KOSODE MADE SIMPLE: The Essential Japanese Garment for the SCA Period.

This article exists to fill a perceived gap in Japanese portrayals in the SCA. Yes, modern kimono are beautiful, but they're MODERN, and do not, in my mind, constitute a reasonable attempt at pre-17th century dress. We can do so much better, especially since a good number of 16th century garments have been preserved, often having been handed down as theatrical costumes or bequeathed to temples when the owner passed away. Links to several such garments on the web appear at the end of this article. I also recommend hunting down Money Hickman's Japan's Golden Age: Momoyama at the library or bookstore as it contains a number of examples in full color, as well as portraits of men and women from the period.

LEFT: the author in 2004, in kosode, obi and uchikake. RIGHT: The author in 2020 in uchikake.

Many of the characteristics of what Westerners associate with traditional Japanese style developed after 1600. In fact the word "kimono," ("thing to wear") evolved in the late 19th century as a way to differentiate between Japanese and Western-style clothing. The kosode or "small sleeve" refers to the small opening of the sleeve which differentiates it from the big open sleeves of the layers of Heian (794-1172 CE) court robes worn over it. The kosode was originally an undergarment which came out from under the karaginu-mo during the Kamakura period (1172-1333 CE) and transitioned to outerwear.

There is already some excellent information available on the web for men at Sengokudaimyo.com. My own first attempts at Japanese clothing were interpretations of Kamakura period clothing using information from the "Reconstructing History" site, which unfortunately is no longer posted there. Also invaluable is the Costume Museum in Kyoto, where you can browse pictures of their collection by historical period as well as a textile gallery which will help you in your quest for fabric that looks right. (The Japanese language version of the site has even more pictures).

This project was inspired by a visit from a friend in the spring of 2004. Fujimaki portrays a 16th century samurai in the SCA and I thought it would be nice to dress in a style more compatible with his class and period (not to mention a bit more field friendly) so that my Japanese persona could attend an outdoor event with him. I already knew how to make the garments from my earlier projects as the pieces get put together the same way. It was more a matter of learning about stylistic differences of a later period. 

Japanese garments are constructed based on the width of the fabric, or divisions thereof. Modern kimono fabrics are woven at a standard width of 14", while 16" to 17" was the width of Japanese fabrics until very late in the 17th century. How much difference can two or three inches make? When you consider that each sleeve and body panel of a kosode or kimono uses one full width of fabric, plus the half-width overlap panels in the front, you've just increased the size of the robe by a factor of five.

Period Japanese silhouettes are far more imposing than modern ones. The examples from the 
Kyoto Costume Museum below show a late medieval lady of the samurai class and an Edo period (1603-1867 CE) city dweller. Note the differences in not only the size and drape of the garments, but the width of the obi (sash) and hairstyles. These wider garments are one way to look physically impressive and display one's wealth or the favor of one's overlord by conspicuous consumption of fabric. For those of us who weren't born Japanese, the dimensions of period Japanese clothing will flatter those of us who are larger than the average Japanese woman. Someone who saw me in kosode at an event described me as "the slender lady in yellow" - and I'm a size 16 on a good day.

The samurai lady at left wears several kosode (at her neckline you can see at least two layers under the white one) belted with a narrow brocade obi, and a brocade uchikake (basically a bigger,
fancier kosode worn as a coat) over it. The seam where her sleeve meets the shoulder of the garment hangs several inches below the shoulder, hinting that the sleeve panel has been cut
narrower than the original fabric width. The bottoms of the sleeves are also more curved than those of the Edo kimono on the right. The two men at right wear kosode under their hakama
(trousers) and outer garments. The seated figure wears a dofuku (a coatlike robe with open sided sleeves) and the man at the right wears a kataginu, an open sided, sleeveless vest. 

Below: Three 16th century ladies: Oichi no Kata, Oinu no Kata, Tosenin. Underlayers are visible at the neckline, and the curving shapes of the sleeves are particularly visible. Oichi (top left)
wears a kosode decorated at shoulders and hem as an inner layer. She and Tosenin (bottom left) wear an uchikake wrapped around the waist. Oinu (bottom top right) has draped her striped
uchikake low on her shoulders, the inner kosode layers peeping out above. The curved sleeves are visible in all three portraits, as are such classic marks of beauty as flowing hair, pale skin
and false eyebrows painted high on the forehead. Right: the author, wearing kosode with uchikake wrapped at the waist.

Most formal portraits of men show them in either court clothing or yoroi hitatare. Left: A 16th century portrait, said to be of Nawa Nagatoshi, shows the subject in dark green yoroi hitatare over patterned kosode. The striped kosode of his attendants peeping out from under their kataginu are easier to see. Right: Asai Nagamasa appears in layers of brown, red and gold.



