To a certain degree the way we move is dictated by our choice in dress and clothing. The way we walk is governed by our choice in footwear. The way we carry our bodies is guided by the way we carry our bags. Or our length of skirt dictates the way we pick something up off the floor. But this is something that we learn for ourselves through experience, knowledge of one’s own clothing, or perhaps from embarrassing knicker-flashing mishaps. It is not taught to us, which is why, finding an instructional manual detailing how a woman should move in a kimono in contemporary situations, was entirely fascinating to me.
Upon going through my grandmother’s kimonos and possessions, I found in among the miscellaneous objects a brochure from 1969. The contents of the brochure seem bizarre and paradoxical: a clash of temporalities between the ancient traditions of the kimono and the modern Japanese woman.
The reader is instructed how to wear the kimono, showing the various undergarments and steps that build up towards the final image of the kimono we are accustomed to. However, there are also pages where the reader is taught how to move and function in modern social situations, whilst wearing a traditional kimono. One image educates a woman on how to enter and exit a taxi in the correct manner. Another shows the reader how to sit on a Western-style sofa. There are also instructions on how to conduct more traditionally Japanese activities: bowing, opening sliding doors and drinking tea without splashing hot water all up your sleeves. These instructions seem bizarre and comical in their simplicity, but demonstrate the change in the body’s movement when wearing a kimono, and how one is constantly aware of one’s actions in garments that are unfamiliar.
These instructional images and descriptions jar with our autonomous understanding of our own body’s movements and how clothes affect them. The fact that women were shown how to move, when they wore this clothing is symptomatic of the problematic position of the kimono in Japanese society, as it is a form of dress that is slowly dying, becoming a cultural relic of Japan. As the roles of modern women have changed in Japanese society, the multi-layered and restrictive kimono is worn less and less. In modern Japan, the average person will wear ‘Western’ clothing, whilst the Kimono has been sidelined to a role denoting national identity and old-world traditions. This has not only led to a decline in the silk industry and the artistry of the kimono, but has led to a loss of understanding of how a kimono is worn, something that was traditionally passed down from mother to daughter.
The brochure is revealing of attempts in the 60s and 70s to reposition the kimono in a modern society, so as to preserve its significance in Japan. The depicted alterations and accessories that create comfort and ease highlight the tensions between old and modern post-war Japan. An attempt that is still being made today with efforts to reinvigorate the Japanese silk industry, and the wearing of the kimono at important events. However, without education in how a kimono is worn, these anxieties and tensions will endure.
Kennedy, Alan. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bazf/bazf00343.xml (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).
Milhaupt, Terry. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. Sept. http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bewdf/BEWDF-v6/EDch6057.xml (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).