“Japanese Kimono – A Sense for Beauty”



President’s Message


In 1996 the Bulgarian National Ethnographic Museum (Sofia) presented an exellent exhibition entitled “The World of the Bulgarian Woman” at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum in Tokyo. It was the first event introducing in Japan the life style, the traditoins and customs of the Bulgarian people. It is our great pleasure to exibit here in return “Japanese Kimono: A Sense for Beauty” from our collection.

The kimono of Japan with its unique and intricate artistry is not only enjoyed for the beauty it creates when worn, but is also appreciated as an object of superior fine-arts handicraft when kimonos are often displayed and hung open on a special hanger. It is the minute detail and sophisticated techniques, such as embroidery and dyeing employed by the professional craftsmen of Japan, that have made the kimono an ornament. The aesthetic sense of the Japanese, who value a sense of season, of fortune, of long life and the healthy growth of a child, is wonderfully expressed in the patterns of the kimono. It is our hope that through this exhibition Bulgarians will have an opportunity to appreciate, not just the art and craftsmanship of Japan but the Japanese heart as well.

It is also our hope that this exhibition leads to the advancement of cultural exchange between Bulgaria and japan. We would like to express our utmost gratitude to The National Ethnographic Museum (Sofia), and all those who have helped make thisexhibition a success.


October 2002


Sunao Onuma

President, Bunka Gakuen Educational Foundation

Director, Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum                    



An Overview of The Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Bunka Gakuen was founded in 1919 and has since developed into Bunka Gakuen Fashion College and Bunka Women’s Univesity. Together they have come to represent the core of fashion education and research in Japan, producing a number of outstanding leaders in the fashion industry along the way. The Costume Museum was opened in 1979 in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Bunka Gakuen. The opening of a Costume Museum had been a long cherished dream in order to promote fashion education and research through the historical costumes. A wide variety of historical costumes and costume-related crafts have been collected for the museum. Collections from Japan include Kosode dresses, No costumes, modern court costumes, commoner’s costumes as well as Shosoin and Meibutsu textiles. Collections from Europe include typical style dresses fashioned between the 18th and 20th centuries, haute couture designer dresses, East European folk costumes, hats, shoes, bags, and ancient textiles. Collectons from other countries include clothes and textiles from China, Korea, India, Indonesia, Western Asia, Africa, South and Central America.

Extensive efforts were made, prior to its opening, to collect as many costumes and related materials as possible from all over the world.  


Japanese Kimono


The Japanese kimono took its form mostly in th esecond half of the 16th century. It was the main dress for more than 300 years until western clothes were introduced. The kimono’s popularity spread nationwide and was worn by men and women of all classes. Today it is rear to wear kimono in a daily life. Kimonos are now worn primarily for special occasions as ceremonial attire.

The Japanese kimono is long and open in the front; it wraps around the body and is fastened over the waist with a wide sash called an ‘obi’. When worn the kimono is cylinder shaped and has long baggy sleeves which are suitable for the hot humid summer climate in Japan. The form and pattern of the kimono, the quality of the material, and the width f the sash, all represent differences in occasion, time and the status of the wearer. In addition, differences in pattern, material and lining cloth reflect the season in which it is worn.    



Seasons and Motifs


Japan is an island country surrounded by hte sea. It has beautiful and abundant nature, as well as four distincts seasons. The Japanese love animals and plants, and truly value a sense of season. Japanese shintoism, an ancient religion still followed today, was founded on a faith in nature. One of the principals of that faith is a respect for the coexistence of human beings and nature. Such a background has definitely influenced the design of the Japanese kimono. Techniques such as embroidery, dyeing and painting are artistically employed on the kimono to illustrate fertile natural scenes, featuring seasonal flowers, trees, birds and animals.



Wedding Costumes


The Japanese bride’s wedding clothes took their form based on the military class customs of the 16th century. For the wedding ceremony the bride wore “shiromuku” (an immaculate wedding kimono). All features of this dress: the kimono, the obi (a white sash), the uchikake (a long over-garment), the tsuno-kakush (a kind of a veil, which is said to hide the brides horns of jelaousy) are white. After the bride and groom state their vows and exchange cups of sacred sake (rice wine) the bride changes into a red kimono and the reception with the family and relatives begins. It is also common ro wear a black kimono or a bright coloured during the wedding reception. These customs have changed according to the status, time period and district. Tortoises, cranes, pine, bamboo and plums are often illustrated in motif on the kimono representing good fortune for the marriage.




À children’s ceremonial kimono


A kimono was prepared for a child on order to commemorate the many turning points in life: o-shichi-ya (birth; celebrated on the child’s seventh night), miya-mairi (first visit to a shrine), shichi-go-san (festival to celebrate the growth of children at ages three, five and seven). Thi kimono is loaded with wishes of healthy growth. Red or yellow cloth is used for the talisman and the decorative sewing technique called “semamori” is employed. In addition there is no centre seam on the back of a child’s kimono.