When I began looking for examples of extant kosode, such as this one in the Tokyo National Museum , I noticed that the sleeve panels were often much narrower in proportion to the body of the garment. This is a proportion I invite you to exploit as needed. If you have a small build, you can cut your sleeves more narrowly and imitate the correct period cut. Being broad shouldered and long armed, I used the full width of 16" in constructing my kosode sleeves so that the overall silhouette hung correctly on me and the sleeves were long enough. (I'll discuss this further on when we get to assembling the garment.) The strip of fabric that forms the collar is also fairly wide, compared with those on modern kimono.

When you look at the construction sketches and the web photos of extant kosode, remember that these garments are "double breasted." Construction is symmetrical even if you can't see both front sides because of the overlap.

The sketch at left shows a constructed width of 16" for the migoro (body panels). Those below assume an uncut fabric width of 17", with each square equal to 1 inch, making for a seam allowance of 1/2 inch in either direction. I've chosen to use the 17" width for a couple of reasons. Amanda Meyer Stinchecum's construction and cutting diagrams of a kosode dating from 1566 CE in Kosode: 16th-19th Century Textiles From The Nomura Collection are based upon a piece of fabric 42 centimeters by approximately 860 centimeters long: 42 centimeters equal 16.54 inches. I've rounded up to 17" to allow novice sewers to take as generous a seam allowance as they feel comfortable with, as well as to accommodate the needs of larger Western bodies. (Note again the exaggeratedly narrow sleeves.)

Step 1: DOING THE MATH: What measurements do I need?

For the purposes of this page, I am using US measures in inches and yards. http://www.onlineconversion.com/length_common.htm is useful if one needs to convert to or from metric measurements.

The Japanese method of dealing with sizing is to measure the wearer and simply take a wider or narrower seam allowance. Since the fabric bolt is narrow enough that they're working with selvaged edges on many of the seams, there is no cutting down involved. This allows a garment to be dismantled for cleaning or even resizing to a new wearer.
However, if you are not built like the average 16th century Japanese, it is essential you take your measurements for the garment pieces you will be making and write them down.

A gentleman with whom I correspond ran into problems while making his first Japanese outfit. He realized that he was going to need to upsize and hit upon the solution, with excellent results. I'm passing it on here. Unless you are working with a bolt of narrow Japanese fabric, you have the option of cutting your fabric panels to the necessary size that will fit you. You can
do this by determining your "wingspan."

BASE PANEL WIDTH: Extend your arms to either side at shoulder height, imitating Da Vinci's "
Vitruvian Man" and have a friend measure you from wrist to wrist. Divide this measurement by 4. Add an inch to that amount to give you 1/2" at each edge for your seam allowances. You now have a base-panel-width to cut your migoro (body) and sode (sleeve) panels to. The eri (collar) and okumi (overlap) panels will be one half of your base panel width.

EXAMPLES: Yoshi has a 72" wrist-to-wrist measurement. 72"/4" = 18. 18 + 1 = 19". Yoshi would need a base-panel-width of 19". Yukiko has a 52" wrist-to-wrist measurement. 52"/4 = 13". 13" + 1" = 14. Yukiko could use a much narrower base-panel-width of 14".

MIGORO LENGTH: Ask a friend with a tape measure to help you measure the length from the nape of your neck to the floor as you stand in bare feet. Not sure where your nape is? Bow your head and feel for the most prominent bump at the back of your neck: stand up straight again and measure from the top of that bump. Add one to two inches to that measurement for a hem allowance, then multiply by 2 to get the base length of your migoro (or body panels). This should be ample to make a kosode long enough to brush the top of your foot.

EXAMPLE: I measure 57" from nape to floor. 57 +1" hem allowance = 58". 58" x 2 = 116." I will need two migoro pieces measuring 116" long by a base-panel-width of 17."

Hakama variant: For men wearing hakama or ladies wearing Heian nagabakama, you may be prefer less length bunched beneath your hakama: measure from the nape to the back of the knee, plus 2". 

Trailing hem variant: For ladies who want a more elegant, trailing hem (for uchikake in particular), add to your base nape to floor measurement based on how much you want - 10" to 12" is not out of line. The uchikake should trail a bit, and the kosode beneath it should not be too short - your obi will assist you in hitching it up to a comfortable walking length.)

OKUMI LENGTH: The okumi (overlap panels) are literally half the width of the migoro. To determine how long the okumi need to be, take your tape measure and place it on the point of your shoulder. (See photo at left.) Make a fist and find the edge of your collarbone with your knuckle. In the photo at right, the bottom edge of my fist is at 8 1/2 inches. Take your final migoro measurement, divide by 2, then subtract the shoulder-to-fist measurement for the length of your okumi.

EXAMPLE: My migoro measures 116". 116"/2 = 58". 58" - 8 1/2" = 49 1/2". I will need two okumi measuring 8 1/2" by 49 1/2".

