Kimono – Traditional Japanese Clothing

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Christy VanArragon.

Voice 2

And I’m Joshua Leo. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

In Tokyo Japan, a group of men and women walk down a city street. People stop and look at them. They are all wearing beautiful clothing. Long sleeves cover their arms. On some wearers, the sleeves are very long – they go to the ground. Some of the clothing is covered in pictures – flowers, mountains and birds. Some are patterned with geometric shapes. Others are simply coloured. The clothing wraps around the wearers’ bodies. So what is happening? What makes these clothes so special? Today’s Spotlight is on the history of this special clothing – Japanese kimono.

Voice 2

These people are part of a celebration of traditional Japanese clothing – Tokyo Kimono Week! Each year, this two week festival shows people the history and future of kimono clothing. It celebrates kimono through the parade that we just described. There is also a clothing show, a musical concert, and events that show people how to wear the kimono.

Voice 1

The kimono is the traditional clothing for both men and women in Japan. It is a simple, straight sided piece of clothing. It is shaped like a T. Wearers wrap the kimono left side over right. Then, they tie it closed with an obi – a long, thin piece of cloth. Kimono may be covered with beautiful pictures, or simply coloured or patterned. Kimono can have many layers, or just one or two. This depends on the event and person wearing it.

Voice 2

For example, at an important event, young, unmarried women wear the most detailed kimono. Their kimono are covered in pictures, and have very bright colours. Unmarried women also wear kimono with very long sleeves. These sleeves are much longer and bigger than the wearer’s arms. After a woman is married, her kimono sleeves are much shorter.

Voice 1

The pictures and colours on a kimono also have special meaning. Pictures from nature are very popular. A crane bird means a long life and good luck. Pictures of cherry fruit flowers are only worn in spring. Bamboo and pine trees are for winter. Purple is a colour for love. And white is a traditional colour for funerals.

Voice 2

People have worn kimono in Japan since the sixteenth century. This was a time of great peace and wealth in Japan. Before this time, kimono were a kind of underwear – worn under trousers and a coat. Over time, the kimono became the outside clothing. At first, samurai were the main wearers of kimono. But as the middle class grew richer, they began to wear kimono too. And as they had more money, the kimono became more beautiful. Through their clothing, people were expressing themselves, and showing their wealth.

Voice 1

This troubled the ruling class. They were worried that the social order would fall. So they made strong rules about the kimono – about the cloth, colours and designs permitted. People found ways to avoid these rules – for example, by wearing the banned colour red under their clothing. During this time, the style and kind of kimono changed and developed.

Voice 2

Silk cloth was especially important. It was only permitted for some people. Silk cloth is made from silk worms. These insects produce very fine, thin ropes or threads. People gather the threads and make them into cloth. They die the threads with rich colours. Cloth produced this way costs a lot of money and is very beautiful.

Voice 1

Then, in 1853, the social order did change. There was pressure from the United States for more trade. And there was pressure in the country too. A new government pushed for modernization. And some men started to wear western style clothes, especially for business. However, most people still wore kimono at home. And it was still the usual choice for women. Before this, the word kimono simply meant “the thing worn” – it was a word for all clothes, because everyone wore kimono. But now, kimono meant traditional clothes.

Voice 2

During this time, there were two other important changes. New technology made silk-making easier and less costly. Different kinds of patterns were possible. And because of the government changes, anyone was permitted to wear silk kimono. This made silk kimono very popular among women. Every woman could wear beautiful, patterned kimono!

Voice 1

Finally, new trade shared kimono, and Japan, with the world. Kimono became popular in London and New York. And people everywhere connected kimono with Japan. Kimono became a symbol of Japan. But just as kimono influenced the west, in Japan kimono colours and pictures were influenced by western designs.

Voice 2

However, since that time, people have stopped wearing the kimono very much in Japan. This was particularly true after World War Two. More and more people chose western style clothes. Collectors began to save old kimono for their beauty and history. Some people believed that the kimono would disappear completely.

Voice 1

But this has not happened! People still wear kimono for formal events – like marriage ceremonies and funerals. They also wear them for traditional activities, like the tea ceremony. These traditional kimono also cost a lot of money. Trained experts show men and women how to wrap and tie these kimono. Some women even attend special classes to learn the skill. Because of this, people see kimono as an important part of culture. They are worn less, but they have more meaning!

Voice 2

Events like Tokyo Kimono Week celebrate this cultural history. But some people also hope to bring kimono back as normal clothing – not just for special events. These “everyday” kimono are still most popular for women. It is still common to see old women wearing them. And for young women, simple cotton kimono are easier to wear, and cost less money. Kimono also continue to influence fashion clothing designers. The designs show the continuing beauty of the kimono shape and cloth.

Voice 1

Kimono began as a way to express self and ideas. Today, the same thing is true. Kimono still express ideas of tradition and cultural identity. They are an important part of Japan’s history and culture. Will they continue to be an important part of Japan’s future?

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