Tag Archives: kimono

Rokutani Baiken, Living National Treasure 人間国宝 六谷梅軒

Auspicious Gourd Pattern on Silk Chirimen (Japanese Crepe)

End of bolt for the design called Cluster of Guords, showing artist’s label, Baiken Rokutani

This is a marvelous example of extremely fine stencil
carving by Rokutani Baiken, who was declared a Living National Treasure in 1955 and passed away in 1973.

Master Ise Stencil Carver Rokutani Baiken
重要無形文化財 伊勢型紙錐彫 保持者

1907(明治40) 三重県鈴鹿市に生まれる
born 1907 in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture
1919(大正 8)  父・芳蔵のもとで修行
began studies under his father, Rokutani Bouzou
1939(昭和14) 独立
became independent
1942(昭和17) 小宮康助の勧めで極鮫小紋の研究
began research into extremely fine, sharkskin-pattern stencils while working for Komiya Kousuke
1955(昭和30) 重要無形文化財保持者「伊勢型紙錐彫」に認定
designated as Living National Treasure (preserver of the hole punch style of Ise katagami)

Close up of both sides of the bolt

As you can see from the back, the entire bolt was first dyed a solid color in a vat of fresh-leaf tadeai (Persicaria tinctoria), after which the paste was applied to the front side through the stencil carved by Rokutani Baiken. Once the paste dried, several more coats of the dye were brushed on. Eventually the paste was washed away revealing the detailed imagery of “one-thousand gourds”.

Detailed description of bolt

The paperwork attached to the bolt gives us quite a bit of information.

Ise Katagami
One-Thousand Gourds
Custom has it that the souls of the gods take refuge in this type of gourd, and keeping one about helps to bring to fruition all your aspirations. Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s battle standard was this gourd. With every battle won he added one more gourd to the standard, so that in time he was reputed to have one-thousand gourds dangling – scaring away anyone who would seek to challenge him.

人間国宝 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan, Living National Treasure
二代目 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan II

Additional information elsewhere on the bolt indicates that the fabric was woven in Japan using Japanese silk.

Bolt label

The characters in the upper right of the label read 千成, sen-nari, which  means “a large cluster”, but by way of a pun it also means “one-thousand successes” and so is used for felicitous occasions.

Artist’s signature and stamp

The wording in the rectangular area above reads Living National Treasure, Rokutani Baiken and bears a stamp in red with his full name. The gourd shape bears a stamp of just his first name, Baiken.

Baiken Rokutaini II

Baiken Rokutani II

Baiken Rokutaini II was born in 1937 as Hiromi Rokutani and took his father’s name in 1996.

1937 (昭和12年) 三重県鈴鹿市寺家町に生まれる
(本名 六谷博臣)
born in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture (birth name: Hiromi Rokutani)
1953 (昭和28年) 中学卒業、同日より父について修行
graduated middle school in and began instruction under his father
1963 (昭和38年) 伊勢型紙技術伝承者養成事業第一期生として4年間錐彫部門専修
undertook training in the traditional techniques of Ise katagami carving and became a specialist in punch style after four years
1992 (平成4年) 三重県指定無形文化財保持団体、認定会員
became recognized as a member of Mie Intangible Treasure Preservation Society
1993 (平成5年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、理事に選任
became a member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as director
1995 (平成7年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、副会長に選任
member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as president
1996 (平成8年) 還暦を機に父の雅号「梅軒」を襲名
took his father’s name “Baiken” on the occasion of his 6oth birthday


Kimono Care 2 – Day to Day Care 日常常識

Probably the most destructive thing you can do to your kimono is to actually wear it. However, kimono are made to be enjoyed and simply packing them away in a box for posterity will bring joy to neither you nor the splendid garment. So here are some fundamentals you should keep in mind as you are laying out your wardrobe: Bathe your body and wash your hair thoroughly, avoiding all lotions, creams, and hair products. Refrain from using any perfumes or colognes, and never smoke while wearing kimono. If you are to eat or drink while kimono clad, take great care not to spill. A clean handkerchief on your lap while sitting will help to take care of any crumbs and allow you to discretely wipe any oils from your hands if napkins aren’t available. If necessary, a handkerchief discretely placed upon a park bench before sitting down is also appropriate.

Emonkake (hanger)

If you are able to plan ahead of time, remove your folded garment from its storage envelope (tatou) and allow it to hang on an emonkake (Japanese style kimono hanger) for two or three days before the event is to take place. If you have used mothballs in storing it, this will allow time for the smell to dissipate. Brush the garment with a soft clothes brush and use a lint remover to take care of any static problems. If there are any really major fold lines remaining after a day, gently steam them out.

