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!