In my most recent contribution to this blog, which is now 3 months ago, I wrote about a memorable encounter with a hōkan, Shichiko Sakuragawa. I was impressed with his skills and artistic flair, but the haori he wore that day turned out to be no less a work of art. He showed us that the lining contained a shunga, Japanese erotic art, showing a realistic depiction of a man and a woman entwined. How extravagant and how erotic! To go to the trouble of finding and collecting such pictures on textile and having them attached to the lining of a haori makes him a perfectionist in the pursuit of his art.
His haori is an example of “uramasari,” a low-key way of “dressing up.” (Explanation: “ura” is the inside or lining of a coat, jacket or kimono and “masari” means “surpass,” or “be better than.”) The kimono might be a sober-looking solid color or striped design on the outside, but the lining would be of the finest and most expensive material and display a landscape painting or woodblock print. Thus, fashion-wise, the lining “trumps” the outside of the kimono, which is why this way of dressing up is called “uramasari.”
Japanese men have always dressed well and used to wear kimono as everyday wear, a traditional dress now threatened with extinction. In fact, it is kimonos for men that show great variety. For example, the military leaders during the Warring States period. Oda Nobunaga or Date Masamune wore splendid surcoats of a color, design and adornment that made them stand out on the battlefield and display a fashion-sense that still speaks to us today.
As the Edo period enters the Genroku era (1688 – 1704), the merchant class became more prosperous and the men used their wealth on expensive clothing, personal ornaments and enjoyed dressing up for visits to Kabuki theaters or the pleasure quarters. The bakufu conducted multiple revisions whose intent was to control and suppress the profligacy of the merchant class through sumptuary laws. Silk kimonos or multicolored ones and other extravagant clothing was out of bounds.
However, the edokko were not so easily persuaded. And sharp dressers of the day were even less likely to accept such ridiculous rules. “You can’t be serious!” They might have shouted to themselves. And their defiance manifested itself more and more by keeping their ostentation out of sight, in the spirit of “uramasari.”
Shichikosan has evidently inherited the edokko spirit and seeing him moving and dancing in a kimono like it was second nature to him convinced me. That I have always thought deep down inside that men who can wear a kimono well really look sexy.
If you do not have any male friends who wear a kimono, you might watch the NHK Taiga drama. This year’s drama “Tenchijin,” is enjoying high viewer ratings, and I thought Hiroshi Abe despite his western looks was able to convey the aura of Uesugi Kenshin. Shota Matsuda in the role of Tokugawa Iemochi in 2008’s drama “Atsuhime” wore a kimono in an unassuming and natural manner, much like a child at a shichigosan event. In quite a different manner, in “Furinkazan” (2007), Seiyo Uchino playing Yamamoto Kansuke appeared in a well worn kimono – before he started to serve under Takeda Shingen – that spoke volumes about his character and lifestyle. As a person with a keen interest in kimono, I believe that what fascinates me about the performance of an actor, whatever their role, is how their charm is accurately conveyed to me through their kimono.
Still, I would prefer to see men in kimono in everyday life rather than on television or in a film. All you men out there, show some spirit! How about donning a cotton yukata in the coming season? Kimonos are sold together with obi. I’d recommend a crisp linen kimono tied up with a smart square obi. Or, why not go all out for a cool silk kimono topped with a panama hat for the ultimate in dressiness. That would make you the kimono version of the mischievous elderly man.
Regardless of the Heisei Recession, there are no longer any sumptuary laws to abide by. And moderately priced kimonos are in abundant supply. A kimono will also conveniently hide unsightly bulges. More women are enrolling in kimono-wearing classes and I think men should be, too. As you get used to wearing a kimono and the different feel of a kimono, women will take a greater interest in you. Even a strong-minded woman may then yield to your persuasions. Of course, Shichikosan did not talk about the benefits of wearing a kimono, but if you attend one of his parties, you might get him to tell you.
(Translated by KB)