Antique Kimono–Precious Little Details

Hanging Baskets Filled With Chrysanthemums And Adorned With Treasures On Blue Silk.

I think that it is fair to say that all of my favorite kimono are oddballs. If there’s something weird, unusual, or less than traditional about it, I’m all over it. The reason for this is actually rather simple: I’m fucking weird because these things are always very intentional. It’s a direct connection to the preferences and sensibilities of the person who originally commissioned the kimono to be made for them. Someone carefully selected their patterns, and then–as I pictured it in my mind’s eye–smiled at the artisan and said “But let’s get weird about it, I want this.” There’s a secret decadence to these things that I can never know; but I’m fortunate enough to preserve and wonder about now.

Original owner-san, what were you thinking when you asked for this? Why? What did it mean to you, and how can I celebrate properly it in your absence?

So that brings us to this magnificent beast, that I acquire direct from Japan rather recently. There was one “oddity” that I knew about it, that it is a five crested kimono that isn’t a furisode (kimono with very long sleeves for unmarried women) with a pattern above the hem, and isn’t black. I really don’t see a lot of those. I had some competition, but I wanted it more, so I smashed that bid button until it was mine, and here it is.

As tempting as it is to be a presumptuous shithead, I identify this one as being an “antique” as opposed to listing a specific era. I want to call it Taisho sooo bad, but I don’t have exact provenance. I’ve mentioned before, but I’m really goddamn picky about labeling something “Taisho” because of how desirable those items are. The fact act of the matter is that the Taisho Era was very short when compared to the Meiji Era before it and the Showa Era after. And without specific provenance, how can one say that an item was made in 1912 vs 1911, or 1926 vs 1927? Realistically, you can’t. But! You can absolutely tell pre-WWII items apart from others. There are trends that died really hard deaths because of, well, necessity.

Hence, “Antique.” I’m positive that this kimono is no younger than the early 1930’s. I’d bet someone’s vital organs it’s closer to the 20’s. No I’m not going to tell you where I got these organs. And I’ll site the texture of the chirimen (crepe silk), the gradients in the yuzen (resist dye), the length of the sleeves, and of course that delightful red lining to make my case. Mmm, details. Tastes like art history. -Chomp chomp-

Was that educational? I hope so. Because this is the part where I tell you that I wasn’t paying anywhere near enough goddamn attention to the pictures that were presented to me when I decided to buy it. Because all of the discoveries that I made were right there–I just didn’t fucking notice them until they were two inches from my face. You see, if you look at the full back spread, it looks like a very classic Taisho-romantic (meaning old as fuck and probably made in the Taisho era, or at least very much like that) mirrored hem.

Then, when I used my goddamn eyes, I noticed that they were not a perfect mirror. Not because it’s hand painted and such and there will be slight variances. No no. That’s a thing, sure, but not here. These have a ton of deliberate small differences between the panels. How do I describe what this feels like?

You know those “Spot The Differences” picture games? Well I’m actually pretty fucking boss at those, and it’s a lot like that. The basic shape of the flower basket and the kiku (chrysanthemum) bouquet are there. But let’s spot the differences! Kimono are worn with the left panel wrapped over the right, and so I will present the panels in that order in the pictures below. The kimono’s left will be on our left.

Let’s start with the right and left panel. At a glance, they are nearly identical. But when I use my goddamn eyes inspect them closely, many little differences start to pop out.

Starting with the tops of the baskets on the right and left skirt panels! The baskets have entirely different attachments, the embellishments above the basket change as well, with kiku (chrysanthemum) on the right panel, but momiji (maple leaves) on the left panel. The left panel also sports a tassel where the basket is attached.

The embellishments on the left panel include magatama (those little comma looking things) and some of the Seven Treasures. Meanwhile, on the right panel, we have tsuta (ivy leaves), ume (plum blossoms), and kiku along the hem.

This whimsical fuckery continues on the inside as well. There is an almost symmetrical pattern on the hakkake.

