When did the history of the kimono begin? A brief explanation of the evolution of the kimono from the Heian Period to the present day.


Motenas Representative
Motenas Representative

Japanese kimonos are loved around the world as “kimonos.

Today, Japanese people wear it less frequently, but it is so famous that celebrities in other countries love to wear it.

In this issue, we will explain the history of the kimono.

Please read to the end for an easy-to-understand explanation of over 1000 years of kimono history.

And by all means, use it as a topic of discussion for entertaining foreigners.

The origin and origin of the kimono

The origin and origin of the kimono

First, let us look at the origin and origin of the kimono.

What is a Kimono? Does it originate from China?

Before we get into the history of the kimono, what kind of garment is a kimono?

In fact, the word “kimono” was originally used to mean “something to wear.

It is thought that cloth came to be worn as clothing in Japan around the Jomon period, but by the Yayoi period, it was strongly influenced by the clothing of China (the “Sui” and “Tang” dynasties at that time).

The style of “jacket + pants” for men and “jacket + skirt” for women spread mainly among aristocrats, and this is considered to be the origin of the kimono.

At that time, Japan was actively interacting with the continent by sending envoys to Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty China, and was influenced by China in terms of culture and politics, including dress.

However, by the Heian period (794-1192), a unique Japanese culture began to develop.

Heian Period|The “Junihitoe,” the prototype of the kimono, is born.

The prototype of the kimono clearly appeared in the Heian period.

With the abolition of the Japanese envoys to the Tang Dynasty, the Tang-style dress that had existed until then was transformed into something uniquely Japanese.

The “junihitoe,” or twelve-layered kimono for aristocratic women, was born during this period.

▼Twelve images
Twelve Images of the Twelve Devices

The juni-hitoe consists of “karaginu, uchiginu, uchiginu, itsutsuginu, hitoe, nagabakama, and mo, and the basic hairstyle is osuberakashi” (source: Basic knowledge of the juni-hitoe | I want to know | The Association for the Promotion of Ethnic Costume Culture (wagokoro.com)). The “juni-hitoe” was worn at court and for ceremonial purposes .

The junihitoe is characterized by the gorgeous colors of the layered kimono of different colors, but each kimono was the size of a futon, so the total weight is said to have been about 10 kg.

On the other hand, the kimono of the Heian period [common people] was different from that of the aristocrats.

First, male commoners wore a kimono called a hitatare.

▼ Image of common men’s clothing in the Heian period
Image of common men's clothing in the Heian period

The upper half of the body was a hitatare, and the lower half was a kobakama, a narrow hakama with a narrow hem.

This hita-tare later attracted attention from male warriors and evolved into the hita-tare.

And women generally wore a kimono with a kosode (sleeveless robe) and a shibira (folded robe) over the kosode.

▼ Image of common women’s clothing in the Heian period
Image of common women's clothing in the Heian period

  • Kosode
    …Narrow sleeve width and short length kimono
  • fold
    …A kimono with folds that wraps around the waist.

Not only the junihitoe, but also the kosode worn by commoner women is believed to have been the prototype for the modern kimono.

Kosode was also worn as undergarments by aristocratic women during the Heian period (794-1185), a time when clothing differed greatly depending on status.

The Heian period dress, including the junihitoe (twelve-layered robe) for aristocratic women, is considered [the prototype of the modern kimono], and as time went by, it was simplified and changed as time went by.

Kamakura Period|Kimono Evolved in the Samurai Culture

In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the culture shifted from aristocrat-centered to warrior culture.

As the samurai warriors gained momentum, the functionality of the aforementioned “hitatare,” the kimono of the male commoners, came to be noticed.

The hitare became popular as the official kimono for warriors, and a “hitare-busuma” (a kimono-shaped futon) was born, which was made of kimono (hitare) and cotton.

Hitatare-buzuma was popular among court nobles and aristocrats, and was worn as a kimono during the day and used as a futon at night.

The shift to a world centered on the warrior class has led to the evolution of the kimono into a more practical form that is easier to move in.

Edo Period|The heyday of kimono culture

Edo Period|The heyday of kimono culture

During the Edo period, kimono culture reached its zenith.

The isolation of the country led to the development of a unique Japanese culture.

It was also a time when the economic power of the townspeople increased and the momentum of [townspeople’s culture] accelerated.

As if to symbolize their momentum, kimono culture evolved into something spectacular and large-scale.

Kimono patterns and materials classified by clan and status

A characteristic of the kimono culture of the Edo period was that kimono patterns and materials were classified according to clan and status.

A “clan” is a division of a region, like a municipality today, and each clan seems to have had its own kimono pattern.

The material of kimono was also determined by status, such as “samurai” or “merchant,” with merchants and farmers in particular restricted to cotton and other fabrics.

With these restrictions on kimono, townspeople began to devise ways to enjoy fashion.

Diversification of kimono accessories and obi knotting

The Edo Period. The way of tying small articles and obis quickly diversifies.

Especially popular are women’s hair ornaments such as “kanzashi” (hairpin) and “kushi” (comb) as accessories to match kimonos.

