The word kimono is derived from “kiru” (which means “to put on”) and “mono” (which means “thing”), so it simply means: “the thing to put on”.
The T-shaped, straight-cut robe has its origins in China, where it was worn as an undergarment. Its current design stems from the Heian period (8th to 12th century), although it has undergone several modifications between then and now. There are many kinds of kimonos that differ in their cut, pattern and colour scheme: for married women (tomesode, kurotomesode), single women (furisode, kofurisode and koburisode), married and single women (tsukesage, houmongi, iromuji, komon, edokomon), brides (uchikake and shiromuke), burials (mofuku), men and children (hitotsumi) and kimonos for recreational activities (yukata), geishas (susohiki) and their apprentices the maikos (hikizuri). The keikogi – the training outfit for Judo, Kendo, Karate and Aikido – is also based on the kimono.
The most elegant and complex kimono, the junihitoe, which means “twelve-layered robe” can be seen in Japan’s imperial palace Despite the diverse range of kimonos, in the past they were only available in one size, as they were cut from a single, standard-size piece of fabric. They were adapted to the wearer’s body by tucking and folding. Today, they are available in different sizes. A brand new, high-quality kimono can easily cost more than EUR 10,000: hand-sewn, hand-woven and hand-embroidered silk fabrics are expensive, which is why many people buy second-hand kimonos. A complete kimono outfit, with all the accessories, can cost more than EUR 20,000, as the obi, the stiffened sash used to bind the kimono at the back, is very complex to make and therefore very costly.
Like many traditions in Japan, putting on a kimono is an art unto itself. Only recreational and everyday kimonos can be put on without any assistance, otherwise you need the help of a friend or a professional dresser. The latter often work at hairdressing or cosmetic salons, although they also come to the wearer’s home. In addition to the kimono and the obi, the up to three-and-a-half-metre long sash, which is artistically bound into a taiko (drum knot) at the back, there are nine other accessories: the undergarment, two waist sashes, a scarf, two additional ties, the obijime (a cord), the obita (a piece of cardboard around which the obi knot is tied) and the obimakura, a bustle pad that supports and shapes the knot.
Together, they create an impressive work of art, and, just like the tea ceremony or sushi, represent Japanese artistry and tradition.