Heian-style costume (平安装束)

Heian-style costume is clothing worn by the Imperial families and court nobles during the Heian period.

The figures in the emakimono (picture scroll) such as "Genji monogatari emaki" (The Tale of Genji Picture Scrolls), "Nenju gyoji emaki" (Picture Scroll of the Annual Rites and Ceremonies), and "Ban dainagon emaki" (Ban Major Counselor Picture Scrolls) are important materials to learn about the Japanese costume during the Heian period. "Nihonkoki" (Later Chronicle of Japan), "Shoku Nihonkoki" (Later Chronicle of Japan Continued), "Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku" (Veritable Records of Three Reigns of Japan)", "Nihon Kiryaku" (The Abbreviated History of Japan) and tales and diaries are also important materials. However, many things regarding the costume during the Heian period are still unknown today. Because materials for clothing such as silk and hemp have much less durability than metal or wood, there is almost no possibility for such materials to survive through the years.

Until the mid-Heian period, the costume had not been so different from that of the Nara period, but after SUGAWARA no Michizane abolished the envoys to Tang dynasty China, the Chinese culture became less influential and an indigenous culture developed in every aspect. The indigenous culture came to appear in clothing, and especially the shape of clothes became larger. Due to the development of woven pattern (design) and dye techniques, colorful clothing came to be used in ceremonial rituals in the Imperial court, showing the cultural improvement in clothing of the court nobles. In order to add firmness to a rather big costume, stiffly starched clothing called 'kowashozoku' appeared and the changes in costumes were unified into a certain style.

The costumes that appeared during the Heian period had been used for ceremonies in the Imperial court and bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) since then, and the shape of clothing has essentially been the same until today, though "how to wear costumes" and "how rituals and costumes related to each other" had gone through various changes through the years.

Restoration based on historical investigation
Today we know more about the costume during the Heian period than that prior to the Heian period. However, when costumes in the Heian period are restored, it is mostly done by presumption even though present experts study historical evidences. Today, restored clothing based on historical investigation, mostly the Heian-style costumes, are exhibited at the Costume Museum in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. Some people create works for amusement based on "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji) today, and many people love original "Genji Monogatari" and the works based on it. Therefore nonexperts 'restore' the Heian costume in their works, and place them on exhibition. However, such clothing often contain a lot of mistakes from the viewpoint of experts.

Popularity today
Today the Heian-style costume mostly can be seen in the following events: the parade of the Ages (a festival in which the Heian costume is restored), kyokusui no en (a drinking party for Heian period nobles at which cups of sake were floated down a winding stream and participants seated on the bank had to improvise a tanka poem before taking a sip), and some events held by department stores, industrial associations of Japanese clothes, and kimono schools.

Male costume

Formal attire (in the Imperial court)
It is a luxurious Chinese-style costume worn at an enthronement ceremony, and it has in fact been worn until the enthronement of the Emperor Meiji.

Bunkan sokutai (formal court dress for sovereign and civilian nobles)

A costume for bunkan (civil officers)
It was worn by the Emperor, bunkan and military officers of Sanmi (Third Rank) and above. It consists of, from inside to outside, kosode (a kimono with short sleeves worn as underclothing), oguchi bakama (wide-bottomed skirted trousers), hitoe (an unlined kimono), ue no hakama (over trousers), shitagasane (train-robe), kyo (a train of shitagasane), hoeki no ho (the top layer of men's formal court attire), and sekitai (a black leather belt the back of which was embedded with gemstones). Hanpi (a short-sleeved, thigh-length jacket) was supposed to be worn over the shitagasane, but people were allowed not to wear it in winter (because nobody can see it), and later it was abolished. Akome (a lined gown) had been worn under the shitagasane, but after the Meiji period nobody wore it except for the Imperial families. The higher ranking person wears the longer train. Officials of the Nakatsukasasho (Ministry of Central Affairs) or those who held a position of Sangi (Councilor) and above were allowed to carry swords by Imperial permission.

Bukan sokutai (formal court dress for military officers)

A costume for bukan (military officers). It was worn by military officials of Shii (Fourth Rank) and below. Military officers of Sanmi (Third Rank) and above wore the same clothing as bunkan, therefore those who wore black bukan sokutai were automatically identified as military officials of Shii (Fourth Rank). From inside to outside, it consists of kosode, oguchi bakama, ue no hakama, hitoe, hanpi, shitagasane, ketteki no ho (open sleeve seams outer robe), and sekitai. Being different from bunkan's hoteki no ho (sewn sleeve seams outer robe), ketteki no ho has an opening at the side, so hanpi must be worn. Kyo is connected to the shitagasane and ho. A sword was tied around a waist with hirao (type of belt that went with the sokutai costume, from which the sword was hung).

