Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Mameshiba Style

For those unfamiliar with Mameshiba, they have their own website (easily found through Google) and people have posted the videos on YouTube as well. Basically, Mameshiba are little beans (mame) with dog (shiba) faces....or dogs that looks like beans, either way...and they pop up at random times to tell you trivia (mamechishiki). I find them adorable. Because of this, many people find ME odd :p

Anyway, odd or not, Merry Christmas, Merry Yule, Happy Hanukkah (a bit late I'm afraid), Happy Kwanzaa, and general greetings for a wonderful holiday season to everyone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Friday Photo (a bit early!): Kanzashi Comparison

I made this photo nice and bit in the hopes that you could read the rule easily.

Since I'm going to be away this weekend for Thanksgiving I thought I would post the Friday Photo early.

On the left in this picture you see my largest formal non-maiko kanzashi, and on the right you see my sakkou kanzashi. For the record, I have other formal non-maiko kanzashi that are smaller than this one, and my other full-sized maiko kanzashi (my firework kanzashi) is about the same size as the sakkou one. The size difference is HUGE -- the maiko kanzashi is almost a solid three inches larger in diameter than the non-maiko kanzashi. To me they never really look that huge on maiko when I see pictures of real maiko wearing them...I think it's the hair, really. Maiko hair is just so huge the kanzashi doesn't look that big in comparison.

Anyway, I just thought that was kind of a fun picture. So if you're thinking of dressing as a maiko for Halloween or cosplay or just for fun, remember: The bigger the kanzashi the better, especially if you're wearing an authentic maiko hairstyle.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Friday Photo (a bit late): Sakkou Kanzashi

Folks who follow the maiko world got a couple of eyefuls of this kanzashi back in late 2009-early 2010, since this was the kanzashi worn by several of the maiko who debuted as geiko during that time -- including the famous Kikuyu and my personal favorite, Mamechiho.

For folks who don't follow the maiko and geiko world, sakkou is a special hairstyle worn by young maiko in the weeks leading up to their change from maiko to full geiko (geisha). Maiko typically wear kanzashi that vary according to season, with a new kanzashi set each month. But with sakkou they typically wear special kanzashi that aren't in a particularly seasonal design. Many sakkou kanzashi feature one or more cranes.

This particular kanzashi was on sale at Kazurasei when I went to Kyoto with my parents in December 2009. I had seen pictures of Kikuyu and Mamechiho wearing it and really wanted to get a look at one up close, maybe even buy one...and I did! The lady in the shop that day was pretty surprised that I recognized the kanzashi and knew the names of some of the people who had worn that style. Sadly, this particular kanzashi never got worn by a maiko, but it is still one of the style in use that year. I don't suppose anyone knows the name of any other maiko who wore this style?

Monday, November 14, 2011

We're still here.

Even though I haven't posted for over a month, I am in fact still here. I have just been super-busy lately dealing with a combination of graduate school, personal/family issues, and preparing to move back to the mainland soon. Hopefully I will be able to start posting for real again soon, maybe even this week. In the meantime, there's plenty to browse here, and also feel free to leave me comments on any posts. I'll answer questions ASAP if anyone has any to ask.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (part 4B)

This is part 4B of my series on dressing as a geisha or maiko for Halloween (or any other costume-y occasion) and will wrap up the bit of the series dealing with substitutes for authentic items. You may also be interested in reading parts 1, 2, 3A, 3B, and 4A.

  • Juban SUBSTITUTES: It’s kind of hard to substitute something for a juban. They’re rather essential parts of the ensemble, after all. If you can sew you might be able to make your own from scratch or you might be able to alter a premade juban to work properly. The most important thing is that the sleeves and the skirt from at least the knees down are the proper colors.
  • Footwear SUBSTITUTES: Again, this is something for which there really isn’t a good substitute. That said, zori and tabi are kind of like han eri in that they are a regular part of kitsuke for anyone who practices it, so decent zori and tabi are easy to find. You can even get okobo on eBay. Fortunately you can “downgrade” into a cheaper category for footwear, i.e. maiko can wear zori instead of okobo and geisha can wear geta instead of zori. However, for the most authentic look, you really can’t get away with substituting something like flip-flops for zori. Tabi are also hard to substitute, though you may be able to use the less-formal stretch tabi instead of the super-formal and therefore somewhat more expensive variety. Google searches for both split-toe socks and tabi socks turned up results for both traditional Japanese tabi and Western socks with a tabi-style split toe. If you go the sock route, just make sure you only get the kind with a split between the big toe and the rest of the toe, not the kind that have separate little spaces for each toe.
  • Kanzashi SUBSTITUTES: If you’re going for the geisha look, you might not even need a substitute, since nice and inexpensive combs are easy to obtain. If you do decide to try using a substitute, look for a larger comb that isn’t drowning in rhinestones. The maiko look is going to be much harder to find substitutes for, especially if you want an authentic look and especially if you want to remain seasonal. Part of this is because kanzashi for regular people aren’t always meant to be seasonal, and part of this is because maiko kanzashi are HUGE and even the largest meant for regular people aren’t anywhere near as big. That said, you could in fact substitute kanzashi appropriate for a furisode if you needed to (see, for example, many of the kanzashi on Maya Kanzashi). A large brooch might work well as a substitute for a kanoko dome. Just make sure you get a really really big one. You will also need a silver ougi kanzashi, which might be hard to find or make a substitute for, as well as some red shibori fabric or a reasonable substitute for use in the hair style. There will be slight variations on this if you should choose a style like ofuku or sakkou instead, but since wareshinobu is probably the easiest to fake I’ll leave it at that for now. Please note that maiko sometimes wear tortoise shell kanzashi for special events like their misedashi or Hassaku. Making substitutes for this look would be tough. If you are particularly crafty and use to working with things like resin you might be able to make your own. Wedding kanzashi sets might also provide a good (if expensive) substitute.
  • Wig SUBSTITUTES: If you can’t or don’t want to buy one, your only other real option is to make your own. You can find instructions on how to do wareshinobu or takashimada around the internet. Consider checking someplace like Immortal Geisha for some directions. In some ways looking for a wig substitute for a maiko might wind up making you more authentic, since you can get a friend to help style your natural hair just like a real maiko instead of using a wig. You should be aware that wigs like this one or this one that basically look like a giant bun or some kind of Gibson Girl-esque style will not work for a proper maiko or geisha look.
  • Makeup SUBSTITUTES: Your goal is to find something that will be opaque and matte without cracking or flaking. I have heard good things about Ben Nye and Mehron stage makeup for this purpose. You may be able to substitute regular Western cosmetics for some things, like colorfast lipsticks and certain blushes (for the pink), and things like black eyeliner and mascara are regular parts of geisha and maiko makeup anyway. If you want an even more complete list of things that make good substitutes, this thread on Immortal Geisha explains it all much better than I ever could.
  • Accessory SUBSTITUTES: Again, this category is hard to substitute. Either you have a paper umbrella/parasol or you don’t. You have a white and red uchiwa or you don’t. The easiest substitution you can make is using a decorative fan in place of maiogi (dancing fan). You should be aware that buying a decorative fan instead of a maiogi isn’t really a great way to save money, though -- both types of fans average around $50 and it is possible to find cheaper or more expensive versions of both. If you’re going to spend the money it seems to me like you would be better off just getting the maiogi. That said, you might be able to find plain white “blank” fans (of either the decorative or maiogi variety) to decorate on your own, or if you want to try your hand at fan making you might be able to make a decent maiogi or uchiwa yourself. Note that a regular folding fan (sensu) of the kind used to fan yourself in hot weather really doesn’t work as a substitute in this case. Also note that, like I mentioned in part 3B, these items are nice to have but are not required for your costume.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (part 4A)

Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3A, and Part 3B.

Today, we will start discussing where to find or how to make substitutes for the various parts of a geisha or maiko costume. Since this too turned into a monster post, I will be dividing it into two parts like I did with Part 3 on buying authentic items. Today's part 4A will include substitutions for Hikizuri, Obi, Obi Age, Obi Jime, Obi Dome, and Han Eri.

