Poppy Red (shōjōhi) Iromuji Kimono with Gold and White Obi

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Before I start this very long entry, a quick reminder: the Oscar red carpet starts tomorrow at 7 PM EST. I’ll be livedolling – that is, drawing as many of the gowns in attendance as I can before my fingers drop off – and I hope you can join me in the comments section for discussing all the gowns and perhaps adding your own, if you like! Even if you don’t have a TV, you can join in: I can’t watch it live either, so when I’ve done this before I just kept reloading the Oscar-related pictures on Getty Images. It looks like it’ll be streamed online at AP Live, so I will be trying that, too. I may be able to break my record of three in one night, due to the time difference…

I’m fairly well versed in English color names – especially those of the 146 Prismacolors that I’ve been using for over a decade – but in Japanese, the closest I get to sophistication is popping the words for “dark” and “light” in front of the basic color words. To fix this, I thought that I could learn some obscure Japanese color words, which would both brighten up my impoverished vocabulary and provide an opportunity for some cute drawings.

I started with the book Kimono and the Colors of Japan: The Kimono Collection of Katsumi Yumioka, which is both in English and Japanese and has a paragraph of information on sixty traditional colors, with a gorgeous picture of a kimono to illustrate each one. I also picked up 日本の伝統色 The Traditional Colors of Japan for my birthday, which has a sentence in English about each color but is primarily written in Japanese and has information on 250 colors. It also gives CMYK, RGB and hex code values for each color, meaning I can figure out easily what the nearest Prismacolor shade is with the Prismacolor Digital Color Coordinator.

The first color in Kimono and the Colors of Japan is 猩々緋(shōjōhi), a warm, cheerful red with a touch of yellow and a hex code of #E83015. Both books translate this as “poppy red”, and conveniently, the Prismacolor color picker tells me that the closest Prismacolor equivalent to #E83015 is Poppy Red. To my eyes, it looks like it could be either Scarlet Lake or Poppy Red, and that Poppy Red is just a touch too orange, but I have a feeling they will not all be this easy, so for now I’m accepting the coincidence.

The color is produced with dye made from the female cochineal insect, and it first showed up in Japan during the Warring States Period (1467–1573), when thick woolen fabric dyed poppy red was first imported from Southeast Asia. Japan was at civil war at this time, and many feudal lords had their battle surcoats (陣羽織, jinbaori) made out of this material, because it was thought that the color protected the wearer from arrows or bullets. (For an example of these battle surcoats, look at this reproduction of Oda Nobunaga’s surcoat.)

Let’s break down the kanji in 猩々緋. On its own, 猩 means orangutan, and the Japanese word for orangutan used to be 猩々 (shōjō). That’s because the animal was named after the 猩々 (shōjō), a mythical Chinese creature or spirit that was said to live on the coasts and enjoy drinking. It was said to look like a human, or like a monkey with a human face, with brilliant red hair and a face red from drinking too much, and according to one account its blood was thought to be what lent the fabric its protective qualities. The shōjō is also a character in a Noh play, Shōjō Midare, and the actor wears a shaggy red wig, a red mask and red clothes. If you look 猩々 up in a dictionary, one of the definitions is “someone who loves to drink,” but when I asked some of my Japanese friends, that usage doesn’t seem very common these days, so it is just an interesting, random fact; don’t put the term into practice unless you happen to hang out with a bunch of Noh enthusiasts. Incidentally, it is not very clear if the color name was simply named after the creature, inspired by its representation in the Noh play, or if it gained that name specifically because the dye was said to be taken from the shōjō’s blood or hair: all of my sources have something different to say about the matter. (It seems like the story about the dye coming from the blood is pretty common, but it could have gained the name first, and the stories about the blood and its protective properties, later.) One story claims that leaving sake out on the beach will tempt them to try it, then get drunk and fall asleep; from there, it’s a simple matter to extract the blood needed for the dye.

Of course, it’s not in the official list of kanji that Japanese students have to learn (常用漢字, jōyō kanji), nor in the list of kanji that may be used in names (人名用漢字, jinmeiyō kanji), and it only shows up in a few other words, so a kanji like that does one little practical good. So all of this detail is great fun, in my opinion, but those of you out there learning Japanese, don’t trip all over yourselves to practice writing it. (If you actually want to write orangutan, 猩々 is way overkill – the word you would be looking for is オランウータン.)

The middle kanji, 々, just indicates that the previous kanji is repeated. That is, we could also write the color name as 猩猩緋.

