Otohime’s Coral and Blue Undersea Gown from the Japanese Fairy Tale Urashima Tarō‎

A blue gown with a stylized wave pattern in a darker shade of blue. There is a vest and overskirt with uneven, coral-like edges in shades of orange and coral with a golden scaly pattern all over it. The vest forms a large V over the top and is held in place by a wide belt in an aqua and teal wave pattern with gold accents. There is a thin dark blue ribbon tied around the belt. It is held in place with a brooch made of polished green and blue abalone, and the two ends of the ribbon extend almost to the floor. Underneath the belt is a short overskirt in a semi-transparent white fabric with a subtle shimmer. The collar is formed by several overlapping robes in shades of blue, dark where it is in contact with the vest and progressively lighter until it reaches the neck. The sleeves are wide and bell-shaped, and at the shoulders there is another layer of the shimmery semi-transparent white fabric. There is a wide white ribbon that floats over the dress in a large circle and slips under the arms, its edges curling around the skirt.I’m sorry to have made you wait for this one! I just had some kind of block about it, but now it is done and I can go on to something else. This is my version of a dress worn by Otohime, who is a figure from a famous Japanese folk tale, Urashima Tarō‎ (浦島太郎). In the story, the young fisherman Urashima Tarō saves a turtle from some kids who are tormenting it, and as a reward, he is brought to the undersea palace of the Dragon God and meets his daughter, Otohime (乙姫), who was that turtle that he rescued. He stays there for a few days, but soon wishes to return home. Before he does, Otohime gives him a box, warning him not to open it. When he gets back, he finds that everyone he knew is long dead and his village has greatly changed. He opens the box, but in it was his old age, and he turns to dust and blows away. Some versions have happier endings, like this illustrated retelling. If you’re studying Japanese, give this version a shot.

Urashima Tarō‎ is a story that pretty much every Japanese person would know, and Otohime is a famous figure. As it’s a very old story, the way she is usually depicted is in a gown like this (with obvious Chinese influence) and not usually a Japanese outfit. As it’s a famous fairytale, though, the depiction varies with the artist.

Thank you for all of your fun entries in my contest! I really just need a post to enter someone in the drawing, but it’s more fun for me to read about whose costumes reign supreme. (The cast of Downton Abbey would triumph over the cast of the Titanic, according to my readers.) The winner, although I hate to admit it because he was talking about his plans for what he’d do if he won the other day and I know what I’m in for, is my husband Brian.

Come back next week to see what ridiculous design Brian will choose for my 1912 gown, and for a new poll! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for site updates, complaints about Facebook and gowns with interesting details. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

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

Click for larger version (PNG); click for PDF version. Click here for the list of dolls.

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

Voyage of the Dawn Treader Paperdoll Series #1: Cool Colored Gown based on the Dawn Treader

Click for larger version (PNG); click for PDF version. Click here for the list of dolls.

“It was a picture of a ship — a ship sailing nearly straight towards you. Her prow was gilded and shaped like the head of a dragon with wide open mouth. She had only one mast and one large, square sail which was a rich purple. The sides of the ships — what you could see of them where the gilded wings of the dragon ended — were green. She had just run up to the top of one glorious blue wave, and the nearer slope of that wave came down towards you, with streaks and bubbles on it. She was obviously running fast before a gay wind, listing over a little on her port side. (By the way, if you are going to read this story at all, and if you don’t know already, you had better get it into your head that the left of a ship when you are looking ahead, is port, and the right is starboard.) All the sunlight feel on her from that side, and the water on that side was full of greens and purples. On the other, it was darker blue from the shadow of the ship.” – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 1: The Picture in the Bedroom

I have often thought it would be fun to do something like this, and since so far this February I have done nothing but a trio of (admittedly cute) rainbow gowns and feel rather as if I am in need of forgiveness from my very patient audience, I thought that now is as good a time as any to try it out. Before you ask, no, I have not seen the movie; rather, I saw a couple of the trailers and decided I most certainly did not want to see the movie, but I would very much like to re-read the book. My favorite of the Narnia books is The Horse And His Boy, but I love the sense of adventure and beauty in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and as I re-read it, I couldn’t help but think about adapting it to paperdolls. It’s a great medium for a project like this, don’t you think? It provides room for something in between a costume and an illustration, and allows waves to become ruffles and for wildly impractical dragon wings that frame the face.

I’m going to aim to draw a new one every week until I finish, not a whole series of them all at once, so don’t be alarmed when there is a kimono next Saturday! Also – don’t forget to join me for livedolling the Oscars! Apparently the part I’m most interested in (that is, the red carpet) will start at 7:00 PM EST, 4:00 PM for me out here on the west coast.