4) Make or Buy Reasonable Substitutes
  • Hikizuri SUBSTITUTES: If you can’t find an authentic hikizuri or susohiki that suits your taste and budget, consider using a substitute. This is something most of the maiko henshin (maiko dress-up) studios do. Though it definitely will not produce a 100% authentic look, you may be able to substitute a non-hikizuri for your costume. For maiko, look for longer furisode with an all-over pattern or a pattern that is concentrated along the hem. Antique furisode are actually great for this sort of thing, but may not be long enough for a hikizuri look, especially on a modern body (not to mention that they might be fragile and/or in bad shape). If you are confident in your sewing abilities you can do what the henshin studios often do, and add some fabric to the body of the furisode to make it longer. You would do this by taking the piece apart at the torso seam (the one that runs parallel to the shoulders and is usually hidden by the obi), adding extra fabric, and sewing the kimono back together. The extra fabric thus winds up being at your waist, in the area that would normally be hidden by an obi. You might also consider adding shoulder and sleeve tucks. However, if you aren’t confident in your sewing abilities, I suggest skipping these alterations rather than running the risk of ruining a perfectly good kimono. It is often easy to find hikizuri/hikifurisode meant for weddings. While these will definitely be long enough and may also feature padded hems or false layers at the skirt, which are great for a fall or winter look, they tend to be way too gaudy for maiko kimono. For a geisha look, any kimono more formal than a komon will do, especially a tsukesage, houmongi, or tomesode. Kurotomesode (tomesode with a black base) are particularly striking.
  • Obi SUBSTITUTES: For maiko, your best bet is probably a maru obi, and your next best bet is a fukuro obi. Maru obi tend to be longer though, and that will help you imitate the darari obi look. For a geisha look, any obi that can tied in the otaiko musubi will work. A fukuro obi is probably going to look more authentic, but if you need to save money consider going for a nice Nagoya obi, since they tend to be a little cheaper than fukuro obi. You might also be able to get a pre-tied obi that would work for a geisha costume. If you can get the appropriate materials and you feel your skills are up to it, you could also attempt making the obi.
  • Obi age SUBSTITUTES: For a geisha, any obi age will do. Seriously. You might want to avoid full-shibori ones meant for furisode, and you might want to aim for colors like red or white (or white with red accents, which also seems to be popular), but there is no real need to be super-picky here. You could even substitute a nice scarf for an obi age as long as it was an appropriate material, didn’t have anything like bead or sequin embellishments, and you could tuck the ends in so anything like fringe wouldn’t be noticed. For a maiko, consider buying a completely red version and tying it for a more senior look. Technically a senior maiko’s tied obi age can still have the silver design, but you could probably get away without it. This would also be a super-easy item to make for yourself. If you want the junior maiko look, where the silver pattern is very obvious, you may have to purchase a plain red obi age or scarf or a length of plain red material and paint or stamp the design on yourself.
  • Obi jime SUBSTITUTES: This is a tough one, since it’s not like regular everyday people ever use anything like a maiko’s obi jime. You could (at least in theory) get a few regular flat obi jime in different colors and attach them together somehow. A particularly crafty person might even be able to make their own. For a geisha, like I said, any nice obi jime will do. You might be able to get a plain wedding obi jime to use if you want to try the thick-and-round obi jime look.
  • Obi dome SUBSTITUTES: Unfortunately, it’s tough to find a ready-made substitute, as most other obi dome and brooches aren’t big enough. However, you can probably make one, either from scratch or by combining existing pieces (e.g. several smaller brooches). While a real maiko obi dome typically includes some combination of precious and/or semi-precious stones on a metal base, your substitute could be carved or painted wood or some other material that you are comfortable working with. Many of the larger obi dome used by maiko henshin studios are wood or imitation wood and lack any gemstone decorations.
  • Han eri SUBSTITUTES: Since white han eri are so easy to find, you might not even need to find a substitute for one -- and if you like to wear kimono anyway, a nice white han eri could be a worthwhile investment. Maiko han eri are tougher to substitute since they usually involve a lot of embroidery. Depending on how picky you are about the authenticity of your collar, you might be willing to consider getting a red collar with colorful embroidery instead of a pure red and white one. This actually isn’t 100% inauthentic, since many misedashi han eri have colors other than red and white (though those colors may tend to be more muted than you might find on a regular non-maiko han eri). If you have the time and talent you could buy some red or white fabric and embroider it yourself. The idea of using white appliques or lace over the fabric popped into my head while writing this, but I have never tried either idea. If you do, let me know how it goes. Or if you want, you could mimic a look I have seen on some maiko in the sakkou stage: a pure red collar with gold threads worked through it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (Part 3B)

Somehow, I have made it home without being too exhausted to post the next part of the series! In case you're wondering, there is also a Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3A. Part 3A contains information on Hikizuri, Obi, Obi Age, Obi Jime, Obi Dome, and Han Eri.

This section contains information on juban footwear, kanzashi, wigs, makeup, and accessories

  • Juban: There is good news and bad news concerned juban. The good news is that red and pink juban are extremely common. It’s actually not that hard to find red ones with white patterns either, though the patterns may not be as delicate as those of a typical maiko’s juban. The bad news is that regular kimono juban aren’t always long enough for a maiko or geisha outfit, and it is very important that the juban reach your ankles because it will be seen when the skirt is worn or carried properly. In this case you might have to look for a two-piece juban. These can be a little harder to come by in the right colors, but they are out there. You might wind up getting a solid red one rather than one with a white pattern on red. Or you could see if you could have one made from someplace like Bokunan-do, which offers a couple of different options of pink or red and white fabric. Of course, having a piece custom-made will be a bit costly. Generally speaking, juban are extremely easy to find. They come up on eBay all the time and places like Ichiroya and Yamatoku typically have a good stock of them mixed in with the kimono. Keep in mind that while maiko are pretty much restricted to red, geisha can also wear pink and I have seen one picture of a geisha with a blue juban, so if you really must substitute another color for your geisha outfit you probably can.
  • Footwear: Maiko typically wear high wooden sandals known as okobo or pokkuri. Geisha usually wear zori. Sometimes you will see a maiko in zori or a geisha in certain kinds of geta (but not okobo). Both wear white tabi, even with geta. Okobo (or okobo-like shoes), zori, geta, and tabi can be found all over, even on eBay. If you buy okobo, make sure you double-check the size so you don't accidentally buy a child's size! Girls sometimes wear child-sized okobo for holidays like shichigosan, and while these okobo can often be distinguished from maiko ones by the color (they might be red, but maiko ones are always plain wood or black lacquer) and/or the presence of a painted pattern, there are always exceptions to that.
  • Kanzashi: If you’re trying to pull off the geisha look you have it super-easy. For a regular, not super-formal engagement, a geisha will probably wear a nice comb. Her wig will also be decorated with white threads and a silver band at the back. Easy, yes? Especially since pretty combs are easy to find. For the maiko look you’re going to have it much more difficult, and much of what you wear will be determined by the hairstyle you choose and whether the look you’re going for is more junior or senior. The junior look is probably going to be the easiest to emulate even without buying authentic maiko kanzashi, and there are plenty of instructions out there for styling your hair or a wig in the wareshinobu style (unfortunately, unless you have the book “Nihongami no Sekai,” I haven’t found instructions for other styles). As you may have noticed from my personal collection, it is indeed possible to buy authentic maiko kanzashi if that is an investment you are willing to make. The tsumami kanzashi set alone will run you somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 yen though (not counting shipping fees and not taking things like price increases or exchange rates into account).
  • Wigs: You CAN in fact buy yourself a geisha or maiko wig. Geisha wear the takashimada hair style popular among brides, and katsura styled in takashimada do come up for sale sometimes on places like eBay. Some have wedding kanzashi attached that you might want to try removing, they tend to be expensive, and they often need some tender loving care to make them wearable again. But they do exist. You could also buy a new version, or wigs of maiko hairstyles like wareshinobu, from places like the Japanese seller Outlet Wig (you may need to go through a shopping service like Celga or Noppin to shop with them). These are of course very expensive.
  • Makeup: Maiko and geisha both use a white base with red and black applied in specific ways to the lips and eyes. Maiko may also add some pink to their makeup, especially around the eyes, but it isn’t always noticeable and you could probably get away without it if you are concerned about overdoing it. The goal here is to NOT look like the various You Tube “geisha makeup” and “geisha-style makeup” tutorials (if you’re at all familiar with these you probably know exactly what I’m talking about). The only place I know of to get authentic maiko makeup is Hannari-ya, where you can buy individual parts or you can buy a full set with makeup and the brushes to apply it. I have heard of other places like Rakuten selling it in the past too. This is going to eat up a few hundred dollars, so unless you plan on making a living out of your geisha costume or you absolutely must have the 100% authentic look you probably don’t want to invest in this. And if you DO decide to get authentic stuff, make sure you at least get the abura for under the makeup and the proper white foundation to put over the abura.
  • Accessories: Though none of these are required, you might want to include one or more of them in your costume. Maiko and geisha often carry a large bag consisting of a woven basket-style bottom and a cloth draw-string top. They use these bags (which we could just call kago but I could have sworn they have a special name) to carry their supplies, like fans or supplies for hair and makeup touch-ups. These can be hard to come by. Bokunan-do sells some, but I believe they are all child-sized. You might also be able to get one through Ikuokaya, and it might be worth checking on Rakuten or keeping an eye on Yahoo Japan Auctions. Maiko and geisha may also carry one or two fans for dancing, called maiogi. You can find maiogi for sale on Bokunan-do (where they fall under the sensu or mai-sensu category) and you may be able to find them elsewhere sometimes. I have seen them pop up on Ichiroya and eBay from time to time. If you want real maiogi, you have to be careful to make sure you aren’t getting decorative fans, which often have the same style as maiogi. But dancing fans have 10 spines while decorative fans only have 9. Paper umbrellas are another common accessory. The red versions are very common, but if you take a look at the picture of the geiko I posted in Part 2 you will notice that they can come in other colors as well. You can probably find these umbrellas on Rakuten. You can also get paper umbrellas from Bokunan-do. If you decide to get an umbrella, please be careful about taking it out in the rain or snow! Umbrellas that are made for use outdoors in the weather can probably handle a drizzle or light snow fall (I don’t know how strong they are to be honest so maybe they can handle more than that), but umbrellas that are just made for stage performances or only for use as parasols may not be suitable for use outdoors during bad weather. And since an authentic, good-quality paper umbrella can be expensive, you don’t want yours ruined by rain.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (Part 3A)