ERI LENGTH: The eri (collar) is also half the width of the migoro. To determine how long the eri needs to be, take your tape measure and loop it around your neck, crossing it as if it were the collar of your kosode. Place one end of the tape at your hip, then find the measurement to the other hip. 

But I can't work without a pattern! Some people need the security of a paper pattern. You can make your own quite easily. You'll need a pencil or Sharpie, a yardstick, and either several yards of cheap muslin OR a roll of cheap paper from an art store. If you have to scale up your measurements as discussed above, make sure the paper is at least as wide the base panel width unit you came up with. (Do not use old newspapers as you risk ink rubbing off on your fabric when you try to use your new pattern.)

Using a yardstick, measure and cut out four rectangles in the sizes below - if you need help making a 90 degree angle, use the edge of a book, or if you have it, a T-square or protractor:

* Note that the "migoro" and "sode" pattern pieces you've just made are half the length of the fabric pieces you will eventually cut out with them. Be sure to mark the top edge of the "migoro" and "sode" pieces to remind you that the top edge is supposed to be a fold line in the fabric.

(Sewing novices: save your fabric shears or rotary cutter to keep them sharp. Cut your paper pattern with a different pair of scissors. I have three pairs of scissors in the house with different colored handles so I know which ones are for fabric, which for paper and which for miscellaneous odd materials.)

You now have a pattern for a kosode. You can use the same pattern for a lady's uchikake, simply extend the length of the body panel 10 inches or so if you want it to trail gracefully on the
ground behind you.

You also have measurements you can use to calculate how much fabric you need for your garment.

Step 2: DOING THE MATH: How many yards do I need?

Below is a cutting layout on 45" wide fabric. Standard modern fabric bolt-widths in the US of 44", 45", and #60" are fairly common, though you may find some wider or narrower ones
depending on where you shop. Fabric is sold by the yard. One yard = 36". You can use the measurements you've taken in Step 1 to calculate how many yards of fabric you'll need for
your garment. Chart out a cutting layout like the one below, plug in your measurements and calculate how many yards you're likely to need. If you do it for both 45" and 60" you'll be well
armed when you go fabric shopping.

I tend to overbuy by a minimum of a half yard to a yard on basic general principle, in case of a cutting mistake or shrinkage. I can usually find some use for the leftovers anyway.


I encourage you to do some research using period artworks, as well as visiting the Kyoto Costume museum site to get an idea as to what colors and patterns were worn in the Muromachi
and Momoyama periods. Please be sure to check the links to extant garments on the web and the bibliography below.
Sengokudaimyo.com has a section on colors and fabric
that is well worth a look.  NEW: Morikawa Reiís excellent blog post on
period Japanese textiles can be found here.

The small patterns often found in cotton yukata prints are often TOO small or just plain wrong. It's pretty hard to go wrong with solid colors and tone-on-tone geometric damasks. Be honest
with yourself when fabric shopping: if you think you're going to look like Aunt Edith's Victorian sofa, you probably will. Solid colors are 100% safe and appropriate if you're at all in doubt. Don't
be afraid of bright colors either! See the links at the end of this article to artwork from the Muromachi and Momoyama periods showing people of both sexes.

Broad stripes were popular and there is evidence that plaids were big with the commoner classes. (Ladies, please avoid black. I have yet to find evidence of women wearing it during
SCA-period, though you'll see portraits of men in black court clothing. If you like dark colors, indigo and deep browns became very popular as a result of the impact of Zen Buddhism in Japan.) 

Embroidery and a variety of painting or dyeing methods were used by the Japanese to embellish their textiles. Depending on how creative you want to get, you can do the same. I've tried block
printing and stenciling
with some success. Be sure to check out the Facebook Group Printed Textiles in the Middle Ages for more tips and techniques.


In the 16th century pieced and even patchwork garments appear to have taken what may have been a peasant necessity and turned it into fashion. The red and white silk kosode (second left)
from the Hayashibara Museum is made of alternating blocks of red and white plain weave silk, with cherry blossoms stencilled in gold leaf. The brocade and silk damask "crazy quilt" dofuku
on the right belonged to the Dragon of Echigo, Uesugi Kenshin. The concept might have another origin: Japanese Buddhists often donated the clothing of the deceased to temples and shrines.
Pieces of these garments might be used to make a kesa, the striking patchwork mantles worn by monks, such as this example on the right, from the Tokyo National Museum.  Far left: my
own humble attempt to replicate a dan-gawari kosode.

Silks, particularly habotai, taffeta or fuji broadcloth, are all excellent choices. Try to avoid silk noil if you can. Slubs are faults that modern wearers find "natural" but medieval wearers would've
scorned as shoddy workmanship. I know lots of people like noil because it's relatively inexpensive and often available in a wide range of colors, but it has an unpleasant tendency to pill.
Likewise, dupioni suffers from slubs, but machine-woven dupioni is better than hand-woven, and I confess that I've used it on at least two occasions.