Hanging a Kimono to Air Using an Emonkake

Once you’ve returned from your outing, wash your hands before removing your kimono. Your garment will have absorbed moisture and sweat from our body. Hang your garment back on the emonkake and allow it to air for two to three hours. This will help to prevent mold and spots from forming later.

Be sure to take time to carefully look over your kimono at this stage. Areas that soil easily are the wrist area of the sleeve, the collar, and the hem. If you have worn a kimono with long sleeves, be sure to check the front-bottom, rounded portion of the sleeve for any spots or dust. Next gently pat down all of the trouble spots with a folded piece of velvet, terry cloth, or soft cotton to dislodge any dust from the street. If you have found any spots that can’t be dislodged in this manner, move on to more aggressive techniques. Lastly, with a low, dry iron setting, press out any severe wrinkles. It is best to press from the lining side, but if you must iron from the front be sure to use a press-cloth.

Treat your obi, haori, and other garments in the same manner outlined above.

If you have just purchased a used kimono, then you may also want to follow the steps outlined above before and after wearing it.

Now you are ready to pack your precious garment away.
Garments are not normally just laid out on the table or floor to be folded.  Prepare a clean flat area and wash your hands before proceeding.  A freshly wiped tabletop or the top of a freshly made bed will work quite nicely.

Making Use of a Shitajiki

Using shitajiki to protect your kimono while changing garments.


Japanese often keep large shitajiki on hand for this purpose.  When spread open, the shitajiki may also be used to sit or stand upon when you must change into kimono when away from home. This will keep your garments clean regardless of the environment in which you find yourself.

A large sheet of new butcher paper (un-waxed) or clear newsprint will work just as well.

If you’d like to get a little fancy and make your own shitajiki, you may papier-mâché the butcher paper with pages from an old Japanese songbook or other decorative text.

Old books may be taken apart and used as a decorative element when making your own shitajiki.


Decorated Shitajiki




You may use white butcher-paper as the core to your shitajiki, or an old white sheet, well ironed. (If using a sheet, you may want to starch it heavily first.) Use a runny consistency of wheat paste or rice paste to apply the decorative paper sheets to both sides of the shitajiki, allowing one side to dry before starting the other. Sew cotton bias tape around all of the edges once the layers are completely dry. Crease the shitajiki into six segments the long way, and four the short way. A common size is 60”  (150cm) x 40” (100cm).

Let’s discuss folding your kimono. Every type of kimono has its own special way to be folded–most often this is based on the methods of construction used. The diagrams below illustrate the proper way to fold most kimono types. Almost always, if your kimono is new or if you have bought it from reputable dealer, it come properly folded and you will note that the fold lines generally remain visible even after the garment is worn. Use these fold lines when folding away your garment.

Standard kosode (includes furisode):
Kosode are what most people think of as kimono. Kosode literally means smaller sleeve. However, regardless of the actual length or shape of the sleeve, all garments constructed in a similar fashion to the above will be folded as shown. The key point of construction is the okumi, or extra panel in front.


Tomesode qualify as kimono as described above, however they will often have family crests or intricate patterns at the bottom that require extra care in storage.


Placing a small piece of tissue, or basting a scrap of cloth over the crest, will help to keep the imagery clean, and in  the case of embroidery, protect it from abrasion.

Depending on the dyes used, it is wise to cover the intricate pattern at the hem of a tomesode to keep the white areas pristine and the dyed areas pure of color. Some dyes will migrate to undyed areas if left in contact for long periods of time in storage. Also, the imagery in modern pieces may not be dyed at all but applied with acrylic paints. While these may be very beautiful and artistic, the acrylic sections have tendency to stick to one another if left in contact over time.

You may find that a smooth wooden dowel or broom stick will come in handy for making clean, straight folds when many layers are involved.


Wadded tissue may be used to keep some of the thicker folds from becoming wrinkles during storage.


 You will want to leave the tissue in place, but remove dowel once you’ve finished folding the garment.



Nagajuban are basically slips. It is the garment worn between the kimono and your underwear (which is worn against the body). Unlike the kimono shown above, a man’s nagajuban normally has no okumi, or extra panel, in front.





A haori may be easily identified by the gussets at the side and the fact that the collar is turned back.





The first step is to pinch the collar bands together as shown in the illustration to the left.




A Michiyuki have an extra panel in front. It always snaps, buttons, or ties closed when worn.