This is Part 3A of a multi-part series on putting together a reasonably authentic maiko or geisha costume for Halloween. If you're looking for the other parts to the series, you can find them at Part 1 and Part 2

In today's post I'll be talking a bit about where you can look for different parts of your costumes. I was going to post information on finding and/or making substitutes as well, but this topic alone turned out to be a monster of a post and I decided to post it in two parts (hey, a series within a series!). I'll see if I can post 3B tomorrow, but it's one of my two back-to-back 10-hour school and work days so the next part might not go up until Friday.

3) Where to buy authentic items (part A: Hikizuri, Obi, Obi Age, Obi Jime, Obi Dome, and Han Eri)

Unfortunately, if you want to buy 100% authentic versions of some of these items, you are literally going to be spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on one single piece -- even for very small things. A full maiko tsumami kanzashi set, for example, can run you $300 or more depending on the exchange rate and the specific set in question. If you need the kanoko dome to wear with a wareshinobu hairstyle, expect to pay hundreds for an authentic one. An obi dome can run you well over $1000. If you really want to go shopping, there are some places where you might find authentic items. But keep in mind that for some of them, you may want or need to use a substitute, which we will discuss later.
  • Hikizuri: Authentic maiko and geisha hikizuri or susohiki rarely come up for sale, and when they do they tend to be very expensive -- even if they are in awful, unwearable condition. Maiko hikizuri are especially rare and expensive. If you want to look for a hikizuri or susohiki, Ichiroya sometimes has a few for sale. You may also be able to find some on eBay or Yahoo Japan Auctions (be aware that you will need to use a shopping service like Celga or Noppin to shop there). It wouldn’t hurt to check with sellers like Yamatoku or Shinei either. Bokunan-do makes stage costumes, including a couple of with furisode sleeves that could potentially be used for maiko, but use caution. Many of their pieces aren’t really appropriate for a modern geisha or maiko look (at least not if you’re tying to emulate Kyoto style) and at least one of their pieces looks like it is for a specific character, not a generic maiko or geisha look. Also, please use caution when buying hikizuri! Just because it’s long enough doesn’t mean it is authentic! If you’re unsure about a piece, seek advice before you buy.
  • Obi: Maiko wear a special type of obi called a darari obi. These are some of the rarest maiko items out there, possibly because they tend to get recycled into geisha obi, and also tend to be extremely expensive. If you want to look for one, they have popped up on eBay (just be careful not to get taken in by a scam) and Yahoo Japan Auctions before. I believe I have heard of Shinei having them once in a while. I can’t remember if Ichiroya has ever had one. Ichiroya and Bokunan-do both sell darari-style pre-tied obi, but I believe that in both cases the tails are actually too short for a proper Kyoto maiko look (they may be fine if you aren’t going for the Kyoto look or if you’re going for a minarai look though). Geisha wear obi that can be tied in the otaiko musubi -- usually fukuro obi, but you could probably also get away with a nice nagoya obi.
  • Obi age: Maiko typically wear a red and silver obi age, while geisha can wear pretty much any color (though red is still a safe bet, as is white or pink). I actually don’t see maiko obi age come up for sale that often, though you might be able to get one through someplace like Ikuokaya or Hannari-ya if you must have a brand-new one. For a geisha, you should be able to get away with using any high-quality obi age in an appropriate color for your ensemble. You might want to avoid the full-shibori ones meant for use with furisode, but one with a few small sections of pattern done in shibori should be fine.
  • Obi jime: Maiko typically wear a flat but wide and very colorful obi jime. Geisha can wear regular flat obi jime or can wear very round, thick versions of obi jime similar to those used for weddings. Again, maiko obi jime are tough to find but could probably be bought through someplace like Ikuokaya or Hannari-ya. For a geisha, you could buy just a regular nice obi jime and use that.
  • Obi dome: Fortunately for the geisha look, there is no obi dome! Unfortunately for the maiko look, you need a huge one. If you have the money (and like I said these things can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars) you can look into getting one from Ikuokaya. They have “cheap” versions, but those are still expensive. A maiko-size obi dome popped up on eBay recently, but that was unusual.
  • Han eri: A geisha’s han eri is usually white and fairly simple. White han eri are actually a pretty basic part of everyday kitsuke even for non-geisha, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a suitable plain white han eri. Senior maiko also wear white han eri, but they typically have heavy white embroidery all over them. More junior maiko wear red han eri with white embroidered designs, and the more white on the collar the more senior the maiko. Every so often you will find a red and white maiko’s han eri up for sale, but they can be very expensive (I know, I know, you totally didn’t see that one coming). This is especially the case if you should try to find a new one somewhere. I run into them sometimes on eBay or Ichiroya.

To be continued...

Friday, September 9, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (Part 2)

 (If you missed Part 1 and want to read it first, scroll down the page or click the link.)

In Part 1 of this mini-series, we discussed...well, actually, it was mostly me having a polite rant about what passes for maiko and geisha costumes these days and why I personally find them offensive. But today, we'll get down to the stuff all of you happy costumers really care about: figuring out how to put together your geisha or maiko costume. We will cover two specific steps today: Figuring out what you really want to be for Halloween, and what goes into making a maiko or geisha costume.

1) Figure out what you really want to be for Halloween
Clearly you want to dress up as something to do with the Flower and Willow World. But here’s the thing: for lots of people, when they talk about geisha, the image they actually have in their head is of a maiko. Take a look at these pictures:

Which look is closer to what you want? If it’s the look of the women in the poster on the top, you want to be a maiko. If it’s the look of the picture on the bottom, you want to be a geisha The distinction is important because it will determine what you need, what you can get away without, how easy it will be to find or make the substitutes you need, and even how easy it will be to do your costume on a budget.

