Jomon and Yayoi periods
Japanese clothes during the Jomon period are mostly unknown. Fragments of textiles and sacks with strips have been discovered from the Jomon period sites, which proved that the Jomon people had techniques of spinning thread from plant fiber such as China grass and hemp as well as making cloth from the threads. It is supposed that the Jomon people made clothes out of the textiles and wore them. The clay figures in the shape of human beings have been found from the Jomon period sites and considered to be source materials for inferring the form of clothing of the Jomon people. As the clay figures are designed quite differently from real human beings, it is apparent that the figures were not made to represent real Jomon people; therefore, it is doubtful that they represent the real form of clothing from those days.
No source materials to indicate clothing has been found from the sites of the Yayoi period that was characterized by rice cultivation in paddy fields. Clothes worn by the Yayoi people can only be inferred from an article 'Gishiwajinden' included in part of 'Toiden' of the book 'Gisho' written in China. According to the description of the Gishiwajinden, Wajin, the Japanese people of those days, simply wore wide cloths secured by broad sashes. Incidentally, as 'Gishiwajinden' is a description of Wakoku, which is the name of Japan used by ancient China, and the people of Wakoku, it is highly possible that the article was about a country that once existed in the Japanese islands. On the other hand, the accuracy of 'Gishiwajinden' has been questioned for a long time.
Kofun and Asuka periods
Japanese clothes during the Kofun period are mostly unknown also. Only the "Kojiki" and "Nihonshoki" the oldest chronicles written in the Japanese islands as well as "Fudoki" were available as historical sources for the Kofun period, i.e., until the middle seventh century. As for archeological materials, only hollow clay figures provide a clue to infer the clothes worn during the Kofun period. Based on the materials, it is supposed that clothes for both female and male were separated into two parts for the upper half of the body and the lower half of the body. But as neither "Kojiki" nor "Nihonshoki" provide designs of clothes, and few source materials about the periods remain, clothes during the Kofun period are mostly unknown. In 603, in Japan, Prince Shotoku established twelve court ranks to distinguish superior officials by twelve colors of their caps. Only "Nihonshoki" describes the period when the twelve court ranks were established, but does not mention the relationship between the colors and ranks. "Nihonshoki" does not provide the design of clothes.
At the end of the 7th century, the name of the country was changed to Nippon. From 1972, the study started on the inside wall paintings of the Takamatsuzuka Tomb considered to have been painted from the end of the seventh century to the beginning of the eighth century. This wall painting show the only figures that depict people during the Asuka period. Male and female figures in the wall paintings and the description in the "Nihonshoki" were the only archaeological sources on clothes during the Asuka period. According to the report from the scholars, all the figures in the wall paintings of the Takamatsuzuka Tomb, both male and female, wear their clothes with right side over the left. In the figures, the garments worn on the upper part of the body hang out over the garments for the lower part of the body. It is supposed that the belts worn over the garments in the figures are made of textiles instead of leather.
Japanese clothes during the Nara period are mostly unknown also. The major sources available to study clothes during the Nara period are documents that include "Ryo-no-gige" (the colleted commentaries on the Ryo code with the efficacy of law) and "Ryo-no-shuge" (the colleted commentaries on the Ryo code without the efficacy of law) and "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) and "Nihongi Ryaku" (Summary of Japanese Chronologies), and the materials kept in the facilities like the Shosoin Treasure House. Neither of "Ryo-no-gige," "Ryo-no-shuge," and "Shoku Nihongi," provide examples of clothing. Both of the Taiho Ritsuryo Code promulgated in 701 and the Yoro Ritsuryo Code, a revised edition of the Taiho Ritsuryo Code, promulgated in 718 contain the clothing codes. The Taiho Ritsuryo code does not exist today. The Yoro Ritsuryo Code does not remain today either, but contents of the code can be inferred from the "Ryo-no-gige" and "Ryo-no-shuge." The clothing codes in the Taiho Ritsuryo Code and the Yoro Ritsuryo Code prescribed the clothes that should be worn in the Imperial Court as the formal clothing worn by the court nobles in the Imperial Court called 'Raifuku,' the clothing worn by the court nobles in the Imperial Court called 'Chofuku,' and the uniforms.
