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What do Japanese people wear?

Updated on August 17, 2010
Photo by Andres Ojeda
Photo by Andres Ojeda

During its early history, Japan adopted Chinese culture, directly or through Korea, including styles of dress. Basic garments were a short tunic or jacket and full trousers, which continued for centuries to be the attire of peasants and servants. In the 7th century the nobility adopted the silk kimono (gown), from the Chinese p'ao or its Korean variant, for court wear. A painting of the pro-Chinese Prince Shotoku shows him in a long brocade coat (the Korean tsurumagi) worn over long trousers with a handsome belt, sword, and wallet. Court ladies wore long, high-necked gowns with long hanging sleeves over trousers. Both sexes used face powder and rouge, and blackened their teeth.

During the Heian period (8th-12th century) elaborate court dress developed, based on Chinese principles of rank indicated by color and design.

Men wore several dark kimonos, fastened on the right, with long, wide sleeves and elaborate girdles, and hakama- full, skirtlike trousers) gathered at the ankles. Kimono sleeves and hakama could be shortened by cords to allow for free movement, during uprisings, for example. Similarly, the kamishimo (stiff garments with winglike extensions), later worn by nobles and samurai over the kimono, could be shrugged off for combat. Heads were shaved almost bare and covered with black lacquered silk hats with stiff projections.

Beautiful and talented women dominated the court of the late Heian, or Fujiwara, period (9th-12th century). Scrolls illustrating Lady Mura-saki's Tales of Genji show delicate ladies in 12 or more airy layers of enormously wide, long kimonos, tied in front with a narrow obi (sash) and trailing over full scarlet hakama, with their unbound hair, often artificially lengthened by added hair, streaming down behind them. Enormous care was spent by both men and women to achieve the right color harmonies of the silks, woven under imperial supervision, according to the season or as inspired by a poem.

Eventually, as Japan became more militaristic and nationalistic, dress became somewhat simpler. During the Tokugawa period (17th-19th- century), men and women wore a floor-length kimono made of 6 strips of 18-inch cloth basted together (to be taken apart for cleaning). It had a roll collar, a "V" neck closing on the right, and hanging sleeves sewed partly up the sides to be used as pockets. Beneath the kimono was an under kimono, with a shirt and loincloth for men and petticoats for women. The kimono was held in place by a wide obi elaborately tied in back. The cotton or silk materials for these garments, as seen in woodcuts of the time, were exquisitely printed or embroidered with striking naturalistic designs. For outdoor and formal wear, a haori, a knee-length black silk coat, printed with white man (family crests), was worn over the kimono. Court ceremonial also required dark silk hakama. Footgear consisted of white cotton tabi (mitten-socks) and, for outdoor wear, sandals or clogs. Women's hair was lacquered into elaborate shapes and ornamented with combs, pins, and flowers.

Peasants wore cotton trousers or white loincloths and happi (short coats). Happi designs, usually white on indigo, identified one's occupation. Women added aprons and often kerchiefs. Both sexes wore sandals, straw raincoats, and wide straw hats. Traditional dress is often worn in villages, for ceremonies, or at home, and is preserved in No and Kabuki theater.


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      charile hooder 5 years ago

      alright guys

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      hi54321 5 years ago

      I thought it was rubbish

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      lyricQ.T :3 6 years ago

      thanks for posting this :) i rlly needed to know it for my Social studies project on Japan.

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      kjglk 6 years ago