This morning, our curatorial team rotated the obi in our exhibition Kimono in the 20th Century, replacing the spring and summer-appropriate obi with ones related to fall and winter. This exhibition has been designed to display not only kimono, but also the many accessories that traditionally accompany them, and the obi is an important element of traditional Japanese dress.
Japanese dress is heavily tied to seasons, not just in garment weight and material, but in design. In the first rotation, we featured a beautiful obi with pink flowers and a brightly colored bird, the perfect accessory for a summer kimono. Now, we’ve rotated in this wonderfully embroidered fall obi featuring maple leaves and mallard ducks. This particular obi is in the fukuro style, the second most formal type and the most formal actively used today (the most formal type, the maru obi, is much heavier due to the embroidery and high-quality fabric used for the entire obi, whereas the fukuro obi often uses lighter fabrics and less embroidery on the areas that are hidden when tied). Today, the maru obi is only worn by brides and as part of other highly traditional ensembles. Men and women alike wear obis as part of traditional dress, though men’s obi are narrower, more subtle in design, and tied more simply than women’s obi.
There are a wide variety of ways to tie an obi. Often a combination of pads, scarves and cords are used for both functional and decorative purposes– for example, many types of knots require a cord to hold the obi in place. Because the knots are so complicated, and because they’re centered on the individual’s back, the wearer is usually dressed by another person. As with the kimono itself, these knots hold a great deal of symbolism. Some are more formal than others, and often they’re designed to resemble flowers, animals or other objects. As with kimono, the more elaborate knots are usually worn by young, unmarried women.
In conjunction with this exhibition, Pacific Asia Museum held a kimono lecture and fashion show this summer with sensei Naomi Onizuka. Here, you can see sensei Onizuka and her assistant with two different styles of obi knots. Check out our flickr album from this event for more images of the beautiful kimono presented at this event, and stop by our Japanese Gallery to see the new items on display! ~CM
Top image: Fukuro-type Obi (detail), Japan, 1960s-1970s, Slit tapestry-weave with cotton lining, Gift of June Tsukamoto-Lyon, 2008.5.37