A Japanese woman dressed in a kimono is becoming as rare a sight in Japan as it is overseas. Both Japanese men and women prefer Western clothing for their daily attire, and about the only people who wear Japanese-style clothing everyday are teachers of such traditional Japanese arts as the tea ceremony and flower arrangement, rakugo storytellers, and sumo wrestlers.
For most Japanese, the kimono is reserved for weddings, coming-of-age rites, the New Years holidays, and other special occasions. Few can successfully dress themselves in the elaborate kimono, and many young ladies attend kimono school to learn this social grace before they get married.
The Kimono’s Evolution
While kimono is a generic term for Japanese-style clothing, as opposed to Western-style, it more specifically refers to the long single garment overlapping in front and tied with a broad, stiff sash called an obi. The kimono traces its origins back to the Nara Period, but it was simply an undergarment until the Heian Period. Later it evolved into an outer garment worn by both men and women in combination with a hakama(long pantaloon-like skirt), and in the Muromachi Period, it finally reached its modern form without the hakama.
In the hierarchical Edo Period, the type and make of kimono was strictly regulated according to social rank, especially for men. For example, the official heir to a fief lord could wear pure white underwear; ordinary samurai were forbidden to wear satin; and the common people could only wear flax and cotton. As the commercial class gained economic clout, the restrictions on dress were gradually relaxed toward the end of the Edo Period. After the shogunate’s downfall in the late 19th century, Western clothing spread to the imperial family, the military, the civil service bureaucracy, students, and finally to the general public.