Article: Kimono


By Cliff Brunetti


The Japanese word Kimono has two kanji (written characters); “things” and “wear” which together mean “things to wear.” This article will be sharing with you, the reader, about different articles of Japanese clothes, who wears them in today’s world, how they are correctly worn, their historical use, and some modern variations of use.

Types of Kimono

Since Kimono mean things to wear, I will narrow my article to things that are worn by the Japanese in martial arts training past and present.

The Kimono robe is a standard garment that all Japanese are familiar with, and in antiquity was the common garment across all levels of society. The Kimono robe is normally full-length, going down to nearly the ankles. The front panels are always folded left over right when worn, since the opposite was reserved for corpses. The sleeves are large and served as a sort of pocket; the left hand sleeve was reserved for dirty things like money, or handkerchiefs, and the right hand sleeve was for clean things. The sleeves could at times get in the way, or if a person was hot and needed a short-sleeved Kimono; a tasuki cord tied back the sleeves showing an X-shape in the back. Kimono sleeves were many times sewn together at the armpit, but sometimes they were left open for ventilation.

The sizes were always historically limited to the width of a bolt of silk. Although with modern fabric that no longer is an issue, traditionalists still make them with the size restrictions so large foreigners or Sumo wrestlers must have an additional length of material added to the sides of the kimono to fit properly. Kimono are taken apart and the individual parts are washed which is an expensive procedure, so a large foreign market has developed for vintage Kimono that have not been washed.

obi_kaku Men’s Kaku-Obi

Obi are belts. Kaku-Obi, which are meant to wear with a Kimono, are made from silk typically from 4 to 6 inches for a male and nearly double that for a female, they are meant to wrap around the body several times before being tied in the rear. The Kaku-Obi was stiffened to allow for carrying swords, fans, and Inryo medicine pouches that hung from the belt with a toggle (netsuke). If an Inryo was worn it was on the right side which is opposite wear the swords are placed.

While there are different styles of tying the Kaku-Obi, all ended with the knot in the back of the person (a little to the right side for the male), leaving the front clean and straight in order to put all of the necessary items in it. Swords were placed in the Obi where the katana could be taken in and out the easiest; which is the inner most part; between the Kimono and the Obi. The Wakizashi or Tanto was placed between the first and the second wrap, so that the two swords would not abrade each other, and if a fan were carried it would be in the outer most wrap.

Heko-Obi are another type of belt that is made from a soft and thin cloth used to tie together a Yukata-kimono (summer kimono / bath robe). A sash.

Gi-Obi are a modern type of cotton belt used commonly in Judo and Karate and are about 2 inches wide and much thicker than a Kaku-Obi, so it only needs to be wrapped around the body twice. Gi-Obi are unsuitable to wear with a Kimono robe or with swords. The Gi-Obi ties the Judo Keiko-gi Uwagi jacket together with a square-knot in the front.

A Hada-juban is the mid-thigh length under-Kimono, which is typically a light fabric and one designed to keep perspiration off of the more expensive Kimono; it is underwear. Naga-juban is the full-length under kimono, also underwear. Both the Hada-and Naga-juban were used by only people that could afford nice Kimono or to keep the person warmer in cold weather. A light cord was wrapped around the Juban to keep it together meanwhile a Kimono was put over top.

Shinto_married_couple Formally attired man and woman for a wedding

Montsuki-Kimono are a males full-length formal Kimono that have five Kamon (family symbols); centered between the shoulder blades in the rear, both sleeves and both breasts. Since only mid- and upper echelon samurai had Kamon this restricted the use of Montsuki-kimono to those social levels.


