Kids Web Japan

The History of Kimono

Kimono of the Nara Period

Originally, "kimono" was the Japanese word for clothing. However, in recent years, the word has been used to refer specifically to traditional Japanese clothing. Kimono as we know them today came into the form during the Heian period (794-1185).

From ancient times, and all the way through the Nara period (710-794), Japanese people typically wore either ensembles consisting of separate upper and lower garments (trousers or skirts), or one-piece garments.

Typical clothing for nobility in the Nara period

Kimono of the Heian Period

In the Heian period (794-1185), a new kimono-making technique was developed. Known as the straight-line-cut method, it involved cutting pieces of fabric in straight lines and sewing them together. With this technique, kimono makers did not have to concern themselves with the shape of the wearer's body.

Straight-line-cut kimono were suitable for all weather: they could be worn in layers to provide warmth in winter, and kimono made of breathable fabric such as linen were comfortable in summer. These advantages helped kimono become a part of Japanese people's everyday lives.

Over time, as the practice of wearing kimono in layers came into fashion, Japanese people began paying attention to how kimono of different colors looked together, and they developed a heightened sensitivity to color. Typically, color combinations represented either seasonal colors or the political class to which one belonged. It was during this time that what we now think of as traditional Japanese color combinations developed.

During this period that spanned the late-Nara period (710–794) and the Heian period (794–1185), the clothes that people wore began to differ depending on their social status as either a member of the nobility or an ordinary citizen. The nobility began to wear clothing that covered their hands and feet and was difficult to move around in, while ordinary people wore clothes that looked more like modern clothing, with straighter, less flowy sleeves and better mobility.

Typical clothing for nobility in the Heian period

Kimono of the Kamakura Period

During the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and the Muromachi period (1336–1573), both men and women wore brightly colored kimono. As the warrior class grew in power, they would take to the battlefield dressed in gaudy colors that represented their leaders.

Typical clothing for a samurai family in the Kamakura period

Kimono of the Edo Period

During the Edo period (1603–1867), the Tokugawa warrior clan ruled over Japan. The country was divided up into feudal domains ruled by lords. The samurai of each domain wore "samurai uniforms," which consisted of a kimono and a kamishimo worn over the kimono, and were identified by the patterns on the kamishimo.A kamishimo is the combination of an upper sleeveless garment that was made of linen, starched to make the shoulders stand out, and a hakama, a type of skirt-like trousers. As the techniques of making kimono rapidly developed, kimono grew into an art form. Kimono became more valuable, and parents handed them down to their children as family heirlooms.

Typical clothing for a samurai family during the Edo period

From the Meiji Period to Today

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan was heavily influenced by foreign cultures. The government encouraged people to adopt Western clothing and habits. Government officials and military personnel were required by law to wear Western clothing for official functions. (That law is no longer in effect today.) Ordinary citizens, on the other hand, were required to wear kimono decorated with their family crests, called kamon, which identified their family backgrounds, on formal occasions. This type of kimono is called mantsuki. Since then, montsuki became formal wear for Japanese people.

Kimono are worn for traditional tea ceremonies.

Nowadays, Japanese people rarely wear kimono in everyday life, reserving them as haregi (formal clothing) for occasions including wedding ceremonies, funerals, and university graduation ceremonies. They are also worn for tea ceremonies and other special events, such as summer festivals and tanabata.

Most women attend their graduation ceremony in hakama.