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The Evolution of Kimono

Saturday, August 11, 2018 / No Comments
Are you interested in Japanese traditional clothing? Do you consider kimono as Japan's traditional outfit, and would like to try it on at least once in your life?
Well, while most people can easily identify the traditional Japanese outfit as kimono「着物」there are few who actually know that it isn't a garment worn by many until the Heian period, and the name "kimono" for the garment wasn't recognized until the Meiji period!

Also, although it is undeniable that the kimono is a historically significant part of Japan's culture, historical records pointing to Jomon period suggest that the clothing back in this hunter-gatherer era held little resemblance to the kimono. The kimono isn't "traditional" in this sense, but it is a garment that evolved along with the Japanese people through the Jomon period to the modern days.
Restored Incipient Jomon man
(Supervised by Hisao Baba, illustrated by Reiko Ishii)
In the Jomon period, the attire that the hunter-gatherers wore was thought to be made of fur and draped loosely around the bodies of the hunters, enabling them to benefit from the warmth and protection that the furs offered without any impact on mobility.

However, when Japan started switching from hunting-gathering to agriculture, the properties of garments that the civilization needed changed. In the Yayoi period, the outfit that they used was a loose cloth with holes for arms. This gave them a lot more freedom for movement and helped them work on rice fields comfortably. Geta which are commonly and traditionally paired with yukata was said to be developed during this period as well.
When trade flourished in Kofun period, the influence of Chinese and Korean culture came into play. The attire worn by women during this period was heavily inspired by Chinese and Korean robes which were closed at the front and tied at the waist with brightly colored sashes.

It is also noteworthy that there are still differences between the garments during the kofun period and kimono as many women then still wore skirts and trousers under their tops, making it a two-piece garment rather unlike the kimono we know today.

(Book “The History of Women’s Costume in Japan.”)
In the Asuka period, civilization has improved and developed advances sewing methods that allowed them to improve on the garb from the Kofun period to become more practical and aesthetically pleasing. Clothing became longer and wider, and were  divided by color into three different groups: formal clothes, court clothes, and uniforms. It is also during this period that males became the ones predominantly wearing trousers while females wore long, flared skirts.
In Nara period, Chinese culture was actively absorbed by Japanese locals as they sent envoys under the Kentoshi system to Tang Dynasty China. It is also in this period that the process of dyeing the kimono was further developed. Most of the kimono from Nara period consisted of only a single color per layer. In addition, Nara period also came out with a Code that required all kimono to be crossed left over right, and this convention that was inspired by Chinese robes stayed with the Japanese until modern times.

The Kentoshi system was subsequently abolished in the Heian period and during this period of transition, the Japanese were able to build their own national culture. Layered and patterned clothing to suit the four seasons became popular and colorful in the Heian period with the further development of dyeing procedures, and these techniques were swiftly employed to create a gorgeous set of robes that unified both the Chinese culture and Japanese aesthetics.
The most commonly known type of kimono in the Heian period is the Jyuni-Hitoe, otherwise known as the twelve-layered kimono which you often see on Hinamatsuri dolls. However, this attire does not consist of clunky twelve layers. In fact, the official name is Itsutsuginu-karaginumo, also known as the five-layered Chinese dress costume, which consists of six different parts in addition to the base Itsusuginu (five-layered robe): Uchiginu (a silk robe), Uwagi (outer robe), Karaginu (a waist length Chinese style jacket), Mo (ancient skirt) and Nagabakama (a long hakama).
In the Edo period, the kimono started becoming much simpler though more merchants started to pursue the emerging world of Japanese fashion and created decadent fashion compiling designs from several famous artists into one kimono and adorned the fabrics with metallic leaf, gold threads, dappled tie-dye (kanoko shibori) and luscious embroidery.

With fashion becoming an outlet to show off wealth, many samurai became extremely displeased with the riches of the merchants and the Shogunate passed many laws regulating the dressing of the lower classes. One of such laws was the forbidding of merchants and other lower classes from using the labor-intensive and expensive  dapple tie-dye technique.

Yuzen dyeing was developed at around the same time, which allowed craftsmen to paint the kanoko pattern directly onto the kimono, allowing for the use of distinctive and vivid colored fabrics with more artistic textiles. Since only the tie-dyeing method was illegal, merchants got away with using yuzen technique.

