Peaceful Willow Branches Over Running Water On Black Silk.
Story time. A few days ago, I was clicking mindlessly through my usual kimono-buying haunts. You know, just seeing what’s good, what’s interesting, what’s new, and perhaps what’s mislabeled for my grubby little claws. I ran into this one with just a frontal picture. It also had an “obi” displayed with it. The obi was actually just an obi-shin, or the inner core of an obi. I wasn’t worried about that. I liked the design on this kimono enough to just buy it for the very reasonable (read: low) price offered. I checked out the sellers other listings and saw that they had a maru obi (formal belt) listed, that had clearly been opened, that they were listing as a “wall hanging.” I can see how one would make that mistake.
I messaged the seller, explaining what these things were, and that the obi-shin should stay with the maru obi. I told them that I didn’t want a price adjustment or anything, but that someone looking for a maru obi might like to have them together. In truth, I also puckered my butthole, because once upon a time, I did something similar and a seller cancelled my purchase and then listed what I was buying at an insane price. Honestly, not even close the right price for the item. Based on that experience, one could argue that the smart thing to do would be to keep my goddamn mouth shut. But my conscience was being a loud little shit that night, so I messaged them anyway. So, that shady stuff I was worried about? That didn’t happen here. The seller messaged me back and said that in light of that information, they were going to just send me the maru obi, as well as several other Japanese items that their father had returned from the Pacific Theater in World War II with because they “wanted them to go to someone who would appreciate them.”
And that, my friends, is how I accidentally stumbled ass-backwards into owning a hikizuri.
A hikizuri, for those coming here to learn (oh god, I’m so sorry), in this context would be a kimono specifically worn by geisha, and–as I have learned just tonight–those who do nichibu (dance) but are not necessarily geisha. This is the part where I get painfully honest and tell you that I had no idea what the name for traditional dance was until basically a few hours ago. I don’t typically seek out geisha/geiko/maiko or other performance related items because they aren’t what I would call a good representation of art reflecting the common person’s life. Which isn’t to say that they aren’t astounding works of art worthy of adoration. In fact, the other reason I don’t really deal in them is because they tend to be prohibitively expensive. So it’s not about love or personal preference, because I’m about to get all kinds of love fluids all over this entry (I know what I said). But it was worth pointing out that this is actually an area that I’m not well versed in. I’ve had a great deal of hand-holding, and I might still be stupid wrong about a ton of things!
Feel free to point and laugh! Let’s begin.
When I made the decision to buy it, I didn’t think it was anything other an antique kurotomesode (auspicious formal black women’s kimono with five crests). There were no measurements listed, and there was nothing to compare it to in the frame. In fact, there was only one photo of this kimono in the listing, and it was from the front. I knew it was going to be Pre-WWII, so late Taisho to early Showa Era because of the beautiful red lining poking out of those sleeves; and provenance from the seller was that their father brought them home from the Pacific Theater, so that tracks. Beyond that, I was kind of going in blind. Legit, I saw the weeping willow and smashed the Buy It Now button with extreme prejudice.
It didn’t have to travel far to get to me, and today it arrived, with a ton of other beautiful things that I’ll detail later. When the excitement of identifying and enjoying the other pieces wore off, I brought them upstairs and set this one up on my newly functional Meiji Era Iko (kimono stand). Immediately, I noticed this one was…different. Because it was fucking huge. I showed a picture to a friend and fellow kimono nerd, Roza, and she had me measure it. It measures in at 187cm long. One hundred and eighty goddamn seven centimeters.
Are you paying attention? That is over six fucking feet. For the sake of perspective, a kimono that would properly fit me, would be approximately my same height in length. I am just barely five feet and three inches, or 160cm. It is also worth noting that a great deal of the kimono I have from this era are just a touch short for me. But this one? This thing trails!
With further help and explanation, the amazing and lovely Roza helped me to find some information about what Okiya (simply put, a Geisha house) it might have come from. Because she can read kanji, and I can bash my face into the screen until there’s like a lot of blood and I’m sure that’s really helpful, together we determined that this:
…says 柳家, or “Yanagiya.” Which is (was?) an Okiya in Akita. Based on what little information we can find–and I keep saying we, but I literally mean the one person in this equation that can actually read any of it–it seems possible that this was a geiko hikizuri from that Okiya. I don’t know if it’s one of a kind or not, but I can’t seem to find anything else that quite looks like it.
Now let’s talk technical specifications, I said in complete seriousness like I was talking about a fucking computer and not a beautiful antique. The burn test confirms that it is made of silk. Don’t panic, I take a small thread from way inside of the seam allowance to do this, it’s not like anything was really sacrificed. I do this with basically every kimono so that I know what it’s made of. Although the sleeves are lined in red, the body of the lining is white. I don’t know if that part of the lining had perhaps been replaced, or if it is just barely new enough for the red linings to have been falling out of favor. I also don’t have any goddamn idea if that even applies here, because I know that’s common for regular-ass kimono, but can’t say if that’s a thing for high-end performers kimono.
Further, let’s talk about the design. We have beautiful yanagi (weeping willow) leaves draping delicately over a guzei (traditional red bridge seen in gardens), over water. There is shimmering kasumi (haze) and a beautiful, particular kind of water wheel called a tsuchiguruma. This thing:
Moving on. There’s also an amazing amount of detail in this piece. There is extremely delicate kinsai (gold paint), couching, and embroidery. The textures on this piece are enough to make me froth at the mouth with excitement. Incidentally, I have been inoculated for rabies. Don’t ask. Art is fun.
The design even continues on the inside to the hakkake (lower skirt lining), and the kinsai and embroidery follows even there. In my experience many kimono, even formal and decadent for the sake of decadent pieces, actually don’t bother with that last bit. They might have a highly decorated hakkake, but it usually doesn’t have its own embroidery.
And the best part? I don’t have to repair or restore a goddamn thing. I legitimately can’t find anything wrong with this beauty. The kinsai is all intact with maybe some really superficial cracking if I’m being extremely anal retentive about it, the couching is solid and shiny, the embroidery is perfect and smooth. I can’t find any stains, although I did find a smudge or two that scratched right off. There is no fading. The only imperfections that I can find on her are the fact that she was quite a bit wrinkled–which I treated with a very slow and gentle steaming, but will otherwise be allowed to hang out–and then there are small errors in the yuzen (resist dye technique) that are actually present on pretty much every kimono of its time. Fight me.
So we’re coming up to the end of this entry, and I don’t have a ton of answers about this piece. I’m going to keep using the leads and information that Roza gave me to try to see if I can find out more about it, or at least more about Yanagiya. I doubt I’ll ever be able to know who it belonged to specifically, but I know that’s possible sometimes. I try to understand the things that I have as thoroughly as I can, because otherwise, have I really done them any justice? This is a kimono that was purchased domestically. It came to the United States with a returning soldier, long before I was even a sperm. I don’t know how that soldier acquired this kimono, but I do know that many things were given to me with it out of love. So we’re on the road to some good karma here, I should think.
I guess now all I have to do is figure out what I want to do with this piece. Perhaps organize a special display, or something. It’s in perfect condition to be worn, but that’s kind of intimidating. I don’t know.
Now I’d like to take the time to extend thanks to my friend Roza for taking the time to handhold my stupid ass though this process. I offered her some organs. I’ve also linked to her Instagram account several times through this post. She didn’t ask me to, but if you love kimono and cool shit, you should really click on that link. And if you don’t, I’ll throw a human kidney at your house. No, I won’t tell you where I got it. I very much value people’s privacy, dammit!