I think everyone is familiar with these Japanese accessories, as they often appear in period dramas.

Among these, the kanzashi was a hair ornament loved by commoners and samurai women regardless of status.

Various designs were made, including oval and slender ones, and kanzashi (ornamental hairpin) with craftsmanship called “urushi” or “sukashibori” were also produced.

In addition to wooden combs, there were also expensive tortoiseshell and ivory combs, which were the object of admiration among women.

On the other hand, “sacks” were popular among men, and bags were carried around like bags in today’s fashion.

There were also bags called “tobacco pouches” for tobacco leaves, etc., and “paper pouches” for kaishi (Japanese tea papers) and mirrors, etc., and they carried luxury items and personal grooming goods just like modern people do.

The “inro,” famous in period dramas, was a type of pouch that was carried as a medicine cabinet and was also used by many men as a fashion accessory.

Kabuki actors were also popular as kimono icons during the Edo period.

It seems that women imitated the way Kabuki actors tied the obi, and various ways of tying the obi became popular.

The foundation of the modern kimono was laid during this period, as obis became wider and longer, and reversible obis became popular.

Meiji – Present|Westernization makes kimono special

Meiji - Present|Westernization makes kimono special

In the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Meiji Restoration brought a sudden influx of Western culture.

This led to a period of change in kimono culture up to the Edo period.

The “Kimono + Western Style” was born.

With the arrival of Western culture, the “Kimono + Western clothes” style was born.

For example, it may be easy to imagine a kimono with a Western umbrella or a kimono with Western lace.

Some fashionistas show off their kimono over Western-style clothing, such as a Y-shirt and necktie.

▼Image of a kimono from the Meiji era

It shows that people were enjoying kimono fashion in the changing times.

Enactment of “National Dress Decree” due to wartime

Amidst the changing styles of dress, Japan experienced two major wars.

One of the influences on kimono was the enactment of the “National Dress Decree” during World War II.

The National Dress Decree was enacted in 1940 (Showa 15), and both men and women were strictly designated in their attire.

This quickly transformed the kimono culture into a downward spiral.

Kimono Culture Remains in Traditional Events

Even though the kimono culture has gone downhill, the culture of wearing kimonos for traditional events has remained strong.

For example, it is easy to understand if you think of the Shichi-Go-San or coming-of-age ceremony.

Of course, there are those who prefer Western-style attire such as suits and dresses, but even today there is a strong tendency to wear kimonos for these traditional events that mark milestones in life.

Until the Edo period, “Kimono = daily wear,” but today it stands as “Kimono = something to wear on special occasions.

While the number of people who wear kimonos on a daily basis has decreased, kimonos continue to have a special place in the hearts of Japanese people.

What is the Kimono of the Future|The Kimono Boom is Back…?

What is the Kimono of the Future|The Kimono Boom is Back...?

Today, western clothes have become more mainstream than kimonos, but in fact, kimonos continue to change with the times, even in this day and age.

From here, let us look at the transition of the kimono in the modern age.

Kimonos are becoming popular, especially among the SNS generation.

Today, kimonos are once again becoming popular, especially among the social networking generation.

In particular, there are many kimono rental stores in Kyoto and Asakusa, sightseeing spots that still preserve the good old Japanese townscape.

Kimono rentals are especially popular with women and couples, and are a great way to get away from everyday life and feel as if you have stepped back in time.

Many rental stores will even take care of kimono dressing and hairstyling, making it a popular way for people to leave photos of themselves in a different style than usual for social networking sites.

The SNS generation has diverse fashion tastes, and the colors and patterns of kimonos have also diversified to match their tastes.

For example, we can see a shift from bright colors to pastel colors and styles with boots and gloves that are more easily accepted by the fashion tastes of today’s youth.

In addition, many “yukata” are sold during the summer festival season, and various fashion brands sell yukata in a variety of colors and patterns every year.

Kimonos loved by international celebrities

Kimonos have become a favorite of international celebrities.

For example, Freddie Mercury, vocalist of the world-famous band Queen, is known to have used kimono in his concert costumes and in his personal life.

Singer Madonna also graced the Grammy Awards stage in a costume designed to look like a kimono.

(Reference: Japanese Kimono Culture Influences Celebrities Around the World: Sneaking into the V&A Museum’s “KIMONO Exhibition” (elle.com ))

Many celebrities also wear kimonos like gowns and incorporate them as fashion items, and they are loved as unique and cool items.



Kimonos were originally influenced by Chinese clothing and developed into a uniquely Japanese culture.

While patterns, materials, and colors reflect the trends of each era, the Japanese people’s inner sense of beauty seems to have been passed down unchanged.

That is why it is so popular among today’s youth and why it continues to remain a traditional event.

In addition, its beauty has been supported by people overseas, and it continues to change as it blends with Western culture.

We look forward to the possibilities of kimonos that will continue to change in the future, while inheriting traditions that are uniquely Japanese.

[Reference site
Life in Japan (Jomon – Edo period)/Home Mate (touken-world.jp)

Japanese Costume (published December 4, 2008, by Ryota Ikegami)