2) Learn the parts of an authentic maiko or geisha costume
While the basic elements of maiko and geisha costumes are the same (i.e. you need a kimono, juban, and obi for both), the details are different.

For a maiko, you would need:
- a hikizuri with furisode-style sleeves (ideally with tucks in the sleeves and the shoulders)
- a two-piece juban with furisode sleeves and a white pattern on a red background
- a heavily-embroidered collar (more red  = more junior, more white = more senior
- a darari obi
- a red obi age with a silver pattern
- a wide and colorful obi jime
- a very large obi dome for that obi jime
- a pair of white tabi
- one pair of okobo (red straps are the default but more senior maiko sometimes wear other colors). You may also be able to substitute zori for the okobo.
- the red thing that I can’t remember the name of that wraps around the torso under the obi. The name will come to me someday, I know. (ETA: I have been informed by yieldforkimono that this is a momi!)

A maiko also has a head full of various kinds of kanzashi. The specifics change depending on her hair style, but always include a silver ougi kanzashi (the fan-shaped one over the right eye) and some sort of seasonal tsumami kanzashi. The only exception to this is during Hassaku or during the misedashi in at least some districts, where maiko may be able to wear carved tortoise shell kanzashi instead of or in addition to tsumami kanzashi.

Maiko costumes are typically very colorful and youthful and may involve busy patterns. Red is a particularly good color for very young maiko. Bright shades of blue also seem to be popular for maiko of all ages. A maiko costume may also involve bold color matches, such as a blue kimono with an orange obi. When you are putting your costume together, you want to pay attention and make sure you don’t cross the border between flashy and gaudy. A true maiko may be very flashy, colorful, and eye-catching, but is rarely tacky or gaudy.

For a geisha, you would need:
- a hikizuri or susohiki with shorter sleeves (and no tucks)
- a matching juban (red and white is still typical but many geisha also wear pink juban)
- an obi that can be tied in the otaiko musubi
- an obi age (can be red but I have also seen other colors)
- an obi jime
- white tabi
- a pair of zori. You may be able to substitute certain styles of geta.
- Geisha also wear the red cloth that wraps around the torso under the obi. (AKA the momi.)

However, they don’t wear nearly as many hair accessories, often only wearing a nice comb on less-formal occasions. Unlike maiko, who style their own hair, geisha typically wear wigs. Black can be a popular color for geisha kimono, particularly for very formal occasions, but don’t feel like you can only pick a black kimono for your costume. Geisha can and do wear colored kimono, but the colors and designs are typically more subdued that those of maiko.

Both maiko and geiko may carry a basket with accessories, and may use things like fans (usually maiogi but uchiwa are often used in the summer) when dancing. You don’t have to have these things, but they can add a nice touch to your outfit, and fans can be particularly useful for a little costumed flirting. After all, just because geisha aren’t prostitutes doesn’t mean they’re celibate nuns either. Both maiko and geisha also wear makeup called oshiroi or shiro-nuri that consists of a white base, red and black eye liner, black mascara, and red lip color. There is also often a bit of pink added around the eyes, especially in the look of younger maiko, but it is barely noticeable. The white base is spread down onto the neck, chest, and a portion of the upper back, and two or three prongs of skin are left unpainted at the back of the neck -- even on geisha, though you often can’t see it because the way their wigs are styled hides it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (part 1)

(Please note that all opinions contained in this post are just that, my opinions, and are not in any way official or final-word views on the matter. Also, my opinions on this matter are rather strong.)

It’s that time of year again (or close to it anyway), the time when people flood question communities and websites with questions about how to dress as a geisha for Halloween. The suggested costumes usually involve some combination of super-short satin bathrobes, stockings or tights, high-heeled shoes, Gibson Girl-esque wigs with chopsticks as decorations, and makeup whose only similarity to authentic geisha makeup is the fact that it has a white base.

This, in my opinion, is very uncool.

It’s uncool for a few reasons, but I’ll pick out my two “favorites” here. Reason #1 is that such costumes look nothing like what real geisha actually wear, and are simply built around a combination of Orientalist fantasies and the Western misconception that geisha are prostitutes/hookers/escorts/whatever you want to call them. Sometimes these costumes involve super-short cheongsam, which brings up a whole host of other issues, like the (offensive) idea that all Asian cultures are the same and interchangeable. This is of course not the case. Reason #2 is that geisha are real, living women who are part of a real, living culture that is usually NOT the culture of the person wearing a satin bathrobe and calling herself (or himself, I suppose) a geisha. I find it pretty damn offensive, along the lines of dressing up in those fake “leather” dresses and feather headbands and calling oneself an “Indian princess.”

So if you want to dress up in a mini satin bathrobe, there’s nothing stopping you, but it would be way more accurate and less offensive if you didn't call yourself a geisha while doing it. But at the same time, if that’s what you want to wear for Halloween, then this really isn’t the series for you.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to put in a bit of work to put together a costume, you can have a reasonably-authentic-looking maiko or geisha costume. It can involve a lot of money, since buying authentic maiko or geisha items is super expensive and even buying reasonable substitutes won’t be cheap. It can also involve a lot of work, since you have to track down everything you want to buy and/or you have to make or alter items to work for you, especially if you try to make or alter things to save money. But if you want a more authentic look, the time and/or money invested could very well be worth it. You should be aware that, unless you have the money and access required to purchase 100% authentic maiko or geisha goods, you probably will not have a 100% accurate costume. But you can get close!

Since this is going to turn into a Post of Doom if I try to post it all at once, I’m going to break it up into sections and post it over the next couple of weeks. Here’s what we’ll be talking about in the future:
1) Figuring out what you really want to be for Halloween (i.e. do you want to be a geisha or do you actually want to be a maiko?)
2) The parts of an authentic maiko or geisha costume
3) Reasonable substitutions for when you can’t get the real thing

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday Photo: Tayuu Kanzashi


First of all, it is actually still Friday here in balmy Hawaii, so yes this still counts for a Friday photo (barely) :p Second of all, the kanzashi we'll be talking about today is hell to photograph because it is so darned BIG. Just for reference in that top picture, the widest part of my hand (when I attempt to scrunch it up the way it was while holding the kanzashi) is 3-3.5 inches/7.6-8.9cm across. So this thing is enormous. I mean like, gigantic.


I currently only know of one shop that sells these, and I discovered it quite by accident. Back in 2007, when I was first in Japan, I found Ikuokaya, also by accident. At the time I figured they sold nice kanzashi and their maiko stuff looked pretty authentic to me, and the folks there were nice, so I bought myself a nice stash. A few days later a friend of mine from the language program I had been on before going to Kyoto had some time off, so she came out to Kyoto for the weekend. She wanted to get some kanzashi too, so we went shopping at Jyuusanya (where we bought so much that the next time I went back I could see where they had tried to disguise the gaps in their display) and then decided to stop in at Ikuokaya before going on to our main entertainment for the evening: a maiko dinner at a local ryokan. Some inns and hotels have dinner shows where a maiko or geiko will make a brief appearance and perform for the guests, then leave. For many tourists, this is the closest thing to an ozashiki they will ever experience. Anyway, the maiko dancing that night was Miyoharu, and when it was our turn to have a little chat with her she noticed our Ikuokaya bags and mentioned that she knew the place because she shopped there. Well, that's about the best endorsement you can get for a shop. The next night I stopped in for a third time and wound up in a conversation with the owner's son. Now, if you ever go to Ikuokaya you will notice that they have several pictures of various maiko and geiko displayed around the shop. These are in fact pictures of customers. I noticed one picture of a tayuu amongst the maiko and geiko pictures, and asked the owner's son if she came there too. Oh yes, he told me, she comes here too. So I decided to be bold and asked if they had a tayuu kanzashi in stock, and if I could look at it. It turned out that they did indeed have one in stock, and I did indeed get to look at it. Though I definitely couldn't buy it at that time (and later developments tell me they wouldn't have been able to sell it to me anyway if I had asked), I decided that someday I would own one of those too.