Here we can see that they have a very similar drape, but very different main clusters, and the sweet little embellishments actually don’t match up at all. Another thing that’s only similar at a glance.

Pictured: Puuf

Up at the top where the kamon (crests) are, we can see that the clusters of kiku (chrysanthemums) are not symmetrical, and neither are the dyed kasumi (haze).

This is actually the spot that stuck out to me first, because it’s very simply decorated, and I would kind of expect it to be symmetrical. Allow me to explain my bullshit reasoning. I was kind of under the impression, based on a few things (I’ll get to that in a minute) that this was actually a furisode that had the sleeves shortened so that the owner could continue to wear it after marriage. That wasn’t not terribly uncommon. But in my experience, furisode with little floating patterns around the kamon like this are more if not almost perfectly symmetrical. I have a few examples of this.

Note: This is one of those things that’s “weird to me” and not necessarily actually strange. My personal collection of furisode tend toward closer symmetry around the kamon–that doesn’t mean I believe that’s always true. Especially when the pattern around the kamon is part of a larger theme.

Let’s talk about the reasons I thought this might be a furisode that got the chop. Aside from the decorations around the kamon, the hem is slightly padded. Behold!

Pictured: THICC

The sleeve length itself is another reason. Pre-war sleeves tend to be quite long for women almost no matter what kind of kimono they’re on, but these ones are looooooooong at 74cm. That’s over two feet for my fellow ‘Muricans. Maybe this is me projecting a little bit, but I can’t help but wonder every time I see a furisode that has gotten the chop, if the sleeve length has a little to do with them wanting to preserve as much material as possible. For me, it would be physically painful to hack off the design on the sleeves, and I actually can’t empathize with the idea that it isn’t to someone else, even though I know it very well could be.

Another little clue for me as to making me think it was a furisode that got the chop is the presence of embellishments on both the right and left skirt panels. The right skirt panel, which is largely hidden when worn, has the same embroidered embellishments as the left panel. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, and tell you I’ve never seen that before. Because that’s some Grade A Horseshit. But I do most often see that on furisode as opposed “tomesode,” which this was advertised as. (As an aside, this is a kimono old enough not to fall into the clean-cut categories that we use for kimono today. That happens a lot.)

Have a look!

Both the right and left panel have metallic embellishments on the little button pomps (I haven’t used that term since working in a flower shop, and I squeaked out loud when I typed it).

Both the right and left panels have these delightful little knot embroidery as the pollens int he larger chrysanthemums.

Apparently, I didn’t get great pictures to illustrate this, but the point here is that there is equal embroidered embellishments on each side. And this is exciting to me for reasons! After getting wrapped up in finding the differences, these are similarities that made me make a bunch of strange squeaking noises to nobody at an ungodly hour while I was taking these pictures.

I think basically the only thing I haven’t really touched on by now is condition. She’s in marvelous condition for her age. There were a few superficial stains on the very ends of the sleeves. Although I don’t usually document it, I typically do small stain removals on pretty much every kimono I get, but I only focus on stains that are particularly obvious. Usually it’s a matter of picking something off, or dissolving some kind of food item. Occasionally it’s makeup on the folding line for the collar. I only bother to post about it if it was severe or gave me trouble. It just seems boring if it’s not a learning experience, I guess.

Otherwise, let’s talk about smell. This is possibly the best smelling kimono I’ve ever received. It literally smells like jasmine tea, and I could snort it for days. It’s still hanging on my iko (kimono stand) and I lift the sleeve up and sniff it every time I pass it, which is frequently. I do this because I am a normal, well-adjusted adult, and no other reasons.

So here at the end, I’ll just wrap this up with saying what it is. A fantastic antique formal kimono with explosions of kiku (chrysanthemum), delicate tsuta (ivy), treasures, and kasumi (haze), with five tachibana (citrus) kamon (family crest). Whatever she is, whatever she was for, I’m proud to have her in my collection of unique things.


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