Kosode (小袖)

Kosode is clothing thought to be designed in the middle of the Heian period, and is an origin of Japanese Kimono.

While up until then, the kimono had large wrist openings to the full sleeve width and was called Osode, kosode has small wrist openings.


Although until the early Heian period, hitoe (unlined garment) was used as an undergarment, hitoe became larger and did not work as an undergarment because of the rise of Japanese original national customs and manners and accompanied change of costume during and after the middle of the Heian period. Instead, it is thought that they used kimono with tubular style of sleeves clad by common folks as undergarment, that became the origin of kosode. It is said that the kosode clad by FUJIWARA no Motohira, stored in Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) of Chuson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, is the existing oldest kosode left today.

From the late Heian period (insei period (during the period of the government by the retired Emperor)) to the early Kamakura period, an explosive booming of kosode had come among the court nobles, and to wear many kosodes woven with luxurious textile layering instead of simple uchikake (ordinary kimono) was prevailing, however, it was often prohibited by ordinance because it was too expensive. Due to the ban, kosode was treated as undergarment among the upper class such as court nobles and samurai by the Muromachi period.

When the time advanced to the late Muromachi period (the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States)), because of the revolt of vassals against their lords and poor security, active kosode with smaller sleeves were adopted as formal outer wear of wives of samurais, and at the time of Shokuho (Oda-Toyotomi era), a type of gorgeous uchikake (a full length formal and elegant outer robe) style kosodes were made as was seen in the portrait of Lady Oichi no kata. And the kamishimo which became a full dress uniform of samurai, the way to wear kosode outside of kamishimo became a permitted custom and kosode was upgraded to an outer garment.
The kosode around this time is called 'Momoyama kosode.'

After that, while due to class distinctions (warriors, farmers, artisans, and tradesmen in descending order of rank) set by Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), the design of kosode was fixed among the upper class of samurai, richer townsmen in Kyoto, Osaka and Edo spent their surplus of the fruits of regained peaceful time on clothing, and elaborately crafted kosode were born. However, the newly born kosode was regarded by the Edo bakufu as too luxurious a garment and often banned it.

The typical kosode at this time are Keicho style kosode, Kanbun style kosode, and Genroku style kosode.

When the Edo period entered into the latter half, it became common among court nobles to wear kosode in situations other than for times of rituals, and sode (sleeves) of kosode became luxurious and larger in peaceful times and furisode (a long sleeved type of kimono) was newly born and name 'kosode((literally means small sleeves) itself were not suitable to the reality of kimono, and the name kosode fell into disuse. Today, 'kosode' means undergarment of a court costume like sokutai and junihiote.

Momoyama Kosode

A type of kosode prevailing in Azuchi-Momoyama period and even women can tailor it to tsuitake (full length of height). They were influenced by the Christian culture imported through Nanban-Boeki (trade with Southern Barbarians) and thus there are many bold and gaudy design kosodes. Perhaps reflecting the vibrant culture of the time, kosode full of embroidery and frequent use of tsujigahana-zome (dye of flower design) are characteristics of kosode of this type. Typical kosode in this period can be seen in a memento of Kenshin UESUGI handed down to Yonezawa City, Yamagata Prefecture, and mementos of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA possessed by Toshogu Shrine on Mt. Kuno.

Keicho Kosode

A type of kosode prevailing during the Keicho era (from 1596 to 1614) and it is said that a typical Keicho kosode is patterned all over the cloth and the pattern became minute, however, the color tone used is darker than Momoyama kosode. It is said the one depicted in the 'attributed to Yodo dono portrait' in possession of Nara Prefectural Museum of Art is a typical Keicho kosode.

Kanbun Kosode

A type of kosode prevailing in the Kanbun era (from 1661 to 1672) includes a large streamlined and dyed pattern from shoulder to hem, and large blank space is left, and it is said a characteristic of Kanbun kosode is that letters are used as a pattern. From this type of kosode, the sodehaba (sleeve size) began to be tailored wider like today's kimono (before the Keicho era, shoulder width of the kosode was tailored larger and sodehaba was only a half of a shoulder width).

It is said this fashion was made by Tofukumonin Masako, and a purveyor of Masako, 'Kariganeya' received a rush of orders to make a fortune. Later, the Kariganeya turned out the Korin OGATAand Kanzan OGATA brothers who played a great role in the Genroku Culture.

Genroku Kosode

A type of kosode prevailing in Genroku era (from 1688 to 1703) and it is said that the dispatcher of the fashion were townsmen of Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area). With the birth of yuzen (a kind of printed silk), its freely patterned design and bright colors are said to be characteristic of the Genroku kosode. The kimono clad lady depicted in the masterpiece of Moronobu HISHIKAWA, 'Mikaeri Bijin' (Beauty Looking Back) is wearing this Genroku kosode.

Class Difference in Kosode

As aforementioned, common folks were gradually empowered as peace continued, some of them wore more gorgeous kimono than the bushi class, Edo bakufu shogunate tried vehemently to ban luxurious kimono one after another in order to fix class distinctions. Further, in the O-oku (the inner halls of Edo-jo Castle where the wife of the Shogun and her female servants reside), codes on women's costume, namely kimono became regulative in minute detail, and the patterns of kimono permitted to the class she belonged became fixed little by little. There was prevalence of kosode even after the genroku era, they were not called 'something kosode' in the cultural history any longer.

Kosode of the samurai families

As mentioned in the above, the Edo bakufu