The last one, 緋, is slightly more useful than 猩, as it is also seen in other colors such as 浅緋 (asahi, light scarlet). This kanji indicates a deep, bright red. It’s not on the list of kanji that are commonly used but it is on the list of kanji that may be used in names. It shows up in a couple of other colors in Kimono and the Colors of Japan, so we’ll remember that one.

For today’s kimono, I’ve done a poppy red iromuji (色無地), which is a formal, unpatterned, single-color kimono worn by both married and unmarried women. (I’ll write more about the various types of kimono in the future, but I have had this entry mostly written for some time, and I wanted to get on with it.) The obi is decorated with a stylized wave pattern (青海波, seigaha) in gold and white, plus a sake (Japanese rice wine) bottle and cups, as a reference to the shōjō; as a nod to the English name of the color, the obi-dome (帯留め), which is the piece of jewelry in the middle of the obi, is a poppy. (That would be ケシ, keshi, in Japanese. Incidentally, poppies seem to be rather rare motifs for Japanese textiles; they were introduced in the Muromachi period, so it’s not like the flower was unknown, but they don’t have symbolic significance that I’ve found; perhaps the connection with medicine or opium was too strong to make it a desirable decoration for a kimono?)

Besides Kimono and the Colors of Japan and 日本の伝統色 The Traditional Colors of Japan, I also referred to Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design, The Colors of Japan and Japanese Art Motives. The story about trapping shōjō with sake is from the 1912 “Scientific Temperance Journal.”

I’ve tried to stay away from relying on online sources, but the detail about shōjō blood being thought to have protective properties was too good to pass up, and is from this page. For further information (in Japanese), you can also look at http://www.colordic.org/colorsample/2011.html, http://yuzen.net/color/red/shojohi.htm, and the Japanese Wikipedia page on 猩々緋. For you kanji fanatics out there, you can find all the details about and on Denshi Jisho.

Now, “poppy red” is the first color in Kimono and the Colors of Japan, but if I go in order all I’ll do is red, red, red, and I’ll get bored. I’ve picked five colors at random from the table of contents of Kimono and the Colors of Japan. Which should I do next?

Prismacolors used: Poppy Red, Crimson Lake, Tuscan Red, Cream, Sunburst Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Goldenrod, Bronze, Sepia, Apple Green, Chartreuse, Kelly Green, French Grey 10%, 20%, 50%, 70%, Black, Cool Grey 10%, Sakura Soufflé White Gel Pen

Blue Striped Komon Kimono with White Rabbit and Plum Blossom Pattern and Black and Yellow Obi

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2011 is the year of the rabbit, in the Chinese zodiac, so cute rabbit-related things have been popping up in my RSS feed for the past month or so, and it made me want to do a rabbit kimono. (By modern reckoning, I’m late, but in Japan, the New Year used to be celebrated on the Chinese schedule, between late January and mid-February, so by that standard I’m quite early!)

Of late, I’ve been inspired by the drama Osen to look at lots of vintage kimono, as the main character is the proprietor of a traditional Japanese restaurant and always wears kimono in a fun, fresh way. (I’ve found lots of good blogs along the way, but I particularly recommend Kimono Sarasa’s blog.) This is intended to be a casual, retro-style komon kimono, with large patterns all over the fabric: the bunnies are a reference to 2011, of course, while the sprigs of flowers are plum blossom, which is the first flower to bloom every year and therefore a traditional New Year’s motif. The obi, a yellow circle pattern on black, is meant to evoke — OK, not so subtly — the moon. Rabbits and the moon are linked in Japanese symbolism, because in Japan, it’s said that you can see a rabbit making mochi (a kind of rice cake) in the moon, instead of the man in the moon.

I drew this when I was visiting with my mom: we both printed out the black-and-white version and started coloring, but I finished mine, while she had to go do something in the middle and only finished her obi. Hopefully we’ll be able to see her kimono too, soon!

I’ve got a lot of things to look forward to in 2011, and I hope you all do too!

Kimono Basics #2: Black and White Furisode

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There are several types of kimono, and you can tell them apart by looking at the shape and the design. Today, we’ll just look at what you can tell from the way a kimono is cut and worn, which says quite a bit about its wearer even independent of the color, pattern or type of fabric.