Three stark difference between the kimono during the Edo period and those before was the number of layers, length of the sleeves and the obi. With the improved dyeing techniques, kimono during this period had became single-layered once again and fashion was focused more on the patterns adorning the fabric rather than the number of layered colors. The sleeves were made longer to amplify the gracefulness of women as they moved, and were commonly seen in unmarried women's kimono. The idea of having longer sleeves for unmarried women are still rooted in Japanese culture with the Tomesode which is a formal kimono worn by married women. On the other hand, the obi sash in this time period became wider and several techniques of tying it were invented and came into fashion.
Japan opened her ports to trade in 1853 and soon after the overthrowing of the Shogun and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor in 1869, the new government realized that they had to transform themselves along the Western line in order to compete with the military and industrial might of the West. One of the by-product of this transformation was fashion. Many of the male elites started to wear business suits to work due to its association with concepts of civilization and modernization that the government was promoting. However, many women still wore kimono most of the time and one avenue that technology was employed was actually to increase the production amount and quality of silk fabrics, making them more affordable.
Industrial development during the Taisho period was heavily stimulated by the First World War. With the domination of urban growth, many people moved to the capital, Tokyo, to find work. Women also started entering the work force and although they still wore kimono, these garments often had Western influences in their designs. For instance, kimono became even more comfortable, vibrant and affordable with the new types of silk, patterning techniques, chemical dyes and industrialized mass production.

Women began wearing hakama as well, to improve their mobility when working and schooling. Also, the motifs on the kimono were typically dramatically enlarged and also diverged from the usual patterns found on traditional kimono. This style was believed to have been inspired by Western styles such as Art Deco, and acted as a visual statement for the independent, urban women of the Taisho and early Showa periods.
After the Second World War, Western-style clothing has became the everyday wear for most Japanese. Kimono became very expensive to own and maintain, and are only worn at a limited number of formal occasions and in festivals, and there are guidelines to what type of kimono should be worn during which occasion.

In the 21st century however, we are witnessing something resembling a kimono renaissance as they gradually come back into fashion.

The example that we are all familiar with are yukata reappearing in departmental stores in summer, and locals wearing these while touring summer festivals. Moreover, on New Year's, some females also choose to don a thicker winter kimono which is further layered with furs to keep warm while going for their first shrine visit of the year.

However, what you might not know is that fashion gurus have spun off looks involving elegant kimono in beautiful modern fabrics, and this is actually inspiring youths to match kimono fabrics with different items. Some of these youths wear these outfits to events such as graduation, while the bolder ones are trying them for everyday looks.

Fashion brands are riding on this wave to come up with new ideas which combine elements of kimono with other everyday items, designed for those who love the traditional aspects of Japanese fashion but are too afraid of standing out if they were to use them for everyday wear! And so far, the more popular items actually pull their inspiration from Taisho Roman outfits, which are the perfect mix of classy, sweet and cute, as well as elements from the traditional kimono such as geta or obi ensembles!
MOCOLLE's indoor Taisho schoolgirl wear
and the Hanao shoes, inspired by the geta design!
If you're interested in traditional Japanese wear but aren't sure if you wish to invest several hundreds into getting a full set of kimono, there are thousands of other people like you. Build your confidence by starting small with these simpler everyday items!

~ Reina-rin

Book Review: Japanese Whisky The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit by Brian Ashcraft

Monday, May 28, 2018 / No Comments

"For relaxing times, make it Suntory time." 13 years after Lost in Translation's release, it seems as though the whole world has caught on and made their relaxing time a Suntory one, or Nikka...or any other Japanese whisky brand in fact, judging by how the industry is making international headlines every month. For the last three to four years, Japanese whisky sales has shot through the roof both domestically and internationally, winning numerous accolades and garnering immense praise from both critics and consumers alike. However, the attention has been a double-edged sword, with newer boys in the business being forced to innovate with non-age statement expressions or to bide their time and hope that the world is still as receptive in a few years. For market leaders Suntory and Nikka, they must be kicking themselves for not having the foresight to predict the success they're having currently, having opted to play it safe when the industry was in a lull. For the former brand, it has had to cease distribution for its popular Hakushuu 12 and Hibiki 17 expressions. On Nikka's end, they've had to do the same for their Yoichi and Miyagikyo lines. And as for myself, I regret not buying a few bottles when I had the chance to while I was travelling..and for finishing my bottle of Yamazaki 12 a little too quickly. Oh well, they say that hindsight is 20/20 after all.