Tortoises, cranes, pine, bamboo, plums and many treasures all of which signify long life and prosperity are seen in the motif. For boys especially, a motif featuring a carp or a warrior was used to signify success in life and military exploits.



A common person’s kimono


Peasents, fishermen, townspeople wore a kimono made of either cotton or hemp for daily life or daily work. Since sheep farming was not performed in Japan, wool was not used. Silk was also not used to make kimonos for farmers, its use being forbidden by the government in the 18th century. For these reasons the clothes worn for celebration and auspicious occasions were also made from cotton. Cotton and hemp were spun and woven at home. All the decorative treatments such as dyeing, ikat, and embroidery were also done at home. The unique beauty of these kimonos is found in the geometric patterns that were creatively embroidered into the fabric using a type of quilting called sashiko. Felt is used in this process providing both decoration and reinforcement. Cotton and hemp dye well and indigo was often for dye.




Jinbaori: Vest for Warriors


The Japanese warrior wore a battle dress of a rich and elaborate design in order to establish his presence on the battlefield. The ‘jinbaori’ started out as a surcoat; a coat of arms, worn over the armour by military commanders during the warring states period (1550 - 1600). The jinbaori later became an overcoat that lent an air of solemnity when worn in public. Daring and unconvential designs were often chosen for the ‘jinbaori’ using materials such as ‘rasha’ (napped woolen fabric shipped from overseas) and ‘kinran’ (silk pattern with gilt paper strips imported from overseas). Feathers were also commonly used. When the jinbaori lost its function as battle dress, it became formalized into a sleeveless jacket with a rolled collar. A family crest was displayed on the back and square pieces of material on the shoulders known as ‘tachiuke’ (ornamented shoulder protectors) were used to protect the garment when carrying a sword. Various designes were used in the creation of family crests. Plants, animals, characters and tools wereoften used in their design. However only black and white were used for family crests. The distinct nature of their design makes these family crests unique only to Japan.



List of kimono

1. Kimono

Silk Ground / Embroidery

Pine tree, Bamboo, Plum Blossoms, Cranes and Tortoises

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


A kimono called an ‘uchikake’: a long over-garment traditionally worn at weddings. An uchikake is put on like a coat and worn over a kimono, which is fastened at the waist with a wide sash called an ‘obi’. The motifs of pine, bamboo, plum blossoms, cranes, and tortoises, all of which symbolize celebration and long life, are frequently used, not only for wedding costumes but also for various other occasions. Red is customarily used for wedding costumes as a colour of celebration.




2. Kimono

Silk Ground / Embroidery and Tie-dyeing

Palace Curtain, Flower Cart and Mist

Circa 1925


A kimono called an ‘uchikake’: a long over-garment traditionally worn at weddings. An uchikake is put on like a coat and worn over a kimono. The motifs of the Palace Curtain and Flower cart are often used as auspicious patterns. The highlight of this kimono is its gorgeous embroidery.




3. Kimono

Silk Ground / Embroidery, Gold Leaf Imprint and Stencil Dye

Waves and Assorted Tresures

First half of the 20th Century


A wedding kimono featuring a wave pattern in red and vermilion, a treasure ship, the uchide-no-kozuchi (‘Miracle Mallet’: legend says one can attain anything one wishes if one shakes it) and some assorted treasures. This is the work of Shinzo Noguchi (1893-1975) a famous designer).




4. Kimono

Silk Ground / Paste-resistent Dyeing and Embroidery

Stream, Bamboo, Plum Blossoms, Cranes and Tortoise Shell Hexagons

A young girl’s kimono worn for auspicious occasions. Plum blossoms, bamboo, cranes, and tortoises, which are auspicious motifs, are illustrated. The hexagon motif symbolizes the shell of a tortoise. Straight stitching called ‘semamori’ is seen on back center of the kimono. Girls wear kimonos where the stitching follows the right side of the central line and boys wear kimonos where the stitching follows the left side of the central line.




5. Kimono

Silk Ground / Painting


Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


A young boy’s kimono worn on auspicious occasions. It is worn on the occasion of a boy’s first visit to a shrine. A figure of a samuraiwarrior is illustrated on the back in the hope that the boy grows up to be brave.




6. Kimono

Silk Ground / Paste-resistent Dyeing and Embroidery

Late 19th Century - Mid 20th Century


A kimono worn by a lady of the Imperial court. A cherry tree is illustrated on the back; and a bush clover, a reed and a stream are arranged on the skirt. The composition stretches from the hem to the upper back, depicting the shoulder area as the sky and the hem as the earth. This type of design, one that expresses a unified landscape, is characteristic of a court lady’s kimono.