According to the clothing code in the Yoro Ritsuryo Code, formal clothing during the Nara period was worn to attend important religious services, the Imperial Enthronement Ritual called Daijosai or Ooname no matsuri, and on New Year's Day. According to the clothing code in the Yoro Ritsuryo Code, Chofuku were worn to attend the government meeting called 'Chokai' that was held once a month in an open court and when the court nobles does things called 'Kuji.' It is considered that Chofuku for military officers were secured by leather belts. Uniforms during the Nara period were for the government officials, who did not have any privileged status, to wear them when performing official duty. The clothing codes in the Taiho Ritsuryo Code and the Yoro Ritsuryo Code do not prescribe clothing for the common people who had nothing to do with the Imperial Court.
According to the clothing code of the Yoro Ritsuryo Code, the forms and colors of Raifuku, Chofuku, and uniforms differ to differentiate each status and official position. According to the clothing code of the Yoro Ritsuryo Code, Raifuku and Chofuku for military officers were prescribed to ware garments called 'Iou.' According to the scholars, the Iou were made of different colored clothing to differentiate ranks. Iou had the same form as Ou. According to "Koki" (Ancient records), Ou were clothes with the underarm parts of the sleeves open and the part covering the body was not layered. A form of clothes called 'Ketteki no ho' made in the later period is the same as Ou in that its underarm parts of the sleeves were made open and the part covering the body was not layered. It is considered that Raifuku for civil officers included layered clothing during 718 when the Yoro Ritsuryo Code was promulgated. Layered clothing for civil officers might have been the origin of clothes called 'Hoeki no ho' made in the later period.
The clothing and accessories during the Nara period were influenced by the Tang Dynasty in mainland China. Many theories state that the clothes were worn with the left side folded over the right in the mainland China during those days. In "Shoku Nihongi," there is a description of a policy carried out during 719 that contains the sentence '初令天下百姓右襟.' The sentence means that all people should wear clothes with the left side over the right.
Many things regarding the costume during the Heian period are still unknown today. Because materials for clothing such as silk and hemp have much less durability than metal or wood, there is almost no possibility for such materials to survive through the years. Until the mid-Heian period, the costume had not been so different from that of the Nara period, but after SUGAWARA no Michizane abolished the envoys to Tang dynasty China, the Chinese culture became less influential and an indigenous culture developed in every aspect. The indigenous culture came to appear in clothing, and especially the shape of clothes became larger. Due to the development of woven pattern (design) and dye techniques, colorful clothing came to be used in ceremonial rituals in the Imperial court, showing the cultural improvement in clothing of the court nobles. In order to add firmness to a rather big costume, stiffly starched clothing called 'kowashozoku' appeared and the changes in costumes were unified into a certain style. The costumes that appeared during the Heian period had been used for ceremonies in the Imperial court and bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) since then, and the shape of clothing has essentially been the same until today, though "how to wear costumes" and "how rituals and costumes related to each other" had gone through various changes through the years.
Today we know more about the costume during the Heian period than that prior to the Heian period. However, when costumes in the Heian period are restored, it is mostly done by presumption even though present experts study historical evidences. Today, restored clothing based on historical investigation, mostly the Heian-style costumes, are exhibited at the Costume Museum in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. Some people create works for amusement based on "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji) today, and many people love original "Genji Monogatari" and the works based on it.
Kamakura and Muromachi periods
Based on the jacket called 'Suikan' worn by the common people, a garment for the upper body called 'Hitatare' was designed. During the Kamakura period, Hitatare became the formal clothing for the military family. During the Muromachi period, Hitatare became the full-dress for the military family. Daimon and Suou were derived from Hitatare. Female clothes were continuously simplified. The train of the clothes were gradually shortened to be a pleated skirt, and that was finally abolished, which means the Female clothes became one-piece. Since then, women wore waistcloth and a light wrapping skirt over kimono with short sleeves called 'Kosode.' Uchikake, a longer Kosode, began to be worn over Kosode.
During the Edo period, the clothes were further simplified and 'Kamishimo' that is the combination of a sleeveless jacket called 'Kataginu' and trousers called 'Hakama' appeared. Kosode prevailed among the common people. As theatrical performances including Kabuki became popular and players clothing were printed in colored woodblock prints, the common people began to wear more luxurious clothes. From the Confucian perspective, the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) tried to cope with the trend by promulgating the ordinance of frugality, but the common people's craze for clothing was not suppressed and, influenced by the tea ceremony, they sought to wear subdued, but expensive clothes. The way of tying Obi sash and braid was developed, and people began to tie Obi at the back.
