestlers are often seen in kimono in public, as they have to wear traditional Japanese dress at all times.
Some young women continue to wear them for special occasions. Unmarried young women’s kimono often have extra-long sleeves to signify that they are not married, and tend to be more elaborate than those of older, married women.