You may want to use something to keep the bugs away. Mothballs do work well, but are poisonous and have a lingering odor. I recommend using camphor cubes (shounou). They are inexpensive, have a moderately pleasant smell and the aroma dissipates quickly once the garment is hung to air. Whatever you choose to use, take care to wrap it in porous tissue so as not to allow it to come into direct contact with your garment–otherwise it may cause discoloration.


Never use plastic bags to store your silks. These can trap moisture and cause spotting. The ideal way to store your garments is in an unfinished Japanese tansu. If this is not an option, large dresser drawers will work; camphor and cedar hope chests, as well as map drawers or cabinets all offer a wonderful options for storing and viewing; and large flat cardboard boxes will always work in a pinch. I use them all. In each case I place my garments in a kimono wrapper (tatou). When using cardboard, I take the extra precaution of lining the box with well-washed old sheets to protect the wrappers and the garments from the acid in the corrugated paper.

Tatoushi – Paper Kimono Wrappers

A little extra time invested in caring for your garments will give you years of extended pleasure.



Kimono Care 1 – Washing Kimono (Arai-hari) 洗い張り

Cleaning and Caring for Your Japanese Textiles
I’ve received many inquiries regarding how one goes about taking care of kimono and other Japanese garments. I will approach this in two segments. This first section will deal with cleaning, and the next installment will treat general care and storage.


In Japan, traditional garments were disassembled to launder.
At first glance, this may seem like a very peculiar practice, however, let’s look at it in its historical context: The school I attended as a child was attached to a convent, and as it happened, in first grade I sat next to a glass door that lead to a sunny courtyard. One day I

This looks like way too much fun!

noticed an elderly nun sitting in the sun with her sewing. She was taking apart a huge black habit – it seemed to be a mountain of midnight yardage. I wandered out and sat next to her watching for quite some time before asking her why she would take apart her clothing. She explained that her style of dress dated back to medieval times and in those days all the women dressed just as she does today. They didn’t have sewing machines, and once or twice a year had to carry all their laundry down to the river to wash. A wet “dress” would be far too heavy for any of them to handle, and so they had to take everything apart, wash it, lay it out on the grass to dry, and then sew it all back together again by hand. Sometimes, if a part became worn, they would need to re-arrange some of the pieces, and in this way they would be delighted with a “brand-new” garment as a reward for their efforts.

Washing Fabric in the River

Kimono have a similar history. Once disassembled, the parts were put back together, much like a jigsaw puzzle, into the original bolt form. Did you happen to see the movie Memoirs of a Geisha? If so, you’ll remember the segment, just after the war ended, in which people were working along the river. They were washing kimono fabric. By clamping one end of the bolt with harite,  secured with a stake in the center of the river, the fabric was allowed to float in the water, with the gentle agitation of the shallow flow loosening accumulated soil and dust.


Starching Fabric Pieces to Drying Board

During the laundering process, the fabric is inspected, spots removed, holes repaired, and perhaps the entire bolt over-dyed. Everyday items, such as nemaki (sleep kimono) and juban (underclothing) would be washed at home and dried by straightening the weave on boards placed in the sun.

Stretching Clean, Reassembled Bolt with Harite and Shinshi.

Finer fabrics or longer pieces were stretched mid-air using harite and shinshi – the same equipment used to stretch them when they were originally dyed. (Click here for directions on how to make your own harite: harite instructions.)

When it came time to re-assemble the garment, a worn cuff would be turned to the inside shoulder seam, the body itself could be cut at the waist and the ragged hem flipped up (this sewing line would later be concealed by the obi), and the stained kake-eri (false collar) replaced if necessary.

Today there are still a few specialists to whom you may take precious garments. A quick Google search brought up the following web site for an establishment in Kansai, which lists the cleaning fee for a tomesode at around $150 and a furisode at $120; kimono with linings $100, and those without linings $80.

What happens to all the threads that have been removed over time from all the kimono that have been taken apart? Actually, something quite beautiful is made…click on the temari to the left to read more!




