Obi, Kimono’s Best Partner, or Actually the Statement Item?
When it comes to Japanese traditional clothing, it is kimono. However the very item that brings out its gorgeousness is the obi (a sash). Obviously the impression of a kimono can vary by the kimono itself but it’s no exaggeration to say that the obi is an even more important determining factor. The role of the obi-sash is key to wearing the kimono stylishly. Photo: flickr.com
During the Edo period (1603-1868) obi was used only as a necessary tool for fixing the kimonos firmly on the body. Gradually it became a fashion item and by the middle of the 18th century obi became the key item in dressing stylishly. As the appreciation of obi has increased, kimono wearers came up with various different ideas concerning the way of tying their obi knots. Nowadays wearers can choose not only the type of their obi but from plenty of knot types as well.
There are many different types of obi in Japan. Let’s check the most common ones!
The 5 most typical obi types
1. Maru-obi (丸帯)
Length：approx. over 400 cm
Used for：formal wear, can be used as a part of a bride’s outfit
It ranks the highest among all of the obi and was used as a part of the full formal dress of women. The outer material and the lining material are woven into one then folded double and sewn together with interlining. Therefore their weight makes maru-obi difficult to handle, so gradually the simplified fukuro obi has become its substitute.
2. Fukuro-obi (袋帯)
Length：approx. 450 cm
Used for：formal wear
This type was born in the early Showa era (1926-1989). Fukuro-obi are gorgeous obi woven with gold or silver thread and are often worn on formal occasions such as wedding ceremonies and parties. Many people make elaborate and spectacular knots for their obi in that kind of formal scenes.
3. Nagoya-obi (名古屋帯)
Length：approx. 360 cm
Used for：mainly informal wear, semi-formal wear (if the obi contains gold or silver threads)
It is a simplified, easy-to-use version of fukuro-obi designed to shorten the length of time it takes to tie the obi.
4. Hanhaba-obi (半幅帯)
Length：approx. 360 cm
Used for：casual wear (going shopping, to restaurants, to museums, etc.)
Varieties in materials, colors and patterns are very rich and the obi is reversible. It is often used with a yukata or an everyday kimono. It’s narrower than a Nagoya-obi (hanhaba means “half-width”), and its final width is approximately 15 centimeters. It is easy to tie and can be used throughout the year so this type is a very convenient and popular obi.
5. Heko-obi (兵児帯)
Length：approx. 350-400 cm
Used for：informal wear (going to festivals, various events, shopping, etc.)
It was originally used as an obi for men. Its name originates from Satsuma-heko (heko meaning “a young man”) because the young men of Satsuma (a part of Kagoshima prefecture) used this type of obi. Later it became a popular obi used by children and women as well. Its material is very soft and it is easy to tie so one can enjoy many different kinds of knots. Like hanhaba-obi, the heko-obi also can be used throughout the year but it gives a more casual impression than hanhaba-obi.
An obi is an item that can make various impressions based on the diversity of its fabric, patterns, or the way it is tied. How about expressing yourself in this traditional way of Japanese clothing. Just adjust it to the occasion and to your actual mood.