7. Kimono

Silk Ground / Embroidery

Pine Tree, Wisteria, Irises, Egrets, Stream and Moon

Late 19th Century - Mid 20th Century


A kimono worn by a lady of the Imperial court. A pine tree, around which wisteria is wound, is arranged on the back and the moon is expressed on the shoulder. On the skirt Japanese irises, a snowy heron, and a stream depict a scene of a shoreline. All of the motifs are skillfully embroidered with untwisted silk threads.




8. Kimono

Silk Ground / Stencil-dye and Embroidery

Cherry Tree, Sparrowson the Shore

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


A scene with sparrows flying around cherry trees, whose blossoms eare the symbol of spring, is realistically expressed by the use of dyes and embroidery. Sparrows often appear in fairy tales in Japan, and have been loved by the Japanese since ancient times. A gradation of colour is put in the center of the scene expressing a spring mist.




9. Kimono

Ramie Ground / Paste -resistent Dyeing

Stream and Ayu (River Trout)

Late 19th Century


A summer kimono designed to be worn during the hot, humid Japanese summer. These kimonos are made from thin silk, gauze, ramie and other materials. Linings are not used with these kimonos. Ayu (river trout) aredepicted swimming in a river and provide a feling that is visually cool.




10. Kimono

Silk Ground / Paste-resistent Dyeing

Autumn Wild Flowers

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


A summer kimono worn without a lining. A cool season is suggested by combining the Chinese bellflower, an automn flower; a confederate rose, a summer fower and Japanese pampas grass. The Japanese have loved such beautiful scenery, where various type of blooming flowers surround a sorrowful atmosphere, since ancient times.




11. Kimono

Cotton Ground / Tie-dye

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


A Cotton kimono decorated with tie-dye was often worn in the summer. The design, which depicts a Japanese straw raincoat, is expressed in the shape of radiation focussing on the back of the collar.




12. Kimono

Ramie Ground / Double Ikat

Flower and Geometric Pattern

First half of the 20th Century


A kimono with an ikat pattern that was often worn on a daily basis. Not only are there geometric patterns, but also complicated patterns that express plants, animals and characters using a double ikat technique.




13. Kimono: Kogin

Ramie Ground / Embroidery

Geometric Pattern

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


The festive clothes of a farmer of Aomori Prefecture (district) located in the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Since cotton can’t be grown in this area because of the cold, hemp is used for kimonos. Geometric patternsare embroidered on them using precious cotton threads imported from other districts. The embroidery serves not only as decoration, but provides reinforcement and warmth. In order to prepare for marriage, daughters made these kimonos during the agricultural off-season. It was a time-consuming process.




14. Kimono: Maiwai

Cotton Ground / Stencil-dye

Cranes, Tortoise and Waves

Late 18th Century - Mid 19th Century


A festive kimono typically worn by fishermen on the Pacific coast of Japn’s eastern seaboard. It was made in honour of an extraordinary catch. A crane and a tortoise, auspicious motifs, are expressed on the back. Characters, representing the names of ‘mother harbour’ (home port), the ship, “big haul”, and “congratulations” are shown between the motifs.




15. Jinbaori

Cotton Ground / Painting

Rabbit and Waves

Late 18th Century - Mid 19th Century


A design with a rabbit flying between waves was favoured by the samurai warriors as an encouraging motif. The family crest is designed in the form if a sword. This depiction is based on the Chinese kanji character “Hon” which represents a family name.




16. Jinbaori

Wool and Silk Ground /Applique and Embroidery

Late 18th Century - Mid 19th Century


Rare red rasha (napped woolen fabric shipped from overseas) is used for the surface of the kimono; brocade with a treasure pattern is used for the lining cloth. On the back the family crest and a dragon pattern are arranged. The family crest includes nine circles symbolizing the sun, the moon and the stars.




17. Jinbaori

Wool and Silk Ground /Applique

18th Century -Mid 19th Century


Rare white rasha (napped woolen fabric shipped from overseas) is used for the surface of the kimono. Deerskin is used for the hemming. Black rasha is used to create two oak leaves, a family crest, which is appliqued on the back of the kimono. These oak leaves are used in divine ceremonies.




18.  (Size 132 / 96 cm)


Cotton Ground / Double Ikat

Miracle Mallet and Geometric Pattern

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


A fragment used for bedding as a dowry. The motif of the uchide-no-kozuchi (Miracle Mallet) is an auspicious pattern.




19.  (Size 160 / 68 cm)


Cotton Ground / Double Ikat

Cranes, Pine Tree and Geometric Pattern

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century


A fragment used for bedding as a dowry. The motifs of a crane and pine, which symbolize celebration and long life, are depicted by the use of complicated ikat technique.




20. Fragment.

Cotton Ground / Double Ikat

Cranes, Pine Tree and Geometric Pattern

Late 19th Century - Early 20th Century