So you don’t live in Japan? What can you do? Below are a few cleaning tips, but please be forewarned – if your heart can’t bear ruining a piece, be content with your treasure and don’t gamble on your attempt to clean it.
Let’s start with the easiest: Often a brisk rub-down with a clothes-brush will take care of the problem and give your kimono or haori a fresh look. If there is a spot sitting on the surface, say a little caked oatmeal as a souvenir left from feeding Junior, make sure it is completely dry. If you look closely and see that it is sitting on the surface of the fabric (the schmutz will cover and block the weave) then you are in luck. Removing surface debris is fairly easy. (But don’t try this if the fabric is weak or brittle!) Grasp the fabric to either side of the soiled area and pull-snap briskly on the diagonal. Move your hands and repeat this operation on the opposite diagonal. This will normally cause any caked-on spot to pop or flake off. If there is still a little dusty residue, grab another segment of the garment (same weave, same color) and rub it vigorously over the spot.
I emphasize using the same color and same weave. If a different weave is used, it will sometimes “polish” the spot causing it to be clean but shiny. Using the same weave will prevent this from happening. If you use fabric from the same garment, but of a different color, you run the risk of having the new color transfer (crock) to the soiled area.

If you find you have oil-based spots, they won’t rub out. You will need something to dissolve the spot before it can be removed. Often, in Japan, benzene (lighter fluid) will be used. Dry cleaning fluid also works well. Be careful while doing this – both fluids are highly volatile, toxic to breathe, and toxic when absorbed through your skin.

Notice how the shinshi (on the underside) stretch the fabric selvage to selvage giving a nice flat, taught surface without ironing.

Prepare a small piece of cloth, preferably the same color as the area to be cleaned, by placing a cotton ball in the center and bringing up the edges to form a “tissue ghost” or teruteru-bozu shape.  Add a little cleaning fluid. The ball should be damp, not wet, with fluid. Gently, lightly, begin by rubbing the ball against the center of the spot, working in a circular motion toward the outer edges and beyond. Return to the center of the spot and repeat this action until all of the fluid has been used up and it is starting to dry on the fabric. Keep working outward until it seems as if the ball is dry, return to the center and repeat several times if necessary, until only the faintest haze of moisture may be detected on the outer edges of the circle. Rubbing and working in this circular manner will keep the cleaner from forming its own liquid stain-line. If it is a small enough spot, it may help to stretch that area in an embroidery hoop to make it easier to rub.
If you prefer to use water on a spot, approach it as outlined above.

If you have spots caused by water on your silk (sometimes a spot of water will change the way fiber reflects light, causing it to appear to be a stain), try lightly spraying the area with more water. Be frugal. Only moisten the area, and be sure to allow the sprayer to do its job in “feathering” out the spray along the outer edges of the affected area. If you go at it with too heavy a hand, you’ll simply create a larger spot.

The greatest risk in laundering is presented by the dyes, not the fabric itself. I’ve often heard, “Oh! You can’t wash silk!” Nonsense. Silk is very durable and easy to wash. It is the dyes you have to watch out for. Having said that, almost all modern Japanese dyes are of a quality such that bleeding shouldn’t be a concern. This doesn’t hold true for vintage pieces.

There is no way that a layperson can know which dyes were used, and how well they have been set. The first red flag you should monitor is bleeding. This is especially common among synthetic dyes. Bleeding is when excess dye, or ill-set dye, comes out into the wash-water. If you are not careful, this can stain other areas of the garment. Have you ever accidentally thrown a red shop rag in with the white laundry? The red bled onto the whites making everything pink.

Red Dye Bleeding into the Wash Water

If you are bound and determined to wash your piece without un-stitching it (this is called maru-arai) then be prepared to use lots of water. Choose a vessel that can hold enough water to allow your garment to fit without crowding. A bathtub works well. A bathtub with a drain in the bathroom floor works even better, as does an outdoor horse-trough or kiddy pool. Fill the container to the top with cool-to-warm water while adding a little cleaning solution. Orvis® or Mane ‘N Tail® (horse/sheep shampoo) work quite well. Baby shampoo will also work well. Gently lower your kimono into the water trying not to trap bubbles. As you do so, keep vigilant to spot any bleeding as soon as it starts to occur. Red linings are especially notorious for bleeding. If bleeding is noticed, continue adding water until the dye bleeding into the wash-water is carried away from the fabric. This is why it is good to have large vessel and a drain in the floor (or work outside) – you can allow the water to overflow the top. Keep flushing the container with fresh water until the bleeding stops or the well goes dry.

With gentle care lift the clean kimono out of the water and gently arrange it in the drum of a washing machine to spin out the water. Replace the water in the wash basin and rinse the kimono. Do this several times if necessary – until the water runs completely clean.

Never wring the fabric. Many natural pigments used in Japanese dyeing that otherwise are quite stable, will crock if great pressure is applied to them while wet. Crocking is when a dye transfers through contact (as when the blue rubs off an indigo dyed piece).