Bast fibers such as ramie and hemp were available to lower classes (though you may find that silk is cheaper than hemp in the US). Linen breathes beautifully, is a good choice for hot
weather, and is generally less expensive than hemp.

There are arguments for the use of cotton in the 16th century - and its launder-ability and breathe-ability certainly make it useful, particularly for the layer closest to your skin. Just be sure to
choose fabrics with sufficient body for their intended use.

Wool was imported after contact with Europe, but was not widely used by the Japanese in our period. Try to avoid synthetics. Rayon tends not to wear well and polyester is just icky, being cold
in winter, hot in summer, not to mention that it doesn't breathe and is flammable. If you're thinking your budget won't allow you to afford silk, check out the links below. I've seen modern Japanese
cotton yukata prints at anywhere from $8 to $25/yard at a local fabric shop and yet I've bought undyed silk habotai for under $6/yard. You can often get undyed silk yardage at extremely
reasonable prices (particularly if you go in on a purchase with friends and buy an entire bolt) and dye it yourself. The following on-line sources sell silk yardage and the first two also sell dyes
and fabric paints specifically for silk.  (Avoid Rit dye - it's designed for cotton, which is a vegetable fiber. Silk is an animal fiber. It makes a difference.)

http://www.fabrics-store.com (for linen, specifically)

Whether you are going to sew on a machine or by hand, don't forget thread, some straight pins and 1/4 yard of medium weight interfacing for your eri. The scandalous nape-of-the-neck display
achieved by Edo period geisha requires the use of a collar stiffener. While this isn't appropriate for pre-Edo clothing, I've found that my own eri were frequently a little too wimpy and prone to
wrinkles. The solution is to add an interior layer of interfacing. Cut it just slightly smaller than the length and half-width of your eri piece and sandwich it between the folded halves when you're
ready to attach the eri.


Sewing novices, be sure to wash and dry your fabric before you cut it out. If it's going to shrink or the dye is going to run, you want that to happen before you start cutting.  

If you have one of those cutting mats which is already marked with a grid of one inch squares (worth getting if you plan to do a lot of sewing), you can lay out and measure your fabric on it
pretty easily as this garment is all rectangles.

If you used the instructions above to make yourself a paper or muslin pattern, remember that the body and sleeve pattern pieces (migoro and sode) are half the length of the actual sleeve and
body pieces so you can double the fabric and cut it on a fold. You need to two each of the body, overlap and sleeves, and one collar piece.  


At right is an "exploded" diagram of where all the pieces of a kosode fit. I've used dotted lines in different colors to show points where the pieces are connected. The reason for the "mess" in the
middle is that kosode, like kimono, are double breasted garments and I couldn't figure out how to show the overlap pieces (okumi), and the collar layout in a symmetrical fashion without it.

Since you have to cut panels from wider fabric, you do do not have the advantage of selvaged edges on all your panels as Japanese clothing makers do. Be sure to finish your seams either by
hand or machine to prevent fraying. While none of these techniques are authentic to Japanese garment construction, french seams, flat-felling, serging or using seam binding tape will help your
garments last longer!

I don't understand how these pieces go together! Understandable - it doesn't look much like a kosode in this state, does it? Print out a copy of the cutting diagram and cut it up into two
migoro, two sode, two okumi and an eri. Read through the assembly instructions below and see if you can tape together a paper kosode with the pieces you've cut. Taking it from two dimensions
into three may help you visualize what goes where before you attack your fabric. Don't worry if you can't get the eri to lay correctly on your "paper doll kosode." It'll be easier with real fabric at full scale. 

To line or not to line? The Japanese wear both lined and unlined garments. Linings provide warmth to winter weight garments. They also can add body and a spark of color at edges where the lining
can be seen. If you've chosen a lightweight fabric to work with for your uchikake, a lining may give it a little more body. The two modern kimono that I own are lined with plain white fabric in the upper
body, with colored fabric that contrasts with the outer fabric inside the sleeves and from about the knee to the hem, an option I point out to the budget conscious. To do a fully lined kosode with swinging sleeves, cut your lining pieces the same as you would for the outer fabric except the collar (eri). Assemble the migoro, sode and okumi as described below, then turn both the lining and the outer kosode inside out to attach at the following points: along the outer edges of the okumi and up the inside of the collar line; along the armpit openings, and the back edge of the sleeves. Turn the kosode right
side out and attach the lining to the kosode along the inside of the hem. Finish by attaching the eri.


Trade Secret: The False Back Seam.
Well, maybe you DON"T need to cut two of each migoro piece, not if you're using fabric woven to Western bolt-widths. What you
can do is cut a single double-width body piece, then split it up the center halfway. Say you've done your math and you've determined
that your migoro needs to be 120" long and each panel needs to be 17". Cut ONE rectangle 120" x 34." Fold it in half widthwise
and use a pin to mark where the shoulder fold would be. Unfold it and refold it lengthwise. Cut from the bottom edge up to the pin
to form the two front panels.