Ikan (informal court dress for a man)

This is an informal court dress for a man. Originally it was a costume for courtiers on night duty in the Imperial court, but later it became a ceremonial costume. From inside to outside, it consists of kosode, hitoe, sashinuki (gathered trousers), shitagasane, and hoeki no ho.

Noshi (informal wear for noblemen)

Kariginu (hunting costume)

Suikan (old plain clothes worn by court nobles)

It was almost the same shape as kariginu, but different in that suikan had a long cord to fasten a collar and two pairs of kikutoji (tassel) being attached to four places. The hem of suikan was sometimes tucked into hakama, and sometimes not, and moreover, the collar was sometimes done like kariginu and sometimes formed into a V-shape.

Female costume

It is commonly called juni hitoe (twelve-layered robe), and now considered the supreme costume for a woman. From inside to outside, it consists of kosode, naga bakama (long hakama), hitoe, itsutsuginu (five-layered robe), uchiginu (a lustrous silk robe), uwagi (outer robe), karaginu (a waist length Chinese style jacket), and mo (long pleated skirts). In addition to the clothes mentioned above, Mononogu shozoku (a formal wear worn until the late Heian period) contained hire (cloth sash hung from the shoulders) and kuntai (cloth sash hung from the waist), with the hair done up and hokan (crown) on top of the head, in which the Nara period customs remained. The color of kosode was always white; hakama was pleated and its color was always scarlet in the Heian period regardless of marriage status; after the Edo period, an unmarried woman wore a deep violet hakama, while a married woman wore a scarlet hakama.

See uchigi (layers of gowns).

Uneme (a maid-in-waiting at the court) costume


It is the same as the suikan for a man, but always white. The hem of suikan was tucked in naga bakama (common to the karaginumo shozoku which is popularly called juni hitoe) and a golden lacquered hat was worn.

The costumes for boys and girls

Hanjiri (Literally, half of the buttocks)

This is a kariginu for a boy. It was named after the two back panels of a kimono which cover half of the buttocks.


It is almost the same as the suikan for a man, but this one has five kikutoji and they are attached on the shoulders instead of the back. Hakama also has kikutoji.

Hosonaga (long divided robe)

The present hosonaga is similar to uchigi, but it has no okumi (a gusset). (Hitoe has okumi under the uchigi)
Kosode, hakama, and hitoe are all deep violet. It sometimes refers to hosonaga no ho (ketteki no ho for boys, and hakama is ue no hakama).

Kazami (young girl's formal costume)

It originally referred to an undergarment. However, it means a kind of uchigi made of light material like silk gauze and sewed in the same way as hitoe. Both kosode and hakama are deep violet, but hitoe and kazami have bright and gorgeous colors. Sometimes it refers to hosonaga no ho made of thin material.

Costumes of Shinto priest, shrine maiden, and chigo (a child in a traditional festival procession).

In the process of organizing religious services by the government since the Meiji period, a new rule that a Shinto priest must wear ikan or kariginu was established.

Shinto priests' costume: ikan for daisaishiki (the grand festival ceremony), saifuku (the formal costume of a Shinto priest when performing religious ceremonies, made of white silk) for chusaishiki (the middle festival ceremony), kariginu or joe (a garment worn in religious ceremonies) for shosaishiki (the small festival ceremony) and other miscellaneous festivals.
=>Shinto priest

Costume of the female Shinto priest
Costume for kagura (a performance of classical ceremonial music and dance): Costume of Urayasu no mai dance was created after the model of juni hitoe.

Miko shozoku (costume for shrine maiden): it is considered that this costume inherited the Heian-style costume in that it requires white kosode and scarlet hakama.

Chigo shozoku (costume for chigo)

Festivals and events in which you can see the Heian-style costume

*See also Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival), Kyokusui no en, and historic pageants



Northern Kanto region

Early March: Ishidan Hinamatsuri (The Stone Steps Doll Festival) (Shibukawa City)

Southern Kanto region

Mid-June: Sanno Festival (Hie-jinja Shrine [Chiyoda Ward])

Koshinetsu region

Tokai region

Mid-June: Saio Princess Festival (Meiwa-cho [Mie Prefecture])

Hokuriku region

Kyoto Prefecture

January 3: Karuta hajime shiki (Ceremony of the First Karuta Play of the New Year) (Yasaka-jinja Shrine [Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City])

May 15: Aoi Festival (Shimogamo-jinja Shrine and Kamigamo-jinja Shrine [Kyoto City])

Early May: Mifune Festival (Kurumazaki-jinja Shrine [Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City])

Late September: Saigu (the high priestess of Ise) Parade (Nonomiya-jinja Shrine [Ukyo Ward,Kyoto City])

October 22: Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) (Heian Jingu Shrine [Kyoto City])

Other prefectures in the Kansai region

Late March: Aino Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Procession (Koga City)

Chugoku region

Shikoku region

Kyushu region

[Original Japanese]