After the final spin, the kimono may be hung to air dry. If you have a long pole that you can run from cuff to cuff  to hang the garment, you will avoid the stretch marks at the shoulder that arise from drying wet clothes on a hanger.

Some older types of gold leafing used a water-based binder (nikawa). This may dissolve away and the gold with it when doing maru-arai. I don’t recommend washing older uchishiki, or other gold-leafed textiles, for this reason. Opulent textiles were never intended to be washed.

Professionals use a steamer with many drums to stretch and flatten the laundered fabric without actually ironing it. This process is called yunoshi.

Do not throw your kimono in the dryer unless it is machine sewn. The stress of the tumbling action will weaken the stitching in all hand-sewn garments. In addition, if you are working with a lined piece, you may cause the various fabrics employed to shrink unevenly. Since traditionally constructed kimono are not intended to be washed as a whole garment, the fabrics are not “pre-shrunk”. Each weave has its own rate of contracting when wet. Chirimen (crepes) can shrink up a great deal, over-all kanoko-shibori may sag. Flat weaves tend to stay the same.


Without sufficient care you may wind up with a very disconfrumpulated garment – fabric sagging, fabric shrunk, and seams puckered. To help avoid this, with your still damp garment hanging from a pole with arms spread in a large “T” shape, gently tug at the weft by grasping the seams to either side and pulling until the outer fabric and the lining have flattened and stretched to an even width. Repeat this action for every panel of your kimono. Next address the collar by pulling gently along its length – taking care not to stretch out the top of the okumi panel. Lastly, gently pull and stretch, if necessary, along each of the vertical seams to straighten them out completely. All this activity will help your garment to dry more quickly and evenly, avoid some shrinkage, and make it much easier to iron.

If you’ll indulge my tastes, click on the image above to view a Japanese YouTube movie – my favorite laundry related clip! THE COLOR OF LIFE 歌う六人の女「まな板」

Once your garment is entirely dry, remove it from the drying rod and gently iron it with a low steam setting. DO NOT iron any folded seams or edges completely flat. This will ruin the grace of your kimono. Instead try an old tailors trick for ironing men’s neckties – lay a thin yardstick, or piece of cardboard, butt up against the fold and then steam iron. The thickness of the ruler or cardboard will prevent the iron from creasing the fold, while at the same time giving you a clean line.


Time to get gussied up!

Temari 手鞠

Japan entered the modern era dramatically and not entirely willingly. Part of the cost of modernization has been a loss of many of the more endearing aspects of folk customs. The following is a story told to me by a great auntie from the northern regions of Japan.

Picture a rural farm setting long, long ago, when even a few miles to the next village seemed like an insurmountable distance to a poor farmer, when people owned only the clothes on their back, the roof over their heads, and the bit of food for their next meal, girl-children were sent away at a very early age to the home of a stranger to be wed to a man they had never met. Women were familiar with the pain and abandonment a young girl experienced until the drudgery of daily life numbed her to the feelings of longing for the loving embrace only a mother could offer.

A baby girl is born to a young mother and cherished as the thing most precious to her heart. As the baby is nurtured from infancy to adolescence, her mother will worry over her future lot in life. From the moment a girl-child is born, her mother is painfully aware of the fate that awaits the child, and that in an all too fleeting instant, her one joy will be sent away most likely never to be heard from again. Long hours are spent contemplating the future of her loved one. Will she marry far away? Will her new family be kind to her? Will she be able to have children and bear the suffering that comes with watching them eventually disappear from her life?

Day in and day out, as the young mother goes about her chores of taking kimono apart to launder, she saves the precious bits of threads from her own kimono, from her daughter’s kimono, and from the happy occasions experienced together while wearing them.

Starting with a carefully selected polished stone, a pure white bit of shell, or some well worn bead handed down through generations of country women, each salvaged thread is wrapped, strand by strand, using nuanced colors and subtle memories to fashion patterns of hope and happiness, as heart-felt prayers are bound to the secret core with every turn.

Day in and day out, year in and year out, as the young child grows in health and potential, her mother prepares this bundle of hope – for when the day comes for the girl-child to leave, it is the only gift a mother has to offer. She can only hope that when life and despair close in on her child, she will be able to return to the prayers and in each bit of color re-collect the memories and joys of her childhood, and strand by strand to begin the process again for her own precious infant.

Click on the image above to listen to Ishikawa Sayuri sing Itsugi Komori Uta, a lullaby about a young girl taken away to the country, longing for her home and family as she cares for the children of others.