When it comes time to sew, make sure you have your fabric folded lengthwise with the "right" sides together. Run a line of stitching
up the fold line to form your center back seam. It needs to be there for the garment to hang correctly and to provide symmetry, but
since you didn't have to cut there, it's one less seam that needs a finishing treatment.

If you opt instead to cut two migoro, fold them in half lengthwise. Mark the midpoint of that length with a pin or chalk and sew
the two pieces together lengthwise from the midpoint to one end, forming your center back seam (red line in diagram at left). Fold the sleeve pieces in half lengthwise and mark the midpoint. Pin the sleeves to the shoulders and try on what you have so far to see where
the shoulder seam is going to fall on you. If you are small, you may need to take up the sleeves before sewing them on. If you are
bigger, you may need to allow for the full width to give you the proper look. The Japanese tend not to cut to size, they simply take a
wider seam allowance. It's up to you whether you want to do this or trim the excess, particularly if you are working with raw edges that
will need to be finished in some way.


SLEEVE VARIANTS: Being limited to what the library and the web can offer, I have not had the opportunity to examine extant garments from the period other than in
photos. However, my reading tells me that the back edge of the sleeve could, in some cases be attached to the body or left to swing free, being attached only at the
shoulder. Certain garments, like a man's dobuku definitely have fully attached sleeves. In modern kimono, women's sleeves are left completely open at the back edge
and men's sleeves have the bottoms sewn up part way to form a rather handy pocket. The open backed swinging sleeve is a great place to show off a contrasting lining.
If you do a swinging sleeve, you need to attach it about 6-8" down from the shoulder midpoint on either side. You will either finish by adding the lining (see above) or
with a rolled hem stitch on an unlined sleeve. For a woman's kosode, do not sew the back edge shut. For a man's, attach it about 6-8" down from the shoulder midpoint
on either side as above, then sew the back edge up until you reach the point where the sleeves attach at the shoulder. If you do a fully attached sleeve, sew the entire
sleeve seam to the body.

Using a tape measure, measure your closed fist at its widest point to determine how big the sleeve opening needs to be. Add another inch or so to be safe. Sew your
sleeve shut from the bottom of the opening to the sleeve back and hem the sleeve opening. 


If doing swinging sleeves, start your side seams about 12" from the midpoint at the top of the shoulder and sew all the way to the bottom of the migoro. If doing an attached sleeve, you can simply
run your seam from the edge of the wrist opening all the way down.

Align the overlap panels (okumi) with the bottom of each front body panel and run a seam from top to bottom. (Sketch shows one side only.) Use a roll hem to finish the outer edge of the okumi.

Measure the width of your neck with a ruler, add 1", and using the back seam as the center point, mark this measurement. Cut a slight curve about an inch deep at its lowest point. Find the center
point on the long side of the collar (eri) and match it to the center back seam at the bottom of the curved cut. Allow yourself a full 1/2" seam allowance and, starting from the center back, sew the eri
to the body all the way to the body all the way around the curve and down the open front edge of the migoro until you get to the okumi. Then come back up to the center back and do the same thing
to the other side. Doing each side from the center down will help you keep everything symmetrical.


The next step is a bit tricky. You may want to put the kosode on a friend, a mannequin or lay it out as flat as you can. Lay the eri (collar piece) as taut as possible and angle it so that it tapers
toward the unsewn front edge of the okumi without any gaps. (Go back and look at 
this extant kosode to see how the eri comes down at a sharp angle - it's a better example than my rough sketch!)
Use lots of pins if you have to! This will result in a triangular bit of waste fabric at the top of the okumi, which can be trimmed off once you're sure you've got the eri positioned correctly. At this point,
the eri should be centered and stable. Check the symmetry of how you've pinned the eri across and down the okumi. Make any adjustments you need to, then, doing each side separately again, start

sewing the rest of the eri edge down across the angle you've made across the okumi and down along the okumi edge until you get about 1/2" to the bottom of the eri.

You now have 7 1/2" of collar flapping in the breeze. Take the kosode to the ironing board and set your iron to a "wool" setting without steam. Press a crease all the way along at 4 1/4" from the
unfinished edge - this should be your midpoint if you cut an 8 1/2" width for the eri. Now fold the unfinished edge under so it lines up with where you've stitched the eri to the body and press another
crease. Fold and crease the short ends of the eri so that you have a clean bottom edge with no raw fabric sticking out. Cut your interfacing to a width that will fit inside the folded eri: the interfacing
does not have to go all the way to the bottom, but should at bare minimum be about 1/3 the total length of the eri. Slide it inside the fold, center it on the center back seam, then put a tack stitch through
the interfacing and the side of the eri that will be on the inside at each end and at the center.  

