Tabloid meets Takiyo Tsujimoto, wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the UAE, to view her kimono collection and learn more about the traditional Japanese gown in the process.

Why are kimonos often in understated colours? Do their delicate patterns match a season? Why do only some kimonos bear a family crest? We meet Takiyo Tsujimoto, wife of Hajime Tsujimoto, the Japanese Ambassador to the UAE, and view her kimono collection, learning more about the traditional Japanese gown in the process.

“The kimono can be tailored or bought off the rack, but is often passed down from grandmother to granddaughter or from grandaunt to grandniece. These kimonos are treasured most because the older the garment, the more priceless it is,” Tsujimoto says.

Tsujimoto learnt how to wear the kimono from her mother and a fitting school. Each kimono in her collection comes with a memory.

“Each kimono holds an unforgettable memory. My aunt or my mother has given the kimono to me, just as I will pass on my collection to the wives of my two sons,” she says. (She has no daughters.)

“I still remember how my sister and I used to take a train and travel to Kyoto from Tokyo to order a kimono. Kyoto tailors are considered the best and we had our own family tailor. We used to share a lunch box on the train … the kimonos hold all these memories for me.”

Most cherished

The most beautiful thing about a kimono is that it is ageless, says Tsujimoto, as she introduces us to her most cherished kimono.

Referred to as a homongi (official), this kimono is in pearl green silk set off with a gold obi (sash). Slender pine trees and three-tiered Japanese pagodas are delicately brush painted in sepia on the kimono and the obi.

This designer homongi is priceless and worn by Tsujimoto on special occasions only.

A few of Tsujimoto’s kimonos have small, embroidered family crests. A family crest is found on formal kimonos, she says, the degree of the occasion’s formality dictating the number of crests. For example, the most formal bears five crests, while the least formal might carry just one.

In Tsujimoto’s collection, a homongi features five tiny family crests, two on the front, two on either side of the back shoulder and one on the centre back. This homongi can be worn just on exceptionally formal occasions or at a wedding ceremony.

As she talks of her kimonos, Tsujimoto is wearing a beige kimono with a brown obi embroidered in earthy colours and decorated with a pearl brooch. A number of her kimonos are in greys, dull blues and pinks. There is a white garment with grey and white flowers and a white kimono covered with small black patterns.

There is a reason why the kimonos are not striking, Tsujimoto says.

“When hosting parties, dressing in the best kimono and grabbing the limelight is considered impolite and indecent. A simple and discreet kimono is considered sophisticated and decent in the past. This kind of a simple kimono is known as iromuji, or the single coloured woven kimono with no dyes,” she says.

Her elder sister gifted her a greyish-blue iromuji during her visit to Abu Dhabi recently. The iromuji is often gifted by a mother to her daughters at a wedding because it is practical and versatile, Tsujimoto says.

Seasonal patterns

The Japanese are sensitive to seasons and it is fashionable to wear a kimono to match the weather. Wearing maple leaf patterns on the kimono during autumn, or cherry blossoms in cherry blossom season is considered to be very stylish, she says.

The kimono she wears has a pattern of maple leaves, just right for the UAE’s winter, which is, at most, as cold as a Canadian autumn.

The kimono, she explains, is really about subtlety. The garment is not meant to accentuate the body’s shape and its focus is on the nape. It is cut in six panels and is sewn entirely by hand. You will not find zippers, buttons, hooks or pockets on a kimono.

Tsujimoto also has a dark blue gauze kimono. “This kind of kimono is worn in the summer months of July and August. It’s light, airy and cool,” she says.

A black kimono with gold work at the bottom is another striking garment in Tsujimoto’s collection. It’s called the tomesode and is worn by the parents of the bride and groom at a wedding, she explains.

Another favourite in her collection is a pink hitoe (a kimono without a lining) patterned with pretty flowers below the knees. Traditionally it is worn only in June and September. “It is special because my mother ordered it from a traditional tailor in Kyoto when my husband and I announced our marriage,” reveals Takiyo.

She belongs to that school of Japanese women to whom wearing a kimono comes naturally. Today, the kimono is no longer worn casually in Japan and is reserved for formal events such as the tea ceremony, weddings and graduations. But efforts are being made to revive the kimono, Takiyo concludes.

What men wear

A Japanese man’s traditional ensemble consists of three pieces — the hakama, a pleated skirt much like the Scottish kilt, a richly embroidered (hidden from view) haori or the outer jacket, and a crested kimono.

The garment shown in the picture below belonged to the grandfather of Hajime Tsujimoto, the Japanese Ambassador to the UAE, and is considered to be a family heirloom. It was already 60 years old when the ambassador’s mother gifted it to the ambassador’s wife.

Similar to the Western smoking jacket, the inner lining of the haori features a flamboyant design.

Kimono accessories

  • Obi or Sash Usually four metres in length, it is tied twice and made into an elaborate knot at the back. There are many ways to tie the obi to suit the occasion. Obis can be bright (red, maroon, pink), some are dark (brown) and others are embroidered in gold.
  • Obiage A long piece of cloth tied before the obi around the kimono. Unmarried women wear eye-catching colours while married women opt for more subdued colours.
  • Obijime Another narrow band tied around the obi to secure it.
  • Zori Footwear worn with a kimono.
  • Tabi Socks.

A gold and silver fan kept discreetly closed and a gold embroidered bag complete the look.