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History of the Kimono

The kimono has had a long history in Japan and the kimono has changed over time to reflect the society and culture of that period.

During the Heian period 794-1185, the custom of elaborate layers of colored kimono robes became popular with Japanese women. Jun-hitoe, twelve unlined robes were frequently worn with the sleeve edges and collars showing the shades of each kimono. Persons of the royal court sometimes wore up to sixteen kimono layers. During the Kamakura period of 1185-1133 with the rising influence of the military class and warriors, people had no patience or need for elaborate kimono. Practicality prevailed and during this period the kosode meaning small sleeve was introduced into the kimono.

In 1615, military leader Tokugawa moved the capital of Japan from Kyoto, where the emperor resided to Edo, the present day Tokyo. Confucianism was adopted and hierarchy became the guiding principle where citizens were ranked based on their class. During the Edo period, people began to define their status by their kimono clothing. During this time the greatest artistic accomplishments were made with the kimono.

After 1853, the US Navy sailed to Tokyo and the beginning of Japan's commercial industry was opened to the Western world. Although Japanese people continued to wear the kimono for another hundred years, the beginning of the end of this practice was near.

During the Meiji period of 1868-1912, women began working outside their homes and required different clothing to accommodate their work. The Japanese people developed techniques to compete with the machine woven cloth available from the West. Cloth from other parts of the world were bought to make the kimono and the clothing. During the Taisho period of 1912-1926, Tokyo suffered a devastating earthquake which leveled most of the homes. Many of the old kimono were lost at this time.

During the Showa period 1926-1989, the Japanese government curtailed silk production by taxing it to support the military buildup. Kimono designs became less complex and material was conserved. After World War II, as Japan's economy gradually recovered, kimono became even more affordable and were produced in greater quantities. Europe and America fashion ideas affected the kimono designs and motifs, but their shape remained the same. Kimono and obi colors changed with the season and with the age and status of the wearer.

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