Stitch the bottom closed by hand with a neat overcast stitch working from the outside to the inside, then blind stitch up and around the inside of the collar line, then finish the other bottom end of the
eri with the overcast stitch. The hardest part is done! All you have to do now is hem the bottom! 

The obi. Everyone assumes that this is so simple that nobody ever tells you how to make one! Your obi is simply a long, narrow rectangle of fabric. For women: the finished width should be 2" to 3"
inches and it should be long enough to be knotted simply around your waist and have the ends fall to about knee length or a little below. (I find that having it long enough to go around twice provides
a bit more security in holding one's kosode closed.) For men: the finished width should be about 4" inches and it should be long enough to wrap around your waist two or three times and tie with a knot. (You'll be wearing it over your kosode and under your hakama.) Once you determine how long is long enough, cut a strip that length plus an inch: 7 inches wide for a 3" wide obi, 5 inches wide for a 2"
wide obi, 9 inches wide for a man's 4" wide obi. Fold it in half lengthwise. If you use an iron to press the edges inward first, you can sew it without the annoyance of having to turn a long skinny tube of
fabric inside out to finish the unsewn end. To add crispness, particularly with lightweight fabrics, buy an equivalent amount of interfacing at your local sewing store and put that between the two sides
before stitching it closed.  

Trade Secret: The eBay Obi Makeover. See that pretty green obi in the photo just below this paragraph on the right? I bought it on eBay. Do your search on "hanhaba obi" or "han haba obi". Hanhaba obi are half the width of modern formal obi and are usually used with women's yukata. However, yukata with fancy hanhaba are frequenly worn by festival dance troupes and you can occasionally find some of these for sale on eBay. Don't bother with the plain ones that are different colors on each side - look for the ones made out of synthetic brocades as they often use design motifs that are period-appropriate. Check the seller's photos to see if they appear to be made of two lengths of fabric sewn together, because that's what you want. If you find one and win, simply use a seam ripper to carefully separate the front fabric from the backing. Fold the fabric lengthwise and sew it back together. If the backing fabric is just as nice, you've just gotten two obi for the price of one.

That layering thing. Kosode were often worn in layers. An undergarment-weight kosode is a good idea to wear under anything else as it'll save your outer layers from sweat. (See photo at right.) My silk kosode rarely require anything more than occasional spot-cleaning as I always wear a laundry-friendly layer made of cotton or linen beneath them.


More layers on a cold day will keep you warm. And on a hot day, the Japanese already have a way to fake layers at the collar line, the eri sugata. Don't pay big bucks to import one from Japan,
simply make one or more eri in complimentary or contrasting colors that you can pin to the inside of the eri on your finished kosode so that the edges peep out, giving the illusion of another layer
below. (Above: a two layer eri-sugata - which I put on wrong-side out because the red provided higher contrast in the photos. I generally pin the crossed ends to my sports bra.)

To make: Cut a rectangle of fabric 8 1/2" x 36" - if you are taller or smaller than average, I suggest looping a tape measure over your neck like a kosode collar and measuring the distance of the
loop to where it crosses at the bottom of your bra and using that measurement. (Men, find a spot just below your pectorals and use that.) Fold half lengthwise, press the edges inward and sew it
shut as you did with the obi. You may also want to add interfacing to get a smooth lying collar, particularly if the fabric is thin or drapy. I suggest safety-pinning it to the inside of your innermost kosode
layer, or you could sew a couple of snaps in place. It beats having to take a seam ripper to it if you want to launder just the eri sugata. (Don't use Velcro - it'll be itchy if you opt not to wear the eri
sugata all the time.)  

If you opt for multiple layers, you do not need obi for the inner layers that will not be seen, but you will need himo (ties) to hold each under layer closed. A himo can be a random strip of fabric long
enough to tie around your waist. If you don't have scrap fabric to make them out of, pick up a package of bias tape. The 7/8" width used for quilt binding is perfect - simply cut it to the length you need.  

Other ways to wear your kosode. Koshimaki is the Japanese equivalent of wearing your sweater tied around your waist. Our samurai lady on the left has wrapped her uchikake around her waist for a hot day. (Note the spiffy red lining of her uchikake.) Do you live, as I do, in a kingdom where you're forced to take shade where you can find it? Katsugu refers to the practice of using a kosode to cover one's head, sometimes even topping this impromptu veil with a straw hat. The lady on the right even has an extra obi to hold her kosode around her shoulders. (In this instance the red obi symbolizes purity on pilgrimage!)


Putting it on. While it seems counterintuitive to Western wearers, always wrap your kosode left over right - and don't be alarmed at the size, it should wrap all the way to your hip easily at this size,
as you can see in the photo above of the lady with the light blue kosode on her head (Right over left is for the dead. Yes, really.) Your obi goes on at the waist and, for ladies, ties with a simple knot
in the front. DO knot it - it's the only thing holding your clothing closed. Men, you'll tie yours in the back. Most likely you'll have hakama* on over it. The front hakama ties get tied in back first, then the
back ties get tied in the front. The obi and hakama knots in back provide that pouf you see in the back.

