Category Archives: kimono

Making of Juban, kimono’s undergarment

For the past three years, I have been taking an advanced kimono course to deepen my understanding of Japanese kimono culture. People always ask me why and what I learn there for so long. I’ve been asking myself the same question over and over, but the more I learn, the more curious I become, and the curiosity led me to where I am now.

The other day, I put my foot into an impossible mission – making a “Juban,” kimono’s undergarment by hand, on my own. I can’t even make a tiny bag for my little daughter without my mum’s help. Will I ever finish it…?

To start with, I needed to iron this 5m long cotton garment called “Sarashi“. It took almost two hours to iron the entire roll, and my super functional iron left quite a few golden brown spots…

After five hours of measuring, marking, cutting and sawing, this is how it look like now.

Looks like I am on the right track.

Kindergarten bento – Colours (17/Mar/17)

Menu: Grilled salmon flakes & boiled komatsuna mixed in rice (with sesame on top), Plain omelet, Steamed pumpkin, Cucumber sticks

Kiwi & banana for dessert

As I was sprinkling sesame on top of the salmon rice as the final touch after packing my daughter’s bento this morning, I had a flashback of the colour matching I was doing last night with my kimono. I was trying to achieve a springy look, struggling to see which colour of string should be added to make it look most fresh, cheerful and elegant. 

Only a tiny bit of difference, but I think they do make different impressions to its viewers. The same principal also goes to bento making in my opinion, especially considering the fact we have many traditional colours derived from food and plants. 

Ha! I have never thought of that!

Kimono – truth unfolded (2)

In Japan today, I regrettably admit that kimono is not worn on a daily basis any more. Kimono has become one of Japan’s cultural symbols and admired by many, but unfortunately it is not included in a part of our normal routine.

Having said that, there are a few special occasions of the year when people do make an effort to put them on, and the beginning of April is one of them, for the entrance ceremony of their child/ren’s school.

Our little one started her kindergarten this April, and there was, as expected, the entrance ceremony held for the adorable little new comers. In the morning of the ceremony, a bright sunny spring day, our daughter proudly put on her brand new uniform with the matching hat and backpack, and hit the road for the new phase of her life to commence. All of a sudden she looked so grown, making it hard for us to believe she was a tiny baby only a couple of years ago.

It was a perfect excuse for me to wear my spring green kimono, with a gorgeous pastel phenix pattern obi handed down from my mum. The ceremony was to start at 10:00AM sharp, and based on my numerous practices with my kimono teacher, I timed it and decided to wake up at 6:30AM. The first thing to do is to put my make up on and my hair up before I start touching the valuable kimono (actually it’s a must, to do these preparations in advance, because we hardly ever “wash” this type of kimono/obi. It’s made of silk, and the contact with any liquid could ruin the fabric. If it gets dirty for whatever reason, we seek professional help, which of course comes with a bill). I was planning to leave our sleeping beauty in bed as long as possible in order to secure ample time to put kimono on, after grabbing a quick bite to eat for breakfast… But don’t things always turn out to be different from what you expected? As ironic as life is, only five minutes after I woke up I heard the click of our daughter’s bedroom door, only to find this cute little exciting face peeking out, already super active, and claiming determinedly, “Hungry!!!” So still in our pj’s and with my unwashed face and messy hair, we had breakfast, along with a grumpy sleepy Papa.

OK, just a small change in the plan, I can still manage it, I thought. So I hurriedly finished eating and excused myself in the bathroom to fix up my face and hair, and finally was about to move onto dressing up in kimono. But don’t things always go wrong at the very best timing? By the time I was done with my makeup and hair, my husband locked himself up in the shower to beauty himself up for also his big day, while placing our girl in front of her favorite TV show (Peppa Pig). Still fine, OK, she can keep herself busy with Peppa and her friends, and I can focus on the long process of wearing the kimono… When our little one watches Peppa Pig, she can easily stay in front of the telly for an hour. Exactly the time I would like to have to put everything on carefully, starting from underwear (hadajuban), undergarment (nagajuban), kimono, and finally to obi belt. Around the time I started working on the kimono bit, only a few Peppa Pig episodes later, our curious munchkin skilfully turned the TV off with the large remote in her two little hands with clumsy fingers, came up to where I was, stating she wanted to offer some help. Oh dear……. a sense of panic ran through my head. I really need to concentrate on straightening all the creases, putting the length right, tightening the strings so that the kimono wouldn’t fall apart during the ceremony, and all the other complicated steps I have to follow to tie my obi. I don’t have time to pay attention to her right now, oh no oh no oh no (started sweating under my armpits by then)… I looked back to check the clock, and the time was ticking. I asked her nicely to leave me alone and go back to her Peppa, but no, she wanted to help Mama. Really? Today of all days? I once again checked the clock with the side of my eyes. Tick tack, tick tack, tick tack… I was beginning to get more and more agitated, and to my dismay, I finally raised my voice and told her to go away… go away… to my daughter, who was willing to offer me some help… The worst thing a mother could do… And her reaction was, rightfully, a HUGE tantrum.