As Japan implemented the seclusion policy and raw silk was no longer imported from abroad, most of the raw silk consumed domestically was produced in Japan. During the Edo period, some of the common people wore kimono made of relatively low-priced silk, but when the great famine of 1783 to 1788 occurred, the Edo bakufu forbade the common people from wearing any silk products in 1785. Since then, the common people wore clothing made of cotton or hemp. As the 'Furisode,' a long-sleeved kimono became popular among women, a bridal costume was also derived from 'Furisode.' In 1864 when the Edo bakufu government raised the army of the punitive expedition of Choshu Domain on the pretext of the skirmish at the Kinmon Gate, the bakufu decided to make a Western style military uniform for the army, and a merchant Jihei MORITA in Kodenmacho in Edo undertook the order and managed to tailor 2,000 military uniforms by trial and error. Those was the first Western clothes mass-produced in Japan as far as recorded.
Meiji and Taisho periods
During the Meiji period, backed by government measures to promote industry, modern silk spinning mills were constructed, which further increased the production of silk. As Japan opened the country and trade with countries abroad grew, the export of silk yarn and silk products accounted for a major part of the total amount of export; Japan began to be regarded as the world's silk supplier. As the mass-production of silk began, the price of silk was no longer much higher than other products. Since that period, female Kimono started to be made of various fabrics. To accompany the trend, a variety of silk textiles increased like chirimen, rinzu, omeshi, and meisen. The finished silk textile was further processed by the developed Yuzen dyeing technique, which could create new patterns. Silk textiles with Komonzome small dyed motifs had still been in fashion since the Edo period, which became popular to make into traditional best clothes; on the other hand, textiles woven with pre-dyed threads known as Shima stripe and Kasuri splash patterns were also popular.
Since the Meiji period, the nobles and people who frequently meet Westerners were relatively early to accustomed themselves to wear Western clothes. It is considered that leading political figures wore Western clothes to show that Japan was committed to absorb advanced science and technology from the Western countries and modernize the country as a gesture in order to be advantageous in talks with the Western countries. On the other hand, the common people kept the traditional habit and customs handed down from the Edo period because Western clothes were still too expensive for them and because they highly valued or cared for the traditional sense of beauty.
When clothing and accessories were imported from the Western countries, western clothes were gradually produced in Japan. The Japanese people collectively called traditional Japanese clothing 'Kimono,' i.e., the word 'Kimono' originally meant 'things to wear." In order to differentiate the clothes that had been called 'Kimono' from the western clothes, the word 'Kimono' was coined. In the early period of wearing Western clothes, the Japanese people used to rent them from clothes rental shops. During the Meiji period, western clothes were mainly worn by men as their street clothes and formal clothing, and they wore Japanese clothes in daily life. Even the scale was small, western clothes rental shops and shops dealing with western clothes were gradually opened across Japan.
Since 1871 when the Imperial instruction to make western style uniforms for the army and government officials was issued (Grand Council Proclamations No. 399), police officers, railway workers, and teachers adapted western clothes as their working clothes. Males were required to wear military uniforms that had been already westernized then. Stiff collar western clothes designed based on the army military uniform were adopted as male student uniforms. During the Meiji and Taisho periods, a style of wearing a pleated skirt over kimono was popular among female students as their daily clothes both inside and outside of school. The pleated skirt is a kind of Kimono. This style took hold in Japanese culture, and the style is still popular among female students as a formal dress to attend entrance and graduation ceremonies. During the period, female students generally wore Japanese clothes except for the nobles and teachers of female students; but from the latter half of the Taisho period, increasing number of schools adopt sailor suits as their school uniforms to replace the pleated skirt style.
Some women affirmed that Japanese women should wear western clothes and started campaigns for that purpose. In the Daily Life Improvement Lectures held from May 4 to 11, 1922, Hamako TSUKAMOTO gave a lecture titled 'Improvement of clothing,' in which she said as follows. Takako KAETSU (1867 - 1949) wrote "Keizaikaizen Korekara no Saiho" in 1922 published from Nihon Fukuso Kaizenkai Shuppanbu, in the preface of which she wrote 'In my opinion, the goal of improvement of Japanese clothing should be Western clothing or something close to Western clothing.' When the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred in 1923, a great number of women in Japanese clothing were victimized because of the nature of Japanese clothing that restricts movement of the body; in the next year 1924, 'Tokyo Women and Children Clothing Association' started, and since then, clothing for Japanese women has been westernized.
