It is said that KIMONO has its origin in ancient garments called “KANTŌI”.

With the times, its shape changed gradually and  in NARA Period (AD 710 – 794), as the nation adopted political and legal systems from China, this traditional clothing came to be worn to clarify the difference of social class of each person.

high standing clothingIn the next years of the noble society centering on the Imperial Court, people of high standing wore loose clothing because they didn’t need to work.
On the contrary, people of low standing wore tight-fitting clothing because it was easier to work.

In the next HEIAN Period (AD 794 – 1185), the difference of the shape of KIMONO became more conspicuous.
The court nobles called “KUGE” symbolically expressed their ruling power by wearing bulky KIMONOs.

In Japanese clothing, the total size especially the size of sleeves are the point to distinguish his or her social class.

balky clothing.


The “JŪNI-HITOE” that I introduced in this article is also an example of such balky clothing. The Imperial court ladies dressed in KIMONOs in layers to enjoy the color coordination as well as to show their status.

cylindrical sleeves


On the other hand, the people in the ruled class mostly wore a type of KIMONO called “KOSODE” which literary means “small sleeves”.

Unlike the “ŌSODE” which is a KIMONO with big sleeves worn by the nobles, the sleeves of KOSODE are cylindrical, easy to work actively.

In the next era, armed people called “BUKE” (samurai worriers) appeared from common people.
Originally, they were to serve the nobles, but some of them became as powerful as their masters, being on a par with the nobles in terms of the social class.
These high-ranked samurai worriers are said to have worn ŌSODE in public and KOSODE in private.



As the time goes forward, during the period centering on the BUKE, samurais wore ŌSODE to attend important events and “HITATARE” to attend less important events.
HITATARE is a two-piece clothing: The upper body garment still has bulky sleeves, but is shorter in length comparing to ŌSODE. The lower body part, you wear Japanese traditional trousers called “HAKAMA”.

Entering into the EDO period (AD 1603 to 1868), people called “CHŌNIN” (towns people) appeared to play an important role of EDO castle town.
Wearing KOSODE made of silk, these CHŌNINs were making a living by doing some business and some of them gained financial power which was sometimes bigger than samurais or KUGEs even, although the society was still controlled by BUKE people.


Sophisticated KOSODE

By the emergence of CHŌNINs, KOSODE greatly developed because as introduced in the last article, it allowed common people to enjoy the combination of materials of fabric, designs and technique of decoration, which eventually generated a wide variety of KIMONO styles in each following period.

During EDO period which established the feudal system, there was an idea of “OMOTE” (outer world) and “OKU” (inner world).
Men were supposed to live in the outer world and subject to social rules or class, so it was not allowed for a man to wear what he wants because the difference of clothing was a very important factor to keep the feudal class system at that time.


BUKE Madam

On the contrary, women were relatively free for what she wears unless it disturbs public order because the inner world where women lived are not visible from outside.

Due to this difference of the conceptual living world between men and women, it was possible for ladies in the EDO period to pick up what she likes to wear according to her class.

Like modern Japanese society, while a wife was willing to make her husband look good among people and encouraged him to work hard, she enjoyed shopping in secret with him as a special privilege of a master of the inner world!

After the end of EDO period and the MEIJI Restoration, the feudal class system called “SHI-NŌ-KŌ-SHŌ” (hereditary four-status order consisting of warrior-rulers, peasants, artisans, and merchants) was abolished and “SHIMINBYŌDŌ” (the equality of all people) was proclaimed.

As for KIMONO, which was used long time to divide the society into the castes, was still worn by people during MEIJI period but without past social class-related limitation, it developed with diversity even to a design which adopts western Art Deco or Modernism.

Next time, I will talk about the development of KIMONO from MEIJI period to today.