By the time this happened my husband came out of the shower smelling clean and fresh with a hint of his aftershave, steam coming up from his shoulders. Looking at him like that (he looked so satisfied and content), I couldn’t help but yell at him asking why he left her alone with me when I needed him to watch her the most. He said he was watching her while I was in the bathroom doing my face and hair (dah)… but sensing my urgency and devastation, he tried to calm me down and apologised for his shortcomings. Our little girl was still crying her head out, my husband looked at a loss not knowing what he could or should do in a situation like this. There was still half and hour left, and for a second I thought I could make it if I hurried up, but I decided to switch to Plan B – a plain but elegant dark blue dress (and it takes a minute to wear it). Looking at both of them like that, I finally realised how selfish I had been in that morning, focusing so much only on myself and kimono. I was so looking forward to wearing it on our little one’s special day, but at the same time I was almost ruining it.

So right on time at 9:30AM, we left our apartment in our coincidentally matching outfits (blue shorts, blue dress, blue suits) and started walking to our girl’s new kindergarten. Despite her earlier tantrum she looked delighted and enthusiastic, and was enjoying every minute of the walk to her new school with her Papa and Mama. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and blue, and our neighbours and other pedestrians greeted us, everyone with a smile. Our daughter was beaming with pride in her new slightly oversized uniform. At the kindergarten, all the proud parents were taking pictures of their child, all dressed up nicely and moderately. No kimono in sight, which made me think it might have been a good thing that I wasn’t in kimono that day, because in Japan the conformity is greatly appreciated. Not that I don’t value individuality and uniqueness, but the ceremony was, after all, for the children, not for me. It was a perfect day, if you didn’t think about what had happened earlier that morning in our household.

Kimono is beautiful. I have fallen in love with its glamour and gracefulness and am determined to learn more so that I can pass my knowledge to the next generation. However, I also learnt the downside of it, well I learnt it the hard way. Behind the scenes it requires a great deal of attention, time, effort, concentration and peace of mind. I failed on the latter two this time. You need to have a good balance of these elements; otherwise it would end up like what happened that day.  After coming home from the charming ceremony, I attempted to put the kimono on once again while letting our daughter help me. This time, I was relaxed and focused, and finished the entire process within half an hour or so. Our daughter, also a mini kimono admirer, marvelled how beautiful I looked. And this time, I asked her to offer me one extra help. Our little big girl took pictures of me, standing up high on her big girl’s step.

Photo by M. H. K.

Kimono – truth unfolded (1)

For the past four years I have been learning how to wear Kimono “properly” at a class provided by a licensed teacher in my neighbourhood. Yes, four years…

In class I have been learning how to put Kimono on by myself, including how to tie Obi belt on my own. That’s right, even if you are born and raised in Japan, at present you just don’t know how to wear it if you were never been taught, just like any other non-Japanese person, because we simply don’t wear Kimono anymore on a daily basis. It’s sad but true.

Over the years Kimono has become a cultural heritage, and made its way as one’s luxurious hobby. It may sound a little ridiculous that anyone needs to study for it if it is just some clothes you put on. I must admit I used to think so, too. My initial intention of taking the class was simply to learn how to wear it, as it requires certain skills, and I wanted to overcome my secret shame of not being able to do it on my own (I had to ask someone else to put it on me, which usually costs money).

But the more I learn about Kimono, the more depth comes to surface. In parallel I learn, or rather feel, the history of Japan through the eyes of a woman, who once existed and slipped her arms into this beautiful silky garment. This makes me feel as if I was time traveling to witness our past, and that really awakened me to the core. After giving birth to the little one three years ago, the frequency to visit my teacher decreased, and that is why I have been doing it for so long. But I’m proud to say I finally completed the first course at the end of last year, and now I am planning on stepping up to the next level, to learn how to put Kimono onto other people.

