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[Kimono Style] Coming of Age and Dressing for that Special Time of Year

The first Monday in January is coming of age day in Japan and many young women celebrate with elaborate kimono created or handed down for this special occasion.



An obi with a dragon motif, an auspicious design for the year of the dragon. (©Sheila Cliffe)

One of the lovely things about kimono is the way that it expresses the seasons. After an unusually warm autumn, it is finally cold and comfortable to wear lined kimono. Officially, they are worn from October, but in 2023 it was still too hot to do so. 

After a recent trip to the United Kingdom, I returned to Japan and was surprised to find how bright and sunny it was here. Moreover, I also found how the camellias had burst into bloom during the short time that I was away. 

This was perfect for me, as in 2022 I found a beautiful kaga yuzen kimono, (a yuzen kimono dyed in Kanazawa), with a design of camellias in the falling snow. I thought it would be a great Christmas kimono, but did not have the chance to wear it. 

Sheila Cliffe in a Christmas-themed kimono. (©Sheila Cliffe)

Christmas in Kimono

I decided to wear it to go and look at the Christmas lights around Tokyo Station and the Hibiya area. The kimono was perfect for the occasion. I paired it with a Rumi Rock heko obi in red, and a red hat, scarf, and gloves. In all, I felt very Christmassy! 

Tokyo Yuzen dyer Keiko Tanabe made a digital half-width obi with a jolly Santa Claus, reindeer, a Christmas tree, stockings, and angels. It came in two colors. I also found a purple and green woven polyester obi. That one had treelike decorations, berries and pine cones, and a background of stars. 

It was a romantic-looking obi. But Christmas in Japan is mainly for eating fried chicken and chocolate cake. You might have a romantic time if you are lucky enough to have a partner. 

Christmas-themed half-width obi, an example of the versatility of kimono. (©Sheila Cliffe)

New Year in Kimono

New Year, however, is a much more serious business. That is when cards are sent and families get together. Some travel great distances for a very short annual visit. 

New Year is full of symbolism and auspicious images are essential to get the New Year off to a great start. Pine, because it is evergreen. Plum, because it blooms in the coldest season. And bamboo, because it bends without breaking. These are the three lucky friends of winter. Their designs can be spotted at the New Year as well as at weddings and other happy occasions. 

Cranes and turtles are symbolic of long life and can also be seen. Tanabe dyed some beautiful obi for the season of celebrations. 

A Japanese New-Year themed obi. (©Sheila Cliffe)

Tanabe's Obis

Tanabe's obi with a black ground shows a pattern made with pine needles and in between are small objects associated with good luck or New Year festivities. There is a small white rabbit, drums, a daruma, and a spinning top among other objects. They are placed in hexagons, which symbolize the turtle. These designs are stunning and colorful against the black fabric. 

The other obi, on a wine-red background, shows a pattern of fans which are in the waves of the sea. Each fan shows the image of flowers from different seasons, making the obi a versatile piece. 

In addition to bamboo and plum, maples, iris, and other flowers adorn the fans in a colorful display. This obi would brighten up any plain-colored kimono or a rough woven one, too. It is a delight for those who love Japanese flower patterns. 

A New Year's obi with the traditional designs of pine, plum and bamboo, among others. (©Sheila Cliffe)

Making a 'Coming of Age' Kimono

This is the year of the dragon in the Chinese zodiac and a dragon obi is perfect for New Year's celebrations. In 2022, my daughter celebrated her coming-of-age ceremony, and she chose a dragon for the pattern for her furisode (long-sleeved formal kimono). We had prepared for this over several years and had the joy of watching Tanabe make her kimono from start to finish. 

First, the drawing is done, and the artisan checks how the pattern will fit around the wearer. Then the pattern is transferred to the sections of cloth used in making the kimono. This is done with a fugitive dye, which will later disappear. 

The outlines are then pasted over with fine resist paste lines. This is performed with a small tube of paste and is somewhat similar to putting icing onto a cake. After the ground color is applied (some artisans apply the ground last), the dyes are carefully painted onto the sections. Repeated layers create the shading to give volume to the design. 

The cloth is then sent to be steamed and have all the paste removed. Some dyers mix colors in with the paste to create a slightly colored outline. 

An embroiderer may put on the finishing touches of embroidery. Some kimono are also embellished with gold leaf at this stage. 

Finally, the kimono is sewn together. 

New adults also gathered to celebrate in Osaka's Hirano Ward, on January 9, 2022 (© Sankei by Mizue Torikoshi).

Celebrating the Age of Adulthood

This outfit is a young girl's most formal outfit. It is paid for by parents or grandparents, though some people now rent them rather than buy them. 

After this special day, which is the first Monday in January, girls may also wear their kimono again for friends' weddings or other special outings. Some women later shorten the sleeves and continue wearing the kimono as a married woman.


Recently, however, women have been keeping the sleeves long and later it is worn again at their own daughter's coming of age

This day is a chance to see many girls wearing gorgeous kimono. Many of them will also visit major shrines or temples. I hope you enjoy the beautiful sight on January 8.


Author: Sheila Cliffe
Read other columns on kimono by the author.

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