With an extra long uchikake, show off indoors by wearing it loose and open and letting it trail. For outdoors, hike it up and let it blouse over your obi. 

*Patterns for men's hakama and a yoroi hitatare can be found at: https://sengokudaimyo.com/garb/patterns

Hair: Ladies, click here to see a survey of traditional Japanese hairstyles from the Kyoto Costume Museum. If you have long hair, part it in the center and wear it in a long, loose ponytail tied with a
simple white bow. The Japanese used hair ribbons made of paper. You can sometimes find paper ribbon through craft stores. Give it a try, it doesn't look half bad.  

If you decide to use a wig, be sure to sew some combs into the wig's cap if they aren't already there. Pin it securely to your own hair and try bowing as deeply as you can in it before trying do do so
in public to avoid potential embarrassments. The 5 foot long wig I purchased is quite hot and heavy and those combs and pins make all the difference. So did a can of Static Guard to reduce the
inevitable cling of synthetic fibers to silk clothing (not to mention detangling the wig after use). The chopsticks in the bun look is Just Plain Wrong. The Chinese-inspired, elaborate hairstyles we often associate with Japan became fashionable during the Edo period (1603-1867 CE).  

Gentlemen often have fewer options when it comes to trying to replicate period hairstyles. The shaved head with the tea whisk ponytail may have become fashionable as a way to look mature. Long
hair tied up neatly is good for a formal look. (If you can figure out how to get it to lie in a proper samurai "tea whisk" tell me how you did it and send pictures and I'll be glad to add it in here. You can
hide a multitude of sins under a kasa or eboshi (see the notes on Accessories below).

Cosmetics: White skin, red lips and believe it or not, black teeth were marks of beauty in medieval Japan. Aristocratic ladies shaved off their eyebrows and painted in new ones high on their forehead.
I don't recommend shaving off your eyebrows! However, a good grade of white pancake makeup and bright red lip color will help you achieve the look. So will darkening your teeth with tooth black.
If you don't believe me, go rent "Ugetsu" or "Throne of Blood." Better yet, visit this interesting link on Noh masks. You can often find good white pancake and even a white foundation where the local goths shop, or start browsing the internet for theatrical suppliers. Paint-on tooth black starts showing up in stores around Halloween, messy to apply, but achieves the effect.

Accessories for men and women: Geta (wooden clogs) are 4 wheel drive for your feet. Specifically for getting around in the mud, they require only a little practice to get used to walking in. They
would NOT be worn indoors. Zori or setta (flat thonged sandals) are fine for most conditions (particularly indoor SCA events where you really don't want to be walking around barefoot or in tabi) and
the "rustic" styles here are the least glaringly modern ones I've seen to date. Waraji are the tie-on straw sandals one frequently sees in samurai portrayals. 

Tabi became fashionable later in period, so you can opt for them or not. White looks the most elegant for ladies, however, colored tabi were worn, some even patterned. If you're not the DIY type, I
suggest going with the fitted fabric ones and sewing tapes to them to tie them on instead of using the modern hooks at the back for a period look. The knit sock type are completely modern. 

The average souvenir grade paper folding fan isn't quite right, but good sensu from Japan are very expensive. I have been experimenting with making period-style folding fans. In the meantime,
make do with a paper folding fan with a simple design. Japan gets hot summers and both men and women carry fans. They're also wonderful for a lady to modestly hide behind. You can find geta,
zori and tabi from a variety of Asian gift sellers on the web. Bokunan-do carries authentic Japanese hats and other garments and accessories. They're not inexpensive, but they're certainly worth a look.
And don't forget eBay. 

Please visit Samurai For The SCA Guy, a gallery of Japanese clothing by SCA guys and gals. If they can do it, you can do it.

Can you spot the period garments reproduced in this scene from Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha? I stumbled onto this screenshot at http://www.ninjadojo.com/Kagemusha/Kagemusha006.jpg

Links and Resources:

The Costume Museum, Kyoto, Japan   http://www.iz2.or.jp/english/ or the Japanese version at http://www.iz2.or.jp/index.htm 

An Online Japanese Miscellany by Anthony J. Bryant  https://sengokudaimyo.com/
Tony also is THE Japanese Armor God of the SCA and has written several titles for the Osprey military history series. 

Some extant period clothing on the web:    

Kosode, paulownia and bamboo design on light brown twill weave ground, Muromachi Period, 16th century, Tokyo National Museum.

Surihaku (Noh costume) kosode, gold leaf on silk, Momoyama Period, 16th century. Tokyo National Museum.

Nuihaku (Noh costume) with lilies and oxcarts, Momoyama period, 16th century,Tokyo National Museum. 

Kosode, Tortoiseshells, Cypress Fence, and Wisteria in Tsujigahana (resist dye technique), Momoyama Period, Kyoto National Museum. 