With all the buzz surrounding Japanese whisky recently, I was curious to find out what made their take on the caramel-coloured spirit so appealing to consumers worldwide in recent years, even beating out bigwigs from Scotland and the USA. Enter Brian Ashcraft's Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit. I came across the book while window shopping recently and eventually bought it after my browsing session threatened to become an in-depth reading. The book is split into two parts, with the first one detailing the history of Japanese whisky and what makes the tipple uniquely Japanese. However, I'm willing to bet that the second part is what most people would flip to instead. It details the major players in the market Suntory and Nikka, along with several rising stars and what the future of the industry holds. After the introduction to each brand, there is a set of tasting notes and scoring for a number of their whiskies by Japanese whisky blogger Kawasaki Yuji. These tastings include bottlings that are rare or might not even be available anymore, unless you've a spare arm or leg of course.

Although the pace of the first part is much slower than the second, it's far from dry, serving as a comprehensive guide to the Japanese whisky industry and showcasing how the culture of adaptability and flexibility has been present since its early years after first borrowing techniques from the Scottish. Additionally, Japan's drinking culture was explored, showcasing why whisky faced a decline for a period before its resurgence. Although beer still reigns supreme in Japan's drinking culture today due to its price, availability and how easy it is to pair with food, the guide also noted the places that sake, shochu and whisky had as well. The publication is a guide in every sense of the word, discussing the various steps of the production process and shedding light on native ingredients and materials that are used. Some of these include Japanese barley; which is already used to make beer and mizunara; a Japanese wood that's used to create casks that hold the whisky for aging and is reported to be notoriously difficult to work with.

For those of you who're strapped for time or are craving for a bottle or two already, I'm cutting to the chase, fret not. The highest scoring expressions on Suntory's end are The Yamazaki 1999 The Owner's Cask Mampei Hotel, with a whopping 98/100 and being mainly available at the Mampei Hotel in Karuizawa. Hibiki Deep Harmony comes in second at 97 points out of a possible 100 and like its cousin, is available only in Japan at bars across the country. For Nikka, its The Nikka 40 Years Old and 34 Years Old expressions all received a 98/100 but good luck finding a bottle of any of these. The latter expressions were bottled 19 and 20 years ago and as for the former, it's a limited edition, much like any other Japanese whisky these days actually.

Personally, one man's meat is another man's poison so just take the plunge and snag a bottle from any brand, you might just chance upon a hidden gem. Even Suntory's Kakubin and Nikka's Black Rich Blend hold their own against traditional whiskies that are geared towards mixing such as Johnnie Walker's Red Label or Jack Daniel's. These might even be your go-to whiskies after a long day, especially when paired with their best friends ice and soda water. However, as the industry continues to grow and with brands beginning to enter the fray, expect some duds in the coming years but for me, I'll be shrugging them off as experiments or as growing pains. The book ended up acting as an excellent introduction to the world of Japanese whisky and although several segments were bogged down by the technical aspects of whisky production, it was nonetheless a good read and a nice break from academic text, so cheers to that!

Written by ET

「Dearest Japan」Is the "Boys' Love" genre considered porn?

Thursday, April 19, 2018 / No Comments
One of the perks of having a degree in Japanese Studies is that you are constantly exposed to the weirdness that is Japan, alongside with several eccentric BL-loving accomplices that join you on your daily rambling about gay 2D men... as well as start a new series titled "Dearest Japan", for you to ask all your pressing questions regarding Japan and for me to do some research!
While the most debatable question remains as "why do you even ship men together?" which is most likely targeted at fujoshi who ships every man in a room together to form complicated relationship trees, I am not one of them and neither are the fujoshi I personally know. We love to stay close to our OTPs, thank you very much.

But jokes aside, let's begin with a little background context and some content from academic sources!
The genre for BL is created by women, for women's consumption, and this genre took shape from as early as 1970s in post-war Japan and appeared as a sub-genre in Shoujo manga. As incredible as this sounds now, the works started out rather platonic and lived off the basis of it being a "passionate friendship). 