Mon – literally means “gate.” It is the symbol of a clan or extended family that was typically placed on the outer gate to identify who lived there. Kamon (family symbols) were used to place on belongings and even their lower class retainer’s kimono to show ownership. There are a wide variety of Kamon from the simple to the elaborate.Yabusame rider

Joba Hakama (aka: Uma-nori Hakama) are horse-riding chaps. They were designed to keep the riders bare legs from chaffing against the saddle on long rides and protect against brush. Since only upper echelon samurai could afford horses and saddles, this became a symbol of the highest-ranking Samurai even after horse riding was no longer necessary. According to modern tradition, there are seven pleats, each standing for a different virtue of the warrior. Typically a koshi-ita (stiff board) are seen on the upper back of the Hakama. Modern Hakama mostly lack a toggle (do-me) that hangs on inside of the koshi-ita, which was used to tuck into the Kaku-Obi to keep the Hakama from falling down in the back.Okuyama shodai_soke1

Haori are three-quarter length Kimono that lacks the additional triangular panel of a Kimono robe allowing the Haori to hang open like a long vest with sleeves. If worn formally, the Haori will have Kamon on it like the Montsuki-kimonoHaori are meant to wear over a Kimono like a jacket and the two front panels are held together with a fancy cord (Himo), most formally in white.tabi_50Tabi are socks that have a separate big toe, and are meant to wear with sandles when outside or alone when indoors. Typically they are made of a durable cloth with flat tabs that act as closures on the inner ankle. All indoor Tabi are ankle length, and these were used by mid- to upper classes. Since indoor Tabi were laundered or changed often, lower classes didn’t use them near as much. Jika-Tabi are longer mid-calf type of Tabi and were used by laborers.


Zori are nearly identical to our “flip-flops” with the exception being that the stem is to the center allowing either foot to be used, instead of foot specific. Most people across the social classes would wear these sandals.

WarajiWaraji are woven straw open-foot walking shoes made to wear with Tabi and are frequently seen in old wood block prints of Samurai. The long cords of Waraji were tied around the foot to keep them securely in place. Waraji wore out through walking and distances were often measured in how many Waraji were used.


Geta are elevated wooden Zori. Meant to keep the person above the dust or mud of the street, so they were popular among the Geisha or the courtiers, and now worn informally with Yukata-kimono bathrobes.

Fundoshi are underwear that the Japanese had used for centuries. It is not much more than a white linen loincloth tied around the person like a thong. It is very similar in appearance to what Sumo wrestlers wear during a match. Today, western underwear has mostly taken over and Fundoshi are only seen among some staunch traditionalists.Shihan Jikiden 2012 shihonageUwagi means outermost clothes or jacket. Uwagi is a version of the Hanten; a laborers work Kimono, made of thick cotton to help wick sweat away. Laborers wore these. Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) adopted the use of the Uwagi jackets and combined them with a Gi-Obi and Zuban pants and called the uniform; Keiko-gi. It was meant to protect his Judoka from abrasions when they were being dragged and thrown across rough tatami mats.

Who Wears Kimono and Hakama today?

In formal Japanese occasions a man will wear a Juban (white under-kimono), white Tabi (socks), a Montsuki-kimono (formal silk kimono) tied with a Kaku-Obi (wide belt), a striped Andon-hakama (the legs are not separated like the Joba-hakama) and Haori (jacket) with Kamon (family symbols) over his Kimono, it is worn like a fine suit.

In Koryu Bujutsu (old school martial arts) traditional Japanese warrior dress is still the accepted norm. A white juban (under-Kimono), black Tabi (socks), a Kimono (robe of various muted tones; black, brown, grey, blue, or green) is tied together with a Kaku-Obi (wide belt) and a muted toned Joba-hakama (pleated pants) over top of the Obi.

In more modern martial arts that still follow some of the older Bujutsu traditions like Kendo, Iaido, and Jujutsu, the practitioners will wear an Uwagi (jacket; white, blue or black) tied together with a Kaku-Obi (wide belt) and a blue or black Joba-hakama (pleated pants) over the Obi and mostly bare-footed, but may have Tabi (socks). In colder climates, Zubon (white pants) may be used under the Hakama. Many times you will also see a Gi-Obi (workout belt) over top of the Hakama (pleated pants).

In modern martial arts like Karate or Judo, the practitioner traditionally wears an Uwagi (jacket), Zubon (pants) and a Gi-Obi (workout belt) tied over the jacket and bare-footed.kyudo_kokura_momote

In traditional Japanese theater, like Kabuki and Noh, traditional costumes are very prevalent, with even more varieties of Kimono like Kamishimo, Jimbaori, and Hitatare.

I created this article to assist martial artists to wear traditional kimono correctly.