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Kimono Nation2011.09.06

    It isn’t just that kimono is a Japanese word, Japan is in some ways a Kimono Nation. It certainly was in the days before the Meiji Period (1868~1912), when not only the convenience of Western clothing, but even an Edict by the Meiji Emperor required police, railroad men, and teachers to wear Western clothing, and soon the same for uniforms in all walks of life. Perhaps the accelerating pace of life simply overtook the kimono, not completely replacing it, but relegating it to a highly specialized art form, raising the barriers of taste and affordability to elite status.


    While low end varieties are available, a woman’s kimono can cost up to $10,000, or even $20,000 once all of the accessories are added. Hence kimono are often reserved for very formal occasions such as weddings, and may even be considered family heirlooms. Kimono culture has its own vocabulary, and requires special training not only in how to put on the kimono, but also how to sit, stand, walk and move about.


    The elitification of the kimono actually started much earlier in the Edo Period (1603~1867), when clothing became the outward sign of class, rank, and occupation, regulated by law. Though best able to afford it, the Merchant class was socially beneath the Samurai, Farmers, and Artisan class. The most elegant patterns in the kimono which merchants wore were often hidden on the inside of the garment, when they were not permitted to be displayed on the outside.


    An article by Jeffrey Hays, Kimonos and Obis as Everyday Wear and Works of Art ( provides a good summary of the dual development of the kimono as an art form, alongside the attempt to keep it alive in daily life. Caught between the cost of traditional kimono and the shift of luxury tastes toward Western fashions, the Kimono industry is surviving through a combination of innovation and automation in production, use of new synthetic materials and designs that lower the cost and the hurdle of accessibility. Despite the fact that fewer Japanese women are wearing or buying kimono, surveys indicate that a majority would like to wear kimono if they could afford it, and if it were easier to wear in daily life.


    An impressive innovation for Kimono Nation is the Shitateya Jingoro Kimono(仕立屋甚五郎きもの), a kimono that is ready to wear in 29 seconds, the design invented by Kenichi Takahashi of Beppu, Oita Prefecture. The brand name means “Jingoro the Dressmaker,” and he designed this kimono to be as easy and as comfortable as Western clothing, but still maintain the essential shape and appearance of the kimono.


    The Shitateya Jingoro Kimono is different from the traditional kimono in a number of respects. Each kimono is custom tailored to fit the wearer, rather than forcing the wearer to fit the kimono. This allows for curved lines, rather than the more formal straight lines, and it permits more freedom of movement in the neck and waist. In fact, the neck is collarless, with a patented design, to make room for a scarf, necklace, or other accessories. Considerably more affordable than traditional kimono, the Shitateya Jingoro Kimono is also hand washable. The obi is pre-folded, so the process of putting it on is quick and easy. And there is a line for men as well as women.


    It is made of an original textile material called Sakiko, as well as other materials from high-end textile manufacturers. One of the characteristics is that it feels like real silk, has a beautiful reflective quality, maintains its color, can be folded or worn without wrinkling, is highly resistant to mold and insects, does not shrink when washed, and can be hand washed at home. This is particularly convenient if you are traveling or living outside of Japan. Compare this to the traditional silk kimono, which for all of its loveliness and refinement, must be treated with the utmost care, requires a special dry cleaning process, and can only be brought out for special formal occasions.


    The ability to reinvent itself both culturally and technologically is at the heart of Japanese innovation. Even as the Kimono industry suffers from declining sales and reduced numbers of customers, interest in kimono culture remains high in Japan. Through innovations in materials, design, and accessibility, the kimono is sure to make a comeback in the Kimono Nation.


    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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