(to be continued)



poem – 鴇色の小紋 (ibis pink kimono)









inheriting kimono’s from my auntie
we reminisce our good old times
browsing through many wooden boxes stored in an orderly manner

softly touching a striking ibis silk
pulled from the back of her closet
keeping a subtle smile on her face, she said

“i had a dream once
had it made after getting married
wanted to wear it for a baby’s blessing
though i never got to slip my arm in it
it should look good on you
it is perfect for your age”

hesitant to take away her special memory
indirectly i declined
“we should make an occasion for it
you’ll look fantastic in it, auntie”

somehow a bit relieved
she put away the elegant kimono
back to where it used to belong
delicately and endearingly

she resumed
looking for different kimono’s
which carry other recollections



taking a stroll in yukata æµ´è¡£ã§æ•£æ­©

it’s been almost 4 months since i started taking kimono lessons. lately, due to an unbearable summer heat in tokyo, my teacher & i came to an agreement that we use a “yukata (æµ´è¡£),” a casual kimono-like garment made with cotton, for my practice. those who have been to some japanese “onsen (温泉), hot spring, must know what a yukata is. originally, it is something you put on after taking a bath, in the evening, so is meant to be very casual. nowadays, yukata is very popular and worn frequently for summer festivals and fireworks.

yesterday, i had a weekly kimono (well yukata for now) class in the afternoon, and came home in my yukata i had put on during today’s lesson. as part of the exercise, my teacher encouraged me to go out in yukata to gain my confidence. she even gave me some tips how to walk in such way to make me look as a typical, somewhat ideal japanese woman (“put some weight on your big toes!). so after the lesson, i took my husband along to an annual summer festival at our neighbourhood temple.

at the festival, there were a few food stalls selling “yakisoba (焼きそば),” stir-fried noodles, “kakigori (かき氷),” shaved ice with colourful syrup, “ramune (ラムネ),” sweet lemony soda in a greenish transparent glass bottle, etc… In the middle of the temple, there was a stage where a few people were playing Japanese traditional music with taiko drums for everyone to dance “bonodori (盆踊り),” bon festival dance. it is not a difficult dance – pretty much self-explanatory once you see it – and you can dance in your yukata too. it’s a repetition of several body movements, and you go around the stage in circles, again, and again, and again.

a scene from the festival

to my surprise, it was extremely crowded at the temple. kids were running around, people dancing, eating and drinking, boys and girls fishing for their potential dates… many people dressed in their traditional costume, myself included, and i strongly felt unaltered elements of traditions, through its music, noise, smell, crowd, lights, steamy air, heat…. in the heart of this modern, cosmopolitan city, i thought as if we had time-travelled to a different era.

in yukata, i felt good. wearing it gave me an amazing emotional comfort, and to make my teacher very proud, more self-esteem for who i am. i’d love to keep trying to preserve this. to the next generations, for years and years to come.

japanese kimono lesson ç€ç‰©æ•™å®¤

on every monday since march (right after the earthquake actually), i have been taking kimono lessons in my neighborhood in tokyo, where i learn how to wear japanese kimono on my own. embarrassingly enough, i don’t know how to put it on by myself despite my cultural background, since someone else always did it for me.

taking the lesson every week, i have realised how mentally exhausting it can be to learn something brand new, especially at this stage of my life where more than a decade has long past after graduating from the university. after each lesson, i come home being literally worn out, overwhelmed with the mixture of familiar/unfamiliar words and rules concerning the japanese tradition and history.

still, acquiring this particular skill is a delight and a great addition to my life, as if this will fill in another missing puzzle of my being. every monday at 2pm, my teacher, a short, charming and cheerful lady presumably in her 60’s, greets me at the entrance door of her home, always in different and unique types of seasonal kimono. each time i open the door with an anticipation of the colour, material, pattern and small trinkets of the kimono she beautifully wears.

during the 2-hour lesson, while i learn the practical side of kimono dressing, my mind often trips back to my childhood memory. a vision of kimono, a smooth & cold texture of silk, a smell of this particular aroma specific for keeping all the garments, a posture of an elegant bow on the floor… all of which remind me so much of the time i spent with my grandmother when she was still alive, who used to teach japanese tea ceremony in her kimono at home. she allowed me to be around when she was teaching, and tried to show me how to do it a few times. but all those attempts always ended up in failure, because i was not so interested and never appreciated the fact that i was so close to it. now that she is gone, i realise the significance of what i missed out. the sense of regret waves into my head, and my heart starts to beat a little faster than normal. but then my mind comes back to the present and the reality of another practice goes on.

at the end of the lesson today, the teacher told me that it was her mission to encourage the young generation of japanese people to wear kimono, in order to preserve and pass on our culture to the future. being married to a non-japanese person, it is quite likely that i may move out of japan with him one day in the future. but even when this happens, i want to take them all with me to wherever we go – the subdued, yet unyielding values this country has taught me.