It was only in the late 1970-80s that sexual content started to be incorporated into the genre. Hence, BL moved  from only encompassing the platonic relationships between two men to a larger scale, where it takes sexual relationships between two men into consideration as well. Around this time, magazines devoted to this particular genre started appearing in the market too.
The term Yaoi was coined in late 1970s and was an acronym for 「山なし、落ちなし、意味なし」suggesting that there was no peak, no fall and no meaning to the genre. Yaoi is, by default, only used to refer to works that primarily focuses on the (explicit) sexual escapades between two men. This holds true even in modern days when we think about all the porn without plot (PWP) fanfiction on the internet.

On the other hand, the term shounen-ai depicts the romantic and loving relationship, typically omitting sexual content. 

Take down notes here so you won't get your terms mixed up when speaking to a fujoshi. Most wouldn't mind but I'm sure you don't want to appear (too) stupid when you call root beer as coca-cola just because they are all grouped under "soft drinks", do you?
So now that you know that the different terms mean, let's move on the most possible reason why BL was even created. And that brings us to the long historical partnership Japan has with homosexuality.

I hope that you know that Edo Japan (1603-1868) had its own fair share of homosexual men and same-sex relationships were celebrated in some ways back then.
These male/male relationships typically consist of a younger beautiful man, wakashu, and an older influential man and the status of the older man is somewhat "elevated" with a wakashu at his disposal while his wife, who is considered a older woman, would be lacking in the looks department in comparison (shaved eyebrows after marriage).
Fast forward to the Taisho period, schoolgirls were enrolled into girl-schools where platonic relationships between an upperclassman and a junior were tolerated and viewed as a passing phase where the junior was "practicing" before graduation when she will then be married and be in a proper heterosexual relationship. They were also expected to stay pure (virgins) until marriage, and women were still oppressed in Japanese society then.

Hence, it is actually concluded by extension that the BL genre came about to help women cope with the stress of being a part of this oppressive society. BL became an empowering tool whereby it gave women an outlet for their sexual urges (porn for women?). Using the male main character, they were able to engage in sexual fantasies without having the guilt that they were sullying their own purity. They were also able to get away from the weaknesses that come with being a female, such as rape.

Thus in a way, BL and especially yaoi was created to be a form of "porn material" for women back in the 1970-80s. In fact, some academic papers actually claim that most early BL works can serve to liberate women and popular works typically feature androgynous main characters (example below) for these women to imagine and empathize with the main character. 

Due to the works being written by women, they also have an added shoujo-manga flair to it which does not encapsulate what gay men and relationships are in real life.

What I personally think is the starting point of BL really strikes me as being made as porn material for women when I look from the perspective of the women as well as the authors of the academic papers I've read through. However, I think that it is also crucial to note that most works nowadays do not usually feature androgynous characters anymore. 
Popular works like Junjou Romantica, Sekaiichi Hatsukoi and 10 Count all have both the seme and uke designed such that we can clearly identify them as male... so perhaps the dynamics of how BL serves as porn for women has changed (because we all know that yes, yaoi still is a thing.)?

So, what do you think? Should BL really be considered porn for women in the past? How about now?

~ Reina-rin

Sakura Matsuri: Garden By the Bay

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 / No Comments
The space of seconds when my feet transverse over the threshold into the Flower Dome premier, my warmth skin became cooler instantly due to the air-conditioner's chilly draft. In dispersion through the batch of both locals and tourists, I marched along with a purpose lickety-split full usage of my short legs. Immediately upon a full view of aesthetically cherry blossom trees accompanied by Japanese landscape stretched out before me on the lower section. The resplendent brilliance of vivid hues, intense babble from ecstatic masses as  sunlight streamed from beyond the dome's glass.

My heart leapt in elation, the ambience gave away a serene sensibility, my anticipatory gaze took pleasure. Without further ado, I pressed on en route to the floral heaven at the same time skidded drunkenly. Literally under my nose, I scooped out my hand-phone to capture the blissful moment with a disparate of snapshots. Enamoured by infinitude of crimson, flush, chartreuse and snuff-coloured. A self proclaimed nature lover; Garden By the Bay exhibited the famous season: hanami viewing.

