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Clothing Of The Japanese

( Originally Published 1928 )

FEUDALISM held sway for centuries in Japan; not until the great revolution of 1869 was it swept away. A few years before, an expedition from the United States, headed by Commodore Perry, had been successful in opening to foreigners the hitherto closed port. About 1872 the progressive young Mikado insisted on breaking through the old rule which forbade any one to look upon his face. In 1885 we find him not only appearing in European dress but ordering his court to do likewise. Many people be-came alarmed at the rapidity with which the Japanese adopted up-to-date fashions, fearing the unique beauty of their national costume would be lost. These Orientals persisted, however, in spite of general protest, even giving up the elaborately dressed and oiled coiffures and submitting to the modern bob. The latter is not unbecoming but French clothes seem peculiarly out of place.

With the adoption of European ideas, women stopped shaving the eyebrows, plucking out the eyelashes and blackening the teeth after marriage, evidently concluding that the old feudal idea of a wife making herself so ugly that no one would seek her out as a recipient of illicit love was, after all, a poor way of retaining the admiration of a perfectly good husband.

A widow signified her intention of remaining faithful to her departed lord and master—until she changed her mind—by shaving her head and tying her obi in front.

The Slip.—Of wool, cotton crepe or silk, this garment is worn as underwear by the un-Europeanized Japanese woman, the border showing where the kimona laps from the left side over on the right in front. It is colored scarlet for girls, white and sometimes purple for married women.

The Kimona.—Two or three are placed one over an-other, their edges showing about the neck. In bad or very cold weather, extra ones are added for protection. The peculiar pigeon-toed gait of a Japanese woman is attributed to the closely clinging kimonos constantly pulling the right foot inward.

The sacred geishas of the temples wear twelve, but only of two colors, red and white. The robes of the dancing geisha girls are covered with gay embroidered flowers and, with the obi, are of gorgeous materials. The hair is elaborately dressed and ornamented; on the feet are white "tabi" and sandals of black lacquer, and a fan waves in each hand.

The Obi—A sash over three yards long by twelve inches wide is wound two or three times about the figure well above the natural waist line and tied in a bow at the back. A silk band three or four inches wide (or a gold buckle) keeps the bow from shifting. For a married woman, or one of "a certain age," the bow presents a square appearance; flappers tie them at a coquettish slant. The brilliant colors of the obi vie with those of the kimona, and rich materials such as gold brocade, etc., make this article of attire often very expensive.

Hairdressing.—Before bobbing and simple European styles were copied, the coiffures were marvelous to behold, so intricate that, once up, several days passed before the hair was touched again. The tiny wooden pillow of the Japanese, together with the quantities of coconut oil used in the dressing, helped to make this possible. The hair was twisted and rolled over wire shapes, oil applied to create luster, and ornamental pins called "kanzashis," representing brilliant flowers, were stuck in it; quite a shower of them pointing in all directions.

Footgear.—White "tabi" (socks), worn by girls and women, which come up over the ankle where they fasten with hooks, are fashioned with the big toe having a pocket to itself, like that of a thumb in a mitten. The slit thus created between the large toe and the others is used to hold the cord or thong by which the "zori" (sandals) are fastened to the foot. Above the "tabi," snugly fitted, are worn white silk gaiters.


The natives go barefoot, wear "zori" (see women) or the wooden clogs called "geta." The latter are three inches high and are attached to the foot through the slit in the "tabi." Sandals are removed before entering a house, as no shoe of any kind is worn when indoors by either men or women.

Dress.—Owing to the excessive heat at some seasons, the un-Europeanized native is apt to go half naked; in the rural districts, totally so. Even the jinrikisha men, when

Japan was first opened to travelers, ran about the city streets wearing little more than "birthday suits."

The popular jacket and trousers of cotton crepe, either blue or white with colored borders, combined with straw sandals and a "kasa" (a mushroom-shaped hat of split bamboo or straw held from the head by wires to permit ventilation), make up a popular dress for many men. The Japs have a raincoat made of fine matting; in the country, rough affairs like those of the Chinese resemble thatched straw roofs.

Japanese letter-carriers were tattooed in brilliant colors over the entire body; the actual costume consisted of a scarf knotted about the brows to catch perspiration, a loin cloth and straw sandals. The Japanese pilgrim is dressed all in white with a huge straw mushroom hat, sandals and a staff. A matting raincoat tied across his shoulders serves as his bed. Shinto priests wear their clerical robes only when at service in the temple, in contrast to the Buddhist who walks robed in rich mantles.

The Hair.—Most Japs show crops of bristling black hair, the result of periodically shaving the head in child-hood. Before the advent of a European haircut, the front part of the scalp was shaved after a boy reached the age of fourteen. The long back locks were then coiled in a knot. The hair of little girls was allowed to grow after they were five years old, save for a round spot as big as a silver dollar, which was kept close shaven on top of the head. Bangs were much affected by Japanese children.

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