Kimonos are worn with sashes called obi, which hold the kimono in place and keep the front closed. Obi not only serve this practical function, but are beautiful as well. Obi are about 4 meters (13 feet) long and 30 centimeters (12 inches) wide. There are two types of obi: fukuro-obi, which have a design only on one side; and nagoya-obi, which are narrower in the middle to make them easier to tie around the body. Obi known as nishiki-obi, made in Kyoto, are prized for the lavish colors such as gold and silver that are woven into them. Obi known as hakata-kenjo, made in Fukuoka Prefecture, are also well known.
There are various ways of tying the obi. The most popular bow is the taiko-musubi, or "drum bow." This bow, which is tied in back, puffs out like a pillow and is very beautiful. The taiko-musubi has been popular since the late Edo period. Until this bow came on the scene, people did not really care whether their obi were beautiful or not; the obi was just a way of holding the kimono in place so the front would stay closed. But once the taiko-musubi came out, many other styles of beautiful bows followed.
In the Meiji period, people began wearing the obi with accessories known as obi-age and obi-jime. The obi-age (bustle sash) held in place the pad that was used to shape the tied bow. The obi-jime was used to hold the obi in place. The use of these accessories in different color combinations became a way for people to show off their sense of style.
Other essential items worn with the kimono include the han'eri (half collar, a lining for the collar of the inner kimono) and tabi (split-toe socks worn with zori sandals). These items are pure white so as to show off the colors of the kimono.
Photos (from top): Beautiful fukuro-obi complement kimonos well (Tatsumura Co.); many people tie their obi in the taiko-musubi style (© Yoshiaki Yamamoto/SEKAIBUNKA PUBLISHING Inc,.); obi-jime are an important part of the look; hairpins are used to complete the fashion.(courtesy of Hisako Nakatani)