Fast forward a little over two years, to the end of 2009-beginning of 2010. I had been living in Japan for several months at that point and had managed two more trips to Kyoto, one a vacation in April of 2009 before moving there to work and the other a short weekend away during Silver Week that September. I always stopped in to Ikuokaya to chat and pick up new pieces. During that winter trip I decided the time was ripe to treat myself to a tayuu kanzashi. So I stopped by to ask about getting one...and found that none were in stock! Turns out that they're a special-order item. Which, when you consider that there are only like four tayuu left in the entire country, it kind of makes sense. So I waited a few more months, thought about it some more, then contacted the folks at Ikuokaya to ask about having one made. Now, these folks are sweet and treat their customers amazingly, and by now they were pretty used to my craziness when it comes to kanzashi, but even they were thrown for a loop by this request. But they rose to the challenge, and by the time I returned to Kyoto for the last time in late July, my kanzashi had arrived and I was able to pick it up. The piece wound up traveling up to Aomori with me before I got the chance to carefully pack it up and ship it home, where it was waiting for me when I arrived.

For the curious, I actually can't tell what it's made of. It looks like metal but is surprisingly light-weight. The butterflies are made of some sort of fabric card and have little antennae.

So, the moral of the story is: If you need something kanzashi-related ask the folks at Ikuokaya, because they can probably get it for you, even if it's a tayuu kanzashi. Also, if you're willing to spend the money you can get ALMOST anything you want in Kyoto*.

*No amount of money alone will get you into an exclusive teahouse for an ozashiki with maiko or geiko. This is because of the no first-timers rule. may notice that I only said you can't get into an exclusive teahouse. I never said you can't hire maiko or geiko ;)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Kanzashi Resource List

It occurred to me recently that I talk a lot about kanzashi here and have mentioned places to get them, but never really made a list like I did with kimono shopping resources. Well, this post is here to fix that! Rather than breaking it down by online vs. brick-and-mortar, though, I’m going to break it down by maiko vs. non-maiko styles of kanzashi

Authentic Maiko (or geisha/geiko or tayuu) Kanzashi

  • Ikuokaya: Without a doubt my favorite kanzashi shop in Kyoto. They also have a website (FYI: they have music that plays automatically on the homepage), and I know people who have ordered things from them. The owner and his son speak excellent English and the son also speaks German, so don’t be afraid to fax them (unfortunately the other staff members at the shop don’t speak English or any other languages but Japanese, so if you don’t speak Japanese or don’t feel confident in your Japanese skills calling might not be the best idea). You can buy full maiko kanzashi sets or just parts of the sets. They also sell other authentic maiko and geiko items, like maiko obi dome and han eri, as well as mini versions of maiko kanzashi, kanzashi for the average person and more tourist-related items. It is also the only shop I have found in Kyoto that sells tayuu items.
  • Kazurasei: Another kanzashi shop in Kyoto. Like Ikuokaya, you can buy full sets of maiko kanzashi or parts of maiko kanzashi. They also sell kanzashi and other kitsuke items (like obi dome and obi jime) for regular people. Their specialty is their series of pure camellia oil products, including shampoo and conditioner.
  • Kintakedo: The third kanzashi shop location on the Gion side of Shijo-dori (along with Ikuokaya and Kazurasei). They sell maiko kanzashi and also some mini version of them -- my little morning glory (asagao) is from them. You can also get kanzashi appropriate for regular people here. I don't know of a website for these folks, but if you do please feel free to share the link!
  • Hannari-ya: An online shop that sells all kinds of Japanese stuff. They have a small selection of maiko kanzashi, which they apparently purchase from Kintakedo.

Non-Maiko (or geisha/geiko or tayuu) Kanzashi

  • Jyuusanya: The fourth kanzashi shop on Shijo-dori, this particular one is on the non-Gion side of the Kamogawa. Their specialty is carved boxwood combs, and they provide the offering of new combs presented at the renewal of the Grand Shrine at Ise ever 20 years. Those of you who collect BJDs or other dolls might be interested to note that I have found miniature carved combs of all kinds at this shop. In addition to the boxwood combs, they sell a variety of lacquered combs, bekko pins, and tsumami kanzashi appropriate for all occasions. They don’t sell maiko goods, but if you’re just going for a maiko-like look for cosplay or something some of their items might be a good option, especially if you want something you might be able to use in other situations later.
  • Maya Kanzashi: An online shop with a large variety of pretty, generic kanzashi appropriate for more formal occasions. Most purchases from this shop come with two side pieces, but some come with just one piece or one larger side piece plus two or more much smaller pins. This is another good options for people looking to do maiko cosplay without actually buying maiko goods, or who want a fancy kanzashi to wear with their yukata for a more over-the-top style.
  • Department stores and kimono shops: Even small kimono shops or limited wafuku sections in department stores often have a small selection of kanzashi appropriate for some kinds of kimono, especially more formal varieties. You may even be able to get super-casual styles to wear with yukata during the summer. And speaking of yukata…
  • Claire’s, Icing, and similar stores:  Though in my opinion the things here aren’t substitutes for authentic kanzashi, many of the hair flowers can be a nice touch with yukata.

Other Resources

  • eBay: You can find just about anything on eBay. That said, if something is advertised as a maiko or geisha piece, take it with a grain of salt and try to confirm that it is an authentic maiko or geisha piece before spending big bucks on it. I have found eBay to be a good source for antiques, bekko kanzashi, and wedding sets (though those might be particularly expensive). Doll hobbyists can also find some mini kanzashi for dolls on eBay with some careful looking.
  • Etsy: A great place to go for unique, non-traditional kanzashi made with traditional methods. Ever thought a headband with kanzashi would rock? You can find them on Etsy. Some sellers will even do commissions. That said, use caution when dealing with sellers who claim that their pieces are authentic maiko or geiko pieces. I know of at least one seller there whose pieces strike me as way overpriced when I compare them to what I can get from places like Ikuokaya and Kazurasei. I would prefer not to name names publically though.
  • Flickr’s kanzashi communities: Thought not everyone here is making pieces to sell, some people are and some even link to their Etsy or other sales pages in their profiles and/or picture captions.
  • Ningyoukan: A site for doll hobbyists who want to buy kanzashi for their dolls. Pieces range from the tiny to the relatively large, so whether you’re buying for a Barbie or a Volks SD17 you can probably find what you need here. Humans, however, will be out of luck.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Photo: Purple Furisode

This is one of the first kimono I ever bought, and is one of the few new ones in my collection. On my first trip to Japan I managed to find the Mimuro shop in Kyoto. It's down little back streets off of Shijo-Dori and can be tough to find, but if you can get there during a sale it's worth it. We're talking multiple floors of everything from yukata (at least in the summer) to tomesode and furisode, for all ages. The time I went they were having a huge sale, and I managed to get this furisode, a fukuro obi, a juban, an obi age, and two obi jime for $700 -- about half the cost of the furisode alone when it was being sold at full price. Not only that, but I got a tour of the other floors and their other goods, completely with getting to see an unfinished all-shibori furisode worth around $20,000 at the time, while waiting for my things to be packed and my payment to be processed. The whole trip was a lot of fun, and was one of my first experiences with the fun experience of surprising people by being a white chick who knew things about kimono (seriously, walk into a kimono shop or the wafuku floor of a department store and start asking for kimono-related items by name. It's awesome).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday Photo: (Baby You're A) Firework...kanzashi

From top to bottom: Maiko fireworks kanzashi, maiko fireworks kanzashi with optional tassel added, and mini fireworks kanzashi. As you can see, the maiko version includes three of the mini kanzashi.

