In this blog post, we explore different types of Kimono accessories. We will describe each accessory in detail and explain how each is traditionally worn as part of a full Kimono outfit. As you probably already know, ‘kimono’ literally means ‘a thing to wear’ in Japanese but what you may not realise is how many separate parts or *accessories* make up a full Kimono outfit.
Kimono accessories are traditionally used to enhance the beauty and wearability of a Kimono. The purpose of the accessories can range from being purely decorative to highly functional. In fact, a full Kimono outfit would not be possible without the assistance of a wide range of highly specialised accessories. These accessories might include everything from certain types of padding and towels, various belts and undergarments as well as the straps used to hold the Kimonos layers in place. Additionally, Kimono accessories enhance and complete the final Kimono look in the form of decorative hair pieces, fans and Obi sashes.
Kimono Accessory #1 Towels
A traditional Kimono should fall straight and flat across a woman's body with not even a hint of curves. This is achieved through the use of strategically folded towels which are wrapped around the waist and under the bust to create the illusion of a seamlessly flat surface. A longer thin piece of towelling might be wrapped around the woman's waist to create a flat silhouette between the hips and chest. Similarly, for women with larger busts, a towel might be wrapped underneath the bust to allow the Kimono robe to fall smoothly from the chest to the knees.
Set of towels
Kimono Accessory #2 Eri-shin
Eri-shin small piece of flexible plastic which is inserted into the collar of the Nagajuban or ‘undergarment’. This long smooth piece of plastic or cardboard is essential for creating a smooth, wrinkle free Kimono collar. Without the use of an Eri-shin the soft silk fabrics of a Kimono may wrinkle and fold around the collar area. This is considered undesirable, because a Kimono should sit smooth, straight and wrinkle free. It is not necessary to use an Eri-shin when wearing a more informal Yukata robe.
Set of two plastic Eri-shin
Kimono Accessory #3 Koshi Himo Belt or ‘Hip Ribbons’
The Koshi Himo are thin pieces of ribbon used to tie and hold the Kimono together. Usually 7 Koshi Himo are required to fully hold a Kimono in place. The ribbons may be made from wool, silk or cotton and are generally a neutral color. The ribbons are used to hold the padded towels around the waist and underneath the bust in place. They are also used to secure the underwear or ‘Juban’. The Koshi Himo are generally long enough to be wrapped at least two times around the waist. It is often recommended to have one Koshi Himo in a similar colour to your Kimono. This Koshi Himo might be used to tie the collar of your Kimono in place and having it in a similar colour to your Kimono means that it will not be noticable if it accidentally slips and becomes visible.
Set of three Koshi Himo
Kimono Accessory #4 Datejime
The Datejime belt is used to fasten the padded towels and the hip belts securely in place. It is also used to ensure that any knots are hidden, thereby creating an extremely smooth surface over which the outer Kimono can be placed. Datejime are generally 10cm or so wide and should be wrapped over the Kimono undergarments and hip belts. Datejime are often made from silk but more modern versions are primarily made from synthetic materials and have velcro fastenings for ease of use. A second Datejime is sometimes tied over the outer Kimono before the Obi belt is put into place. This is thought to create an extremely smooth surface, helping the obi to appear absolutely smooth and crease free.
Pink Datejime with velcro fastening
Kimono Accessory 5# Obi-ita
The Obi-ita is a thin board covered in fabric. This board is placed within the folds of the Obi sash and stops it from creasing or forming undesirable folds. It is traditionally worn underneath the second layer of the Obi belt. The Obi-ita also helps to prevent the Obi sash from becoming squished when a person bends over or sits down. Modern versions of the Obi-ita often come with robes or belts attached which can be easily wrapped around the waist and securely fastened. Fun fact, some Japanese women are known to stuff thick wads of newspapers between the layers of the Obi sash instead of using an Ob-ita!
Pink silk covered Obi-ita
Kimono Accessory #6 Obi-makura
Makura translates as roughty as ‘pillow’ and in fact this Kimono accessory is very pillow like in its form. The Obi-makura is used to enhance the voluminous structure and shape of the Obi knot located at the back of the Kimono. It is considered to be essential in holding the knot high up on the back. Because the size and shape of the Obi knot is varied, the Obi-makura comes in a variety of different padding thicknesses and sizes. Some Japanese women also make their own Obi-makura using styrofoam, old pillows or pieces of scrap fabrics. The primary goal of the Obi-makura is to shape and hold the Obi knot in place after all, how this is achieved is completely up to the individual wearer.
Set of Vintage Obi-Makura
Kimono Accessory #7 Obi-agi
The Obi-age is generally a long length of beautiful silk. It is used to hold the Obi-makura cushion in place and because small parts of the Obi-agi may be seen peeking out from underneath the Obi belt, the Obi-agi is generally high-quality, colour matched to the Kimono and often even decorated with hand-tied Shibori batik details. The most beautiful Obi-age are those designed to be worn with a Furisode. The Obi-age is considered an essential component of the Kimono as without it the Obi-makura may be slightly visible or not securely fastened.