Japanese clothing, which originated from Han Chinese traditional ethnic clothing, currently has the closest design to the Chinese Hanfu clothing, the ethnic clothing of the Han race. For this reason, part of the Chinese who fled the Qing Dynasty for Japan and engaged in revolutionary movement against the Qing Dynasty around 1900 during the Meiji period always wore Japanese clothing instead of Hanfu to show their resistance as the Han race against the Qing Dynasty that was ruled by the Manchurians. (The Chinese clothing Quipao, currently known as one-piece Chinese dress for women and Kung Fu suits appear in Kung Fu Films starring famous stars including Bruce Lee, originated in the ethnic clothing of the Manchurians.) (The Manchurians, as the ruling class, forced the Han race to wear them.)
Until the end of WWII in 1945
From 1881 to around 1945, female pupils in Japanese elementary schools learned hand-sewing to make Kimono in class at a certain grade. The purpose of this hand-sewing class was neither to make them professional sewers nor to train them as tailors working in factories. The purpose of this hand-sewing class was to teach them basic Japanese hand-sewing so they can sew clothes for themselves and their families, which was encouraged in those days. In those days, people generally did not have sewing machines, and clothes were made by hand-sewing.
After the end of war in 1945
Since the end of World War II in 1945, there were no more air raids and women started to wear Western clothing that they could not wear before. It might have been because Kimono were expensive and needed some training to wear, Kimono could not match Western clothing that became popular for their moderate prices and practicality, so the number of people who wore Kimono everyday decreased. During the period between 1965 and 1975, there were a lot of women who wore Kimono every day. That was due to the appearance of kimono made from wool called Wool Kimono, which raised the popularity of Kimono and created a boom. As Wool Kimono had beautiful color, it became popular among women throughout Japan as casual Kimono. Yet, the segment of the population who wore Western clothing instead of Kimono, increased, and the Gofuku industry that engaged in production and sales of Kimono and textiles for Kimono became depressed. For the purpose of sales promotion, the Gofuku industry drew up requirements for wearing Kimono on various occasions and advertised them. That impressed ordinary people that 'it is troublesome to wear Kimono.' Consequently, the Gofuku industry became further depressed so the textile businesses that had produced textiles for kimono, went down one after another.
Until the 1960s, a lot of men wore Kimono as informal wear at home, which is proved by cartoons until the 1970s, but their population gradually decreased. During the 1960s, there was a trend among western intellectuals and rock musicians to study Eastern Thoughts and religions, and some of them wore Kimono or clothes modeled after Kimono. Jimi Hendrix, a rock guitarist, was one of the most famous for it.
Fewer women wear Kimono as everyday clothes, with the exception of informal cotton kimono 'Yukata,' which have prevailed to some extent as costumes worn at special events and their textiles and patterns have become more varied. Yukata during the Heisei period is completely different from Yukata that was an extension of its original form of garment worn after a bath, and they have become more colorful and fashionable than ever so that some showy forms are called 'Gal Yukata.' Department stores use Yukata as one of the sales boost for summer season by providing a section for swim suits that is a garment for exposing the body and another section for Yukata that is a garment for covering the body. Men also wear Yukata as stylish clothing but their numbers are not as many as women. The number of men wearing Kimono every day is less than that of women such that few men wear Kimono except for people involved in religion who usually wear Buddhist priest's work clothes called 'Samue' and artisans who usually wear light cotton clothing consisting of shorts and a jacket called 'Jinbei.' On the other hand, some campaigns are carried out for promoting men to wear Kimono mainly through the Internet.
Since the latter half of the 1990s, a lot of shops dealing in second-hand Kimono--those selling the second-hand Kimono before the early Showa period called 'antique Kimono,' and those selling them after the middle of the Showa period called 'recycled Kimono'--were opened, and magazines wrote about them, igniting a Kimono boom among women. What is different from former periods is that people began to wear Kimono as Western clothing without being obsessive about traditional requirements in Heisei period. Now, people enjoy variations wearing Kimono by wearing Kimono and Obi made of fabrics for Western clothing, by wearing Kimono on top of Western clothing, by coordinating Kimono with western-style footgear like pumps or boots, or by using lace as the obi support.