I bought the mini version first, actually, on my first trip to Japan in 2007. I bought the larger maiko version on my second trip in 2009. The folks at Ikuokaya (where I bought both) told me that the loop on the underside of the maiko version could be used to add a tassel to the piece for more junior maiko, and offered me several different color options for the tassel. I wound up choosing pink (even though they offered blue and my favorite color, purple) after it got the Obaasan Seal of Approval from an older woman who came into the store while I happened to be there and wandered over to see what the crazy foreign chick was doing with the maiko kanzashi and tassels. Trust me, when something in Japan gets the Obaasan Seal of Approval, it's usually a good idea to go with it. Plus the pink makes a nice contrast with the blues and purples, and brings out the pink in the iridescent jewels.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Photo: Summer Komon

Just a pretty summer piece I picked up a couple of years back. No interesting story to it, sadly, but it certainly is nice and airy and puts you in a cool frame of mind. Great for dealing with summer heat, right?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


So....moving. Yeah. It kinda sucks. You would think I would be used to it by now because I have been leading a semi-nomadic existence since sophomore year of college. In the past ten years or so, the longest I have stayed in any one place was three years (the shortest was about four months). Alas, I am not used to it, and this was the first time I had to stock an apartment from scratch in only a couple of weeks (all of my previous apartments were either furnished or I had a few months to find stuff before moving in). But anyway, I think I'm finally settled in now. Should be able to go back to a regular posting schedule -- for real this time -- starting this Friday.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Friday Photo (on Saturday!): Custom Yukata

This is the custom yukata I had made for me while living in Japan. It's also probably my favorite yukata, just because it is made for me (and finding the bolt of fabric in the shop was super-exciting). It is mostly off-white and shakes of purple and pink, with a tiny bit of yellow added to some of the flowers. The pattern includes lilies, pinks, morning glories, and what I believe is hagi (darned if I can remember the English name for hagi...). I like to wear it with a cheerful yellow obi to bring out the yellow in the flowers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

And we're back (mostly)

(Double rainbow over Waikiki, looking towards Diamond Head with the ocean to the right.)

Hello from Hawaii! My move has been mostly successful so far, but in a lot of ways it's still in progress. Today we bought most of the furniture I'll need for my apartment, but there is still quite a lot to get and quite a lot of work to do. And today was just exhausting! Anyway, I'll be back with a new picture and something to say about it this Friday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Photo: Uchikake

A little pic-heavy today, but there's just so much going on with this uchikake that it's pretty much the only way to show it all. 

Here we have an uchikake in near-perfect condition. I think there's snag somewhere on it. Based on the motifs and weight this is mostly a fall-to-spring piece and is covered in fans, cherries, wisteria, mandarin ducks, royal cart wheels, chrysanthemums, bell flowers, various water forms, things I think are pine and partial snowflakes (though those might also be grasses), and various abstract patters in the background. The base colors fade from the red spectrum to the blue spectrum. The sleeves and body have colorful false layers along the edges, even at the fronts of the sleeves (which are open most of the way down). And the hem on this thing is HUGE. The whole thing is quite heavy.

I remember the day I gave a presentation on kimono to my Japanese class. I had this at the time and decided to bring it. I had to haul it to school in the suitcase I usually reserve for things like month-long trips and moving to new places.

And speaking of moving, next week I'll be moving to a new state! It's all very fun and exciting, but it also means I might not be able to make any posts next week. I'll pick up with posting again as soon as possible though!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is It A Kimono or Not? Separating the Good Stuff from the Rest

So you’re looking for a kimono, perhaps on eBay or simply by using your favorite search engine to search for kimono. And you’re coming up with a lot of questionable results. That is absolutely not surprising. Many people on the internet will claim that their items are authentic kimono, either to attract more customers (many of whom probably don’t know any better) or because the sellers themselves don’t know what they have.

So your non-real kimono fall into three basic categories:
1) Items that may share some characteristics with kimono, but that are not in fact kimono;
2) Items that are not kimono but are other traditional Asian clothes (of course there are plenty of low-quality fakes in these categories too); and
3) Items that ARE authentic kimono but are terribly miscategorized.

Examples of each category:

1) Items that may share some characteristics with kimono, but that are not in fact kimono.
 The most common item in this category is the satin bathrobe. Some of these are strictly bathrobes, while others are designed to fake out people who don’t know any better. These kinds of garments may include kimono-style sleeves and patterns you might see on authentic kimono, but are made of cheaper materials that would never be used for a real kimono (e.g. satin). They may be sold as yukata, though some people do try to get away with selling them as kimono.

2) Items that are not kimono but are other traditional Asian clothes, or cheap imitations of such clothes.
Many people have little or no knowledge of the many different cultures in Asia, and assume that there is little or no difference between them. So if they wear kimono in Japan they clearly wear kimono everywhere else in Asia, right? Wrong. Each culture in Asia has its own unique traditional garments, and in some cases several of these cultures may be found in a single country. Perhaps the most glaring example of this crops up all the time around Halloween, when people try to sell cheap satin “cheongsam” or “qipao” (Chinese garments) as “geisha” outfits. Kimono have very distinctive features and are the traditional clothing of Japan. While they might share certain features with other traditional Asian garments -- not a surprise given how much influence Chinese culture exerted over the entire region in the past -- a kimono is not the same thing as a cheongsam, qipao, hanbok, ao dai, or any other non-Japanese garment. Also, though I don’t know much about traditional Chinese garb, I have to assume that the cheap satin outfits sold as Halloween costumes have little in common with high-quality, authentic Chinese garments.

3) Authentic but miscategorized kimono.
Various forms of this crop up all the time. You may find any random kimono labeled as a “geisha” kimono. A brightly-colored komon might be presented as a wedding kimono. Many people like to claim they have super-special kimono given to their families by princesses in the past. A kimono that has clearly been lengthened by adding material to the middle of the kimono may be presented as a hikizuri or susohiki. Often, these miscategorized kimono might come with inflated price tags to match. Identifying fakes in this category requires you to know enough about kimono to know that not every kimono is a geisha kimono, that wedding kimono have a typical look to them, that authentic hikizuri and susohiki are typically MADE long and don’t have to be lengthened by adding fabric to the body, and so on. Some of these items get advertised with inaccurate names because the sellers don’t know what they have (e.g. how many people make the mistake of assuming that any woman in a kimono is a geisha? The logical extension of that assumption is that any kimono is a geisha’s kimono). Sometimes the sellers DO know what they have and are mislabeling their wares on purpose to draw in more potential buyers by expanding the number of search results that will lead to their item, or less honestly by taking advantage of a customer’s ignorance.

What can you do to make sure you buy authentic kimono?
1) Educate yourself. Get used to what real kimono look like, and get used to what different kinds of kimono look like -- especially if you’re interested in buying high-end or rare items like furisode, wedding kimono, or geisha kimono. For example, a real maiko or geisha kimono will never have rhinestones on it. However, some uchikake do, especially shiromuku (white uchikake). Places like Ichiroya, Yamatoku, and Shinei are good places to get used to looking at all kinds of kimono. You may also have luck on Rakuten.
2) Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask a seller questions.
4) Buy from reputable sellers. I have included some of my favorites in my second blog post. You can also hang out on places like the Immortal Geisha forums or other kimono blogs to see where your fellow kimono enthusiasts like to shop.
5) Don’t be afraid to get advice from people more in-the-know than you, whether you feel like asking about an entire shop or a specific item you’re thinking of buying. In fact, you’re more than welcome to use the comments section of this post to share links to questionable items it you want a second opinion.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Photo: (Possible) Geiko Hikizuri

My first ever hiki! I'm so proud of it. The seller claims it was from an okiya in Kyoto that closed, so I have no way of verifying anything else about it. It's definitely long enough to be a hiki though, geiko or otherwise. A commenter on my Flickr pointed out that red linings aren't all that common for Kyoto geiko hikis -- and this one has a lovely red lining that is amazingly soft to the tough. The design features a waterfall with chrysanthemums, maple leaves, bamboo and plum blossoms. It's hard to tell in these pictures, but the plum blossoms have a lovely soft pink tint to them that blends well with the rest of the color scheme, which is actually more vibrant in real life than in any pictures I have.

And that's pretty much all I know about my hiki! If anyone else knows anything I would love if you woudl share the info with me!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Photo: Furisode Kanzashi

Not all tsumami kanzashi are made for maiko. In fact, mot department stores (and non-maiko-oriented kanzashi shops like Jyuusanya in Kyoto) sell generic tsumami kanzashi meant for regular everyday people to wear with their more formal outfits. This is an example of that kind of kanzashi. While they may be smaller than maiko pieces, they can be just as elaborate and just as expensive. This particular design is quite formal and could be worn with a furisode. That said, I can't tell if it has a specific season or not. It looks rather spring-like to me though. This kind of kanzashi is also common in maiko henshin shops, where they are used in place of authentic maiko kanzashi.