The way the two sides of the kimono are crossed over each other is important for two reasons: It tells you whether the wearer is alive or dead, and about how old the person is. This first point being of some importance, if you intend to draw or wear kimono, please take care you’re doing it the right way! Living people wear kimono with the left edge lapped over the right one; corpses are dressed the opposite way. I always mix up left and right, so I find this hard to remember sometimes. In Girl Scouts, for making a square knot, I was taught “Right over left, then left over right, makes the knot neat and tidy and tight.” When trying to remember which way it is for kimono, I adapted the rhyme: “Not right over left, but left over right, will prevent nice little old ladies from being horrified at the sight of you and trying to fix your kimono right then and there.” This rhyme is maybe a little less elegant, and it is probably easier to remember that the lines should look like a “Y.” As for the other point, generally young women wear the kimono crossed high on the throat, while a slightly deeper V is how older women wear it.

The sleeves of all kimono end at the wrist bone, but the part that hangs off of the arm has significant meaning attached to it. (It’s called the furi (振り、ふり), if we’re going to get really technical, and the part that the arm actually goes through is the sode-tsuke (袖付け、そでつけ). I didn’t know those terms until I looked them up, though.) For young, unmarried women’s formal wear, that part is so long it nearly reaches the hem of the kimono, and the corner furthest from the body is rounded. For all other types of women’s kimono, that part is shorter (falling slightly below the fingers, when the arms are at the side) and less round, while for men’s kimono the corner is square.

Since the nape of the neck was traditionally considered especially alluring, the neckband of the kimono is set off from the neck. Young unmarried women, who are supposed to be the most prim and reserved, have about a fist’s worth of space from the neck to the collar; older women can set it off just a little bit more (although my book on wearing kimono, which I sense is a little on the conservative side, recommends one fist’s worth of space for everyone) while geisha wear it so low that they’re nearly showing their shoulders.

As with the way the neck is crossed, an obi tied higher on the ribcage indicates a younger wearer, and one tied a little further towards the waist indicates an older one. The obi-age (帯揚げ、おびあげ, a sash that goes under the obi and partially shows above it) is very prominent on a younger wearer, while for an older one it just slightly peeps above the obi.

The most common knot the obi is tied in is called the “taiko musubi”: this is the knot that looks rather flat and boxy. For young, unmarried women’s formal wear, it can be tied in more elaborate ways.

This kind of kimono is called a furisode, and it’s not the last time you’ll be hearing that word. Now, what can you tell me about the person wearing this kimono? If you’ve been following along carefully, you should be able to come up with five things about the wearer.

Edit: I wrote that the first one to post all five things in a comment would win my standard prize, and Janani got all of them in the first comment: the wearer is alive, female, young and unmarried, and wearing it for a formal occasion. Congratulations!

Mouse’s Marriage (ネズミの嫁入り) and my New Year’s resolution

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I drew this for my mom for Christmas, and she gave me permission to post it. I hope you all like it as much as she did! I’m still learning the ins and outs of kimono drawing, so please forgive any inaccuracies. The original Japanese story can be read here: ネズミの嫁入り (Mouse’s Marriage). I’ve been in contact with the maintainer of that site, actually, and she’s given me permission to translate the other stories there, so I plan to do a lot of those in 2011.

Speaking of 2011… Sometimes, people will e-mail me and ask how to draw dolls, and the advice I give is essentially just to keep practicing, using resources like SenshiStock and library books on figure drawing. That makes me feel like a fraud, because I myself am lousy at drawing humans, and it really shows in my dolls. (I’m happy with Ivy for now, but drawing her took days.) I look at the work of some of my internet buddies like Lys, who does this great daily fashion journal and Boots, who draws dolls in really natural, comfortable poses, and I think, wow, if I could draw dynamic poses like that, or if I could draw great faces like that, or if my hands had that much expression… But then, to borrow a phrase from Jane Austen, I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practicing.

I don’t have a great track record with New Year’s resolutions, and I believe last year I had none at all (which, really, I rather enjoyed). But I’m going to try one this year. I resolve to spend 20 minutes each day – or, perhaps, each day I can, let us not raise the bar too high now – sketching people. I know this is one I can do, because actually I have already been doing it off and on for a few weeks now.

Two questions for you all. First, would you like me to post the results of my progress? It might help keep me on the straight and narrow to just scan my sketches and link to them at the end of posts, but I can’t imagine it would be very interesting. (Plus, the idea is slightly frightening – I do these sketches of hands that look more like dead sea anemones, and my pride tells me “better hide those, Liana.”) Second, since I’ll just be using freely available reference and stock images and possibly a book or two from the library, would anyone like to adopt my resolution and join me? I was thinking, if there’s interest from a couple other people, we might set up some sort of blog or forum, pick out the day’s pose, share our sketches and keep each other motivated. It’s just a thought, but if you’re interested, whatever your skill level is, e-mail me or post a comment.

My next post will be on the 4th. Happy New Year!