White silk Obiage
Kimono Accessory #7 Zori
Zori are the sandal style shoe traditionally worn with Kimono. Zori are generally very narrow and it is usual for the feet to hang slightly over the sides. Zori have a single toe strap and are always worn with matching Tabi socks. Traditionally Zori were made from natural plant fibres such as straw or bamboo, cloth or lacquered wood. Modern Zori are primarily made from synthetic materials. The ease with which Zori can be slipped on and off is considered essential when wearing a Kimono as the weight and structure of the garments would make it nearly impossible to bend down and pull on or remove more complicated shoes.
Antique pair of Zori Sandals
Kimono Accessory #8 Tabi
Tabi are split toe socks worn with Zori sandals. The socks often feature a colourful pattern but traditionally they would have been white or neutral coloured. The design of the sock is made to separate your big toe from the rest, making it easy to wear the zori sandal.
Antique pair of Tabi Socks
Kimono Accessory #9 Geta
Geta are a more rustic, larger-sized split toe sandal often made from lightweight wood. The shape of the Geta is considered more informal and as such they are often worn with Yakuta. Unlike Zori which are generally worn by women only, Geta may also be worn by men. The width of the shoe as well as the padded toe separator mean the Geta are most often worn with bare skin, Tabi socks are only not worn with Geta.
Pair of wooden Geta Sandals
Kimono Accessory #10 Nagajuban
The Nagajuban is a Kimono shaped robe traditionally made from silk but these days often made from thin cotton or polyester. It is essentially an undergarment, its purpose being to form a protective layer between the skin and the outer Kimono. Because Kimono are considered difficult and labour intensive to clean, the Nagajuban is essential for protecting the luxurious fabrics of the outer Kimono and Obi belts from contact with the skin. Nagajuban often have a replaceable collar allowing for ease of repair and meaning that rather than washing the entire garment, just the collar can be removed and cleaned. Nagajuban were often considered as a sort of ‘secret’ garment with some versions being brightly coloured or hand-painted. A geisha's Nagajuban might be coloured in a contrasting tone to her Kimono, meaning that if she walked a certain way a quick flash of colour might be seen. Nagajuban might also be painted with auspicious scenes or symbols, intended to bring luck and protection to the wearer.
Brightly coloured silk Nagajuban
Kimono Accessory #11 Obi Sash
The Obi sash forms part of the final layer of a traditional Kimono outfit for both men and women. A women’s Obi is generally longer and wider than that of the men. A women’s formal obi can be as long as 4 meters and up to 10cm wide. The more formal the Obi sash becomes, the more intricate and elaborate the embroideries and fabrics are. In Fact, the cost of a formal Obi is often more expensive than the entire Kimono outfit itself. Wearing the Obi requires stiffeners and place holders such as the Obimakura and Obi-ita. The Obi belt is often tied into elaborate knots on the back of the Kimono, a technique which requires great skill and often calls for formally trained ‘Kimono Dresser’.
Brocade silk Obi sash
Kimono Accessory #11Kanzashi or 'Hair Comb'
Kanzashi describes hair ornaments used in traditional Japanese hairstyles. Kanzashi ornaments cover a broad spectrum of styles from simple hair combs and forks to elaborately decorated full head ornaments consisting of silk flowers, dangling ribbons or lacquered birds. The elaborate styles of Kanzashi are mostly worn by Geisha. Traditionally Kanzashi were thought to offer special protection to their wearer with the rod or stick shape of the comb being thought to warm off harmful spirits. Kanzashi were also sometimes created as defensive weapons.
Metallic Kanzashi hair comb
Kimono Accessory #12 Fan
The folding fan has a rich history in Japan. The fans were often made from fragrant Japanese cypress (hinoki) wood and covered with hand-painted silk, paper or bamboo. The size, shape and decorations covering a fan denoted the wearers social class. In fact, during the Heian period laws were put into place prohibiting certain social classes from carrying fans at all. The most elaborate and delicate fans were considered as purely decorative and were only opened when necessary. Fixed (Uchiwa) fans were also used by higher social classes as additional Kimono decoration. Uchiwa fans were often placed above the knot of the obi belt on the rear of the Kimono.
Antique Japanese fan made from Ivory
Kimono Accessory #14 Haori
The Haori is a hip length Kimono style jacket often worn over a Kimono. Traditionally Haori were only worn by men but during the late 1800’s geisha began to wear Haori on top of their Kimono in an attempt to appear ‘iki’ or stylish. This practice was then adopted by many Japanese women and toward the 1930’s it was common for women to wear Haori as it was for men. Haori, particularly those designed for men, often feature a rather plain silk exterior which is contrasted with an exquisitely hand-painted or woven silk lining. The explanation for this concealed luxury is that during the Edo period it was forbidden to display ostentatious wealth within certain social classes. This in turn gave birth to ‘secret’ haori linings which expressed the wearers true wealth.