Want to wear a kanzashi like this but don't have a furisode? If you're feeling bold, you could try some agejo-style yukata wearing. Agejo style is usually very elaborate and over-the-top, and I have stumbled across at least one agejo yukata style magazine that advocated wearing kanzashi like this one with your yukata ensemble for a more maiko-like look.

You can buy kanzashi like this on the kimono/wafuku floor of many Japanese department stores, or on the internet at places like eBay, Etsy, and Maya kanzashi (I actually have a couple of Maya sets). In Kyoto, in addition to the department stores, try Jyuusan-ya or any of the kanzashi shops in Gion. While they all sell maiko kanzashi, they also sell kanzashi for the non-maiko crowd as well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Photo: Furisode from Sendai

This is actually the first furisode I ever bought. I found it in a little second-hand kimono shop in Sendai on my first trip to Japan in 2007. The design is a combination of dyed sections, embroidered patterns, sections died in the shibori technique, and designs stamped in gold and silver. I have been told by the folks at Ikuokaya that the the dyed section is done in a style that was used for paper in the Heian era.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Aya's Opinion on Common Kimono Questions: What Kind of Make-up Should I Wear With My Kimono?

Our newest installment of Common Kimono Questions is, again, extremely opinion-based and your mileage may vary. But the issue of kimono-appropriate makeup is also a question I have seen some ridiculous answers for so it seems like a decent one to address.

That said, my opinions and suggestions on the matter are pretty simple. In my opinion, kimono in the komon-houmongi range, as well as irotomesode and kurotomesoda, look best with subdued makeup, especially the kind that falls within the “natural look“ spectrum. If you’re a more adventurous type of person, you could try having one bold feature in your makeup with these styles (e.g. bold lips, bright eyes), but it’s better overall to keep the look more on the subdued or conservative side. To figure out how much leeway you have with your makeup, you might want to consider WHERE and WHY you’re wearing kimono in addition to what kind of kimono you’re wearing. For example, you can probably get away with a lot more play and experimentation if you’re just wearing your komon out around town than if you’re wearing your iromuji to a tea ceremony.

With yukata, you can almost definitely get away with brighter colors and flashier styles of makeup, since yukata are so informal and open to experimentation anyway. This is especially true if you’re interested in trying an already over-the-top style like agejo. Again, though, you might want to consider the where, when, and why of yukata-wearing before picking your makeup. I personally an more willing to play with brighter colors and wilder designs when I’m just going to a fireworks festival than, say, then time I wore yukata to play with my koto teacher’s ensemble (and for the record I wouldn’t have been wearing a yukata at all if she hadn’t told me to).

You may also be able to get away with a much stronger look when wearing furisode. Since they’re already a bit over the top and already require special accessories to balance out the extravagant look of the furisode (there’s a reason so many furisode-appropriate obi age are made of fabric died in the shibori method) you can probably get away with a stronger makeup look as well. Just don’t overdo it! Overdone makeup rarely, if ever, works.

That said…unless you’re doing henshin or cosplay, avoid maiko/geisha/geiko makeup at all costs. I couldn’t tell you where the idea that geisha makeup being appropriate for a non-geisha person to wear with a kimono comes from. I suspect it’s from the general misconception that all women in kimono must be geisha (followed by the equally inaccurate but much more understandable idea that all geisha always wear white makeup). This is absolutely not the case. While geisha and maiko make up a huge portion of the population of regular kimono-wearers in Japan today, they are hardly the only ones and I would argue that most of the women who wear kimono today -- including casual wearers -- are NOT geisha or maiko. Even among the geisha themselves, those over 30 and those not attending parties in full garb wear Western-style makeup and hair styles with their kimono.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Photo: Asagao

And now for something completely different...

In addition to kimono, I have been collecting kanzashi for several years and have acquired some interesting pieces. Well, I think they're interesting anyway. One of my newer acquisitions is this asagao (morning glory) kanzashi from one of the three shops in Kyoto that sells authentic maiko and geiko items. This particular one is a mini version of what the real maiko would wear. This size of flower might be used in a bunch with two other flowers or might be used for the larger bridge that goes across the back of the head. I don't know if that would be done with asagao kanzashi specifically, but I have seen it done with flowers like sakura, ume, and ayame (cherry, plum, and iris for those who may be wondering). Maiko-style asagao kanzashi typically come in like pink, light blue, or light purple. This particular design was made for the 2010 season and sold by Kintakedo -- for the curious, this is the same shop that supplies the folks at Hannari-ya with their maiko kanzashi.

In other unrelated news, for those who may be considering joining the RPG I mentioned in my last post, it's pretty much ready to get up and running now. There are only a few minor tweaks left to be made. We just need more people since right now it's just...well, me. Any questions about the RPG can be left here for me or you can PM me on the site (which is here).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Totally off topic -- Role playing anyone?

Hey, is anyone here interested in role playing? I have this maiko character I created ages ago, and I've been itching to play her, but I can't find an active maiko/geiko roleplay anywhere except Second Life, and I'm not terribly interested in getting involved in Second Life right now. So instead I went and made a message board! It's in rather rough shape right now since I just opened it and haven't gotten to do anything except post some rules and such, but if anyone is interested in joining me it's there and open for visitors. Visit the board here!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Plus-sized kitsuke tips and tricks

For folks like me, who happen to be plus-sized and still want to enjoy kimono-wearing.

I honestly have no idea if any of these ideas will work for anyone but me, but I figure it’s better to put them out there anyway. Maybe someone will get some use out of them!

For the kimono or yukata:
- Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot you can do to force a kimono to fit and still wear it properly. A properly-worn kimono will close so that both of the front sides overlap completely, with the edge of one side reaching the side seam on the opposite side. In addition, the back seam should be even with your spine. You may be able to fudge this a bit. For example, if your kimono is just a couple of inches shy of closing properly you may be able to get away with that. You might also decided to pull and tug on things so your front left panel looks like it closes all the way. This will result in an off-center seam in the back and in the right front panel not overlapping as far as it should. Whether or not you are willing to do this is really up to you.
- Keep in mind that if your kimono or yukata only overlaps by a few inches in the front, that is not a proper fit and there probably isn’t much you can do to make it work properly. This really isn't just a matter of being a kimono purist either. A kimono with only a few inches of overlap in the front is at serious risk of flapping open and revealing...things I'm sure most of us would rather not reveal.
- If you trust your sewing skills, you might consider checking to see if your kimono or yukata has enough extra fabric in the seams to be let out a little. I have never tried this myself so I can’t vouch for this method or its results, and can only suggest that you try it at your own risk on a piece you could live without if things don’t go as planned.
- Depending on the resources available to you, you may be able to make your own kimono or yukata or to have one made for you.

For your undergarments:
- Consider using two-piece juban and slips instead of one-piece ones, especially if you often take different sizes on the top and bottom.
- If one susoyoke (the skirt of a two-piece juban or skip) isn’t big enough, consider using two (this may not be the best idea in warm weather if it can be avoided).
- Consider making your own undergarments. Kimono de Cheap has instructions for making your own two-piece juban. If you can buy a juban fabric bolt or an actual juban you don’t mind taking apart, you could use that fabric in addition to the fabric of your choice to make a comfortable juban that fits you the best and still has proper juban fabric in the areas where it might be visible (like at the sleeves)
- If you have a large bust (like me) consider using sports bras and/or wrapped Ace bandages or other similar strips of fabric to help make things more flat and event. I often wind up using a combination of the two to get the look I want. This may be less of an issue for you if you’re wearing a custom-made kimono or yukata.
- Be careful of padding! Depending on your shape, you may not need it or you may need it in unusual places. I usually wind up going without padding. However, someone with an hourglass shape might still need padding around the waist to even things out and give the proper kimono silhouette.