Now, let me see if I have correctly judged what will most delight a nice big share of my readers…

Colors used: Poppy Red, Crimson Red, Tuscan Red, Black Grape, Violet Blue, Lilac, Cool Grey 20%, Cool Grey 50%, Cool Grey 90%, French Grey 10%, Black, Dark Umber, Light Umber, Cream, Sunburst Yellow, Goldenrod, Dark Green, Kelly Green, Peacock Green, Parrot Green, Pale Sage, Light Green, Spring Green, all the blues I own Light Cerulean Blue, China Blue, Powder Blue, Indigo Blue, Peacock Blue, Sky Blue Light, Cloud Blue, Mediterranean Blue

Grey Kimono with Floating White Camellia Pattern Inspired by Sanjuro, plus bonus Black and White Kimono

Click for larger version (PNG):grey kimono, black and white kimono; click for PDF version: grey kimono, black and white kimono. Click here for the list of dolls.

Brian and I signed up for Netflix again recently. We had it a few years back, but canceled our subscription when we both went to grad school and then when he started his own business, leaving us little time to see each other let alone watch movies together. Now, with more reasonable work schedules, we’re merrily filling up our queues again — although I think I got up to around 300 movies in my queue last time, and I’m trying to be more restrained this time around.

The last movie I got was Sanjuro, a samurai movie directed by Akira Kurosawa, and I asked Brian if he wanted to watch it with me. “It’s not going to be like that other one, is it?” he replied. “That other one” would be Rashomon, which we went to see last year; Brian had never seen it before, so he went into it expecting some fun sword fights presented from different perspectives. After he crawled out of the theater, he was despondent about the human condition for a full week. “I don’t remember the description too well, but I think this one’s supposed to be funny,” I replied, a little hesitantly, thinking that I really shouldn’t be so impulsive with that shiny “Add” button.

Luckily, I was right: I think Sanjuro is the funniest samurai movie I’ve ever seen, although it’s hardly a comedy. Toshirō Mifune plays a wandering samurai who lends his expertise – less out of pity than from exasperation at their incompetence – to nine young samurai trying to save their clan leader from being framed for corruption. I don’t like to give too much away, so if you like samurai movies, see if you can find this one somewhere.

I’ve taken a stab at drawing a kimono here – my first one, and it sure does show, so if you know more about kimono than I do, please forgive me. I have a passing acquaintance with the various kimono rules and guidelines, but I’m no expert yet, so rather than a formal kimono I was aiming for a more casual and stylish look. (It might help to know I’m a big fan of CHOKOとチョコと, Mamechiyo — just try to tell me this isn’t awesome — and so on) The main design is a reference to the climactic scene in the movie, where the signal to attack is a mass of camellias floating down a stream. Now, camellias are apparently a rare design for kimonos, because the entire flower drops off the plant at once, instead of petal by petal; this was thought to be evocative of beheading, and therefore not the kind of imagery you wanted all over your sleeves. My design is intended to reference the movie, so I will not worry about emblematic misfortune. (But, should your doll accidentally get her head ripped off, she’s in a better position than a samurai — just print her out again.) Incidentally, the white thing on the obi (the sash around the waist) is the sail of a boat – I didn’t position it right, and it’s covered up by the obijime (the yellow cord). Since you can’t see the back of the obi, you have to imagine that the large, flat knot at the back has a pattern with two more boats on it, for a total of three boats. That would be a not-so-subtle reference to the actor Toshirō Mifune, whose family name 三船 literally means “three boats.”

Since I missed Saturday, I’m adding a bonus today, a black and white kimono. Kimono are all about the patterns and colors, so I thought it would be much easier to draw kimono if I could just have a coloring-book style page to test colors on. I’ve been reading about kimono for many months now: the problem is that I’m familiar enough with them to know all the many ways in which I could get things wrong. If I draw a French court gown in colors that weren’t popular back then, or a 1920s skirt with a hemline a couple inches off, it doesn’t bother me, but somehow kimono are really intimidating. But now I’ve gotten over this first hurdle, I’m going to try some more designs!

By the way, there are a couple new paper doll blogs for you to enjoy: …. Of Paper Dolls…. and Kat’s Paper Doll Emporium. Check them out and leave nice comments! Don’t miss the other delightful paper doll blogs, either – there’s a handy list of them to the right.

Prismacolors used: Cool Grey 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, 70%, Sandbar Brown, Aquamarine, Light Aqua, Indigo Blue, Blue Lake, Powder Blue, Black, Sunburst Yellow, Goldenrod, Tuscan Red, Crimson Red, Dark Umber and Light Umber, Verithin Black, Sakura Souffle White Gel Pen