Kosode With Snow-Laden Tachibana Orange, Momoyama period 16th century, Kyoto National Museum. 

Kosode, Alternating Blocks of Flowers and Plants in Embroidery and Gold Leaf, Momoyama Period, 16th century, Kyoto National Museum.

Nuihaku (Noh costume) kosode, embroidered at shoulders and hem, Momoyama Period, 16th century. Tokyo National Museum.

Nuihaku (Noh costume) kosode, flowering plants, tanzaku card and plank bridges in horizontal red and white bands, Momoyama Period, 16th century. Tokyo National Museum. 

Dobuku (coat) Paulowinas, Arrows and Sliding Doors Momoyama Period, 16th century. Kyoto National Museum. 

Dofuku (short overcoat), gingko leaves and snow on diagonal stripes, Momoyama Period, 16th century, Tokyo National Museum.


Portrait of said to be of Nawa Nagatoshi, by Hasegawa Tohaku, Momoyama (16th century), Tokyo National Museum. 

The Maple Viewers by Kano Hideyori, Muromachi (16th century), Tokyo National Museum. Everyday people enjoying nature. Plaid is period! Wonderful plaids, stripes, and a man in a cloud patterned kataginu kamishimo that looks unnervingly like a camouflage print.

Genre scenes of the Twelve Months, Muromachi (16th century), Tokyo National Museum. If you examine the scene that opens this section, you'll see young people batting balls with decorative rackets. Both girls and boys are shown in a variety of patterned, striped and checked garments. Closer enlargement even shows placement of sleeve and back seams, particularly on the boy at the left of center running to hit a ball near the tree. Other scenes show ladies wearing kosode katsugu-style and a fashionable kosode merchant's shop.

The Tale of Monkeys, Momoyama, 16th century, British Museum. This satiric scroll shows what the well dressed monkeys of fashionable 16th century Kyoto were wearing at weddings, tea ceremonies, poetry contests and feasts.


Dalby, Liza. Kimono: Fashioning Culture. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001 (ISBN 0-295-98155-5). This is a good overview of the development of traditional Japanese dress. If you are interested in the Heian period, an entire chapter is devoted to the color combinations a fashionable court lady was expected to wear. Highly recommended.

Hickman, Money L. Japan's Golden Age: Momoyama. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996 (ISBN 0-300-09407-8). This was published in conjunction with a museum exhibition some years ago. It includes color plates with genre scenes of daily life, portraits (of women, in particular) and extant kosode, all worth having a look at if you are interested in late period Japanese dress.

Minnich, Helen Benton. Japanese Costume and the Makers of Its Elegant Tradition. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1963. A bit outdated, but still worth knowing about.

Noma, Seiroku. Japanese Costume and Textile Arts. New York and Tokyo, John Wetherhill, Inc. and Heibonsha, jointly, 19774 (ISBN 0-8348-1026-3). If you could only buy ONE book on Japanese costume, this is it. Moderately priced and fairly easy to find used on the internet, this nice little book has lots of good photos of kosode, including examples owned by such historical figures as Uesugi Kenshin and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Smith, Bradley. Japan: A History In Art. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1964.

Stinchecum, Amanda Meyer. Kosode: 16th-19th Century Textiles From The Nomura Collection. New York: Japan Society in association with Kodansha International, 1984 (ISBN 0-913304-18-2). Nomura Shojiro, born in the 19th century during the mad Meiji rush to Westernize, collected and preserved a number of kosode from before 1600. Some, in fragmentary form, he mounted on screens to give the illusion of complete garments. This book is a textile geek's dream if you like the minutiae of fabric weaves, knowing how certain dyes are made, or what the difference between surihaku, shibori and tsujigahana are. Or you can simply enjoy the full color photos of the collection.

Yashiro, Yukio. 2000 Years of Japanese Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1958

Fabrics and dyes:

http://www.dharmatrading.com for silk yardage, dyes, paints.

http://www.thaisilks.com for silk. Their brocades are very Chinese (modern) looking, but they carry some very nice silk jacquards.

http://www.fabrics-store.com for linen in a variety of weights and colors.


eBay is often a good place to shop for geta, zori, tabi, fans and fabric. Do a little homework to be sure the item is what you want, set your spending limits and stick to them. 

Bokunan-do carries clothing and accessories, including festival wear and items for the re-enactor, including hats. Check out the "Warring States & Edo Period" section. Be prepared to deal with shipping prices from Japan, but they're a pleasure to do business with. 

Questions? Comments? Cries for help? I can't fix it if you don't tell me. Email me at wodeford@yahoo.com

Photos of the author were taken on September 26, 2004 at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California by G. Richard Auklandus.

Photo of Fujimaki Tosaburo Hidetora (James Strowe) by the author, August 2000.

Copyright 2004, 2006, 2009, 2024 Lisa A. Joseph

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