For the obi, obi age, and obi jime:
- Consider using two obi of the same or similar colors and patterns if a single standard-length obi doesn’t work for you. Wrap one around your waist twice, pull it tight, and secure the loose end so it won’t come loose during wearing (this may require some experimentation to find out what works for you). Wrap the second obi around your waist ONCE, then tie the musubi of your choice. This method works well with heko obi and with light hanhaba obi meant to be worn with yukata, but could also work with heavier heko obi as well. It also works best with two obi in similar colors, but you might want to play with things and see if you prefer using different colors. Please note that while I have tried this with heko and hanhaba obi I have NOT tried it with anything else and have no idea if it would work with, say, a Nagoya obi. I do intend to experiment with this at some point and will keep you posted.
- Make your own! You probably don’t even need special fabric, especially if you’re making a casual obi to use with your yukata. A heko obi would be particularly easy, since you would just have to buy a few yards of soft and light-weight fabric you liked and hem the edges a bit so they wouldn’t fray.
- I have found obi age to be fairly forgiving. As long as you can make a decent knot and tuck the ends in so they don’t show, you might be fine with just a standard obi age. If not, consider looking for two in the same color (or in colors that would work together! Many obi age are actually multi-colored) or substituting something like a longer scarf or a home-made obi age.
- I don’t know of any good obi jime substitutes. If you’re wearing one with an obi dome you might not have problems, as long as you can tie it firmly and the ends don’t show. If you’re tying it rather than wearing it with an obi dome and you can’t find one long enough, you might need to get two. As with obi age, you can use two of the same color or two of colors that go well together (some obi jime come in multiple colors).

For your footwear:
- It’s usually easy to see where the hanao (straps) of geta are tied on the bottom of the geta. If you need to adjust your hanao, don’t be afraid to untie them and loosen or tighten them as needed.
- It’s a little more difficult on zori, but many zori have a small panel on the bottom near the toe where it looks like a flap of the sole has been partly cut out and then stapled shut. See if you can remove the staple and open the flap. You should see the end of the hanao there, and you should be able to loosen or tighten it as needed. Close the flap again and re-set the staple (you will probably want a small hammer for this). This is something else you may want to try on something you could live without before doing it on your favorite pair of zori.
- I have not yet found a good way to adjust tabi to better fit larger feet. The good news is that you don’t need tabi with yukata, and you can probably find some stretchy, sock-like tabi to wear with other kimono. They aren’t completely proper, but I imagine it would be more proper to wear the wrong kind of tabi than to wear no tabi at all.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Photo: Custom Summer Komon

I believe I may have mentioned my custom kimono before. This is one of them. It was the first one I ever had made, and I kind of stumbled into it by accident. See, shortly after arriving for my year in Japan back in 2009, I made my way to the city a few train stops over to go to the mall. And in said mall I discovered a small branch of the Sagami chain (I think it's a chain anyway) of kimono shops. They happened to be having a sale to get rid of the remains of their summer-weight fabrics, since we were about to enter fall, and it just so happened that they had enough of this fabric to make a kimono in my size. And that's how I wound up with my first custom kimono.

It's a kind of grayed-out shade of purple, with a nice pattern of white tendrils and leaves. For variety, some of the leaves are a very pale green or a brownish-peachey color (the two leaves along the seam near the middle of my second picture are examples, though the colors aren't terribly obvious here). The color is probably a bit too mature for me, seeing as it's rather dark and subdued and I'm only 27, but I like to brighten it up a bit with pink and yellow accessories. I usually wear this with my custom pink obi and the yellow obi age and obi jime I found to go with them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is plus-sized kitsuke possible?

In my last non-photo post I talked about the measurements you need to determine whether or not a kimono will fit you and some of the difficulties that my by encountered by potential kimono-wearers whose bodies are larger than typical Japanese bodies. It can be very difficult to be plus-sized and to participate in kimono-wearing activities, since kimono rarely come in larger sizes -- especially more formal kimono. However, that does not mean that kimono-wearing is entirely impossible. Depending on your specific size, you may be able to find kimono at the larger end of the usual spectrum and wear them by relaxing rules regarding how much the two front panels should overlap. Unfortunately you don’t have much leeway in this -- only a couple of inches, really, but for many people that could be enough. If that won’t work for you, you may be stuck with hunting around for larger yukata and komon (and accepting that larger formal kimono are so rare that I personally have never seen one). If you have the skills or the access to someone who does, you might also be able to make your own kimono as well. Many shops that sell kimono also sell kimono and yukata fabric. Depending on where you live, you may even be lucky enough to have a kimono store nearby that could make a kimono for you, though this option might be very expensive and is probably quite rare outside of Japan. Just be aware that, depending on your size, you may need more than one bolt of fabric and it can be difficult to get matching bolts.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Photo (a few hours late): Iromuji

When I first got into kimono, I didn't really care much for iromuji. I mean come on, compared to other types of kimono, they're just so plain. One solid color, with the pattern -- if there even is one -- just woven into the fabric? How could that ever compare to a lively komon, an elegant houmongi, or a opulent furisode? Even the relatively staid kurotomesode (which I love, even if I haven't bought one yet) seemed more interesting in comparison. But after a while, iromuji started to grow on me. These days I really like the simple elegance of a nice iromuji and how versatile they are.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Photo: Summer Tsukesage

No close-up shots of the pattern at the moment, I'm afraid. Blogger apparently hates my photos of this kimono and it took me forever just to get it to accept this one.

But anyway, today was quite a bit warmer than any other  day we've had all year and it made me think of summer. Most of my kimono are lined late fall - early spring pieces, but I have a few summer items, like this one. I believe it's a tsukesage based on where and how the pattern falls, but tsukesage are the toughest kimono for me to identify so I'm not entirely certain! It's a mostly-white kimono with areas of a lovely, summery lime green, and mid-to-late-summer flowers like pinks and bellflowers. And the best part? I grabbed it up for 1500 yen (less than $20 at the time) at a little shop in Nara.

Monday, May 9, 2011

“Where can I get a kimono in size Y?” or What you actually need to know to figure out if that kimono will fit you

A common question I see is where someone can get a kimono that will fit. This is a reasonable question, though a bit difficult to answer, especially for non-Japanese people (who are often larger than Japanese people). One thing that makes answering this question difficult is the simple fact that kimono are not sized like Western clothing. But what exactly does that mean?

Western clothing is usually labeled with a size, such as M or XXL, 12 or 26, 16/18, or whatever special system a particular store or brand has developed (e.g. many items sold in Torrid use Torrid’s own sizing system of 0-5, which roughly corresponds to the sizes 12/14-28/30 found in other stores). Western-style clothing in Japan follows a similar system. Kimono usually do not. When you’re buying a kimono, knowing your Western clothing size is largely irrelevant. You need to know your measurements. At the very least you will need to know your height and your hip or waist measurement. For the hips/waist, you will also need to take into account the fact that a properly-worn kimono or yukata wraps around your body and overlaps in the front, so that the outer edge of each front panel lines up with the opposite side seam. That’s a lot of extra inches you need to account for if you want the kimono to fit! You might also want to know your “wingspan,” the measurement from one wrist to the other with your arms outstretched, so you don’t wind up with a kimono that fits like a t-shirt.

Once you know these measurements, where do you find a kimono that fits you? Well, you can try some of the resources I listed in my second post, but depending on your size it may be difficult or impossible to find a ready-made kimono that will fit you. This is simply because Japanese people tend to be smaller than non-Japanese people, not only in terms of weight but also in terms of build. As a result, most of the clothing items available from Japan -- including kimono -- are smaller than those made for a Western market. Add to this that most second-hand kimono were probably made for a specific person and you can see the difficulty involved in finding a kimono to fit your measurements. It CAN be done. I know plenty of people who have done it. But it helps to be aware of these things when you’re hunting for your kimono. Keep in mind that if you’re substantially larger than an average Japanese person (e.g. you’re very tall or you’re plus-sized, like me) that your options might be very limited. I have found yukata in my size, and one polyester komon in a Japanese 5L (which was still too small for me when I wore an American 3X regularly), but I have never seen more formal kimono in my size and I had to have both of my komon custom-made.

Good luck in your kimono hunt, and if you find any good resources please let me know!