Gratified, the gaggle of general public never overpowered my ambivert senses, even though all of us had to erratically fluctuate to journey to another station. Patience became a virtue as we cool one's heel for a perfect bearing to clicked away numerous pictures.

The theme and display for this year's cherry blossom festival was exceptionally a heart-stopping experience. Mannequins attired in grandeur kimono in contrast with the variegated environment arranged in perfect poses at different locations. The impression I reacted to or perhaps, a number of us as if we had transported into a portal whereas the puppets remain alive just for us to peeked into their world. My inner Art Wolfe promptly vivified animatedly for "professional" photography session.

Multitude of folks don in vibrant yukata as everyone strutted out and about accompanied by friends, families or individually. It rang a bell about a booth service assigned for yukata rental. Post-haste I wandered off toward the said location after a kind employee instructed me; lo and behold, countless stands available for inspection throughout the time traditional  Japanese folk song render in the backdrop. My peepers agleam in unhidden enthusiasm at the abundance of yukata attainable.

A yukata in maroon-tone incorporated with huge cherry blossoms comparable to my make-up that garnered my focal point and fell head over heels in love. The friendly ladies primp me up as I stood straight with arms poked outward on either side and my dream to don a yukata once and for all came true. After a while, I was all fitted and set for a leisurely breeze within the dome in my pretty attire with some touch up on my makeup. Before I exited from the hall another stall in the centre came into my field of vision.

Katanas mounted on the side wall as well as perched neatly on the table top, customized leather bags, kimono, demon masks and many more items. Unbridled curiosity, I dawdle over to survey the wooden swords when the person-in-charge advances with a generous smile to bestow information. To my amazement; a Singaporean designed the items that was on showcase; a hobbyist and passionate for Japan's subculture. From J rock music, heavy craftsmanship to bold fashion, the dedicated team explore for more kindred whom share the same interest. Applicable classes to produce wooden swords that was up to my alley: Link.

A selection of stands provided Japanese meals, accompanied by a growling belly I flitted from one stall to another until someone called out "cheesecake" to me. The swift change of course, I saw myself at a mini dessert stall coupled with a gleeful expression. After my set purchase; a cup of aromatic coffee alongside Hokkaido Cheesecake and trudged upstairs to a lounge. Long tables similar to a Japanese ramen restaurant as occupants sat on the floor. Sooner or later, with time of the essence I managed to venture off toward the actual party. 

Appreciatively, guests came forth to lent a hand when requested for personal pictures a troublesome peeved if you journey companionless. Nervous as a headless creature, my poorly executed yet awkward poses behind the camera lens in full glory. However, the entire day was consumed under the picturesque blossoms.  

Nevertheless, the casts for the main event aside from mesmerizing flowers were the figurines. People flocked for pictures taken with the dolls at the background or some stood there endlessly for photo-shoot. To be honest, at first glimpse my wariness against puppets reacted internally. Once calm and collected, I basked under the glorious kaleidoscope hand in hand with the serene ambience.

The current writer nestled in my head conjured up oodles of potential plotlines that of which involved the erected figurines.


In spite of the persistent feet ache as mild exhaustion consumed my system, the initial drive to explore overtook my conscious. Recurrently, petals flutter downward whimsically as time for second stood still to admire the scenic surroundings.

In the course of expedition, a gaggle of photographers clamoured for the ivory puppet's attention. Her alluring beauty drove everyone to a feverish mode. Even I became spellbound enough to joined in the fracas and waved my hand-phone in hopes to beat the rest for better view.

Postmeridian, the realization literally whopped me in the face when dejection followed next, the time to traverse home loomed ahead even though my bleeding heart wept in rejection. Despondently, I back tracked to the hall and allowed the sweet lady to stripped away the yukata with my clothes still attached underneath; there was no unrestricted free show to hapless strangers. Once again, the former me returned behind the mirror's reflection and caught the gloom in my eyes. Alas, I sauntered out of the flower dome with a new emotion; solace. In a time to come, my greedy hands yearned to stretched above the blush-tinted sky under a huge cherry blossom tree throughout the time petals would float downward to paint the fir a roseate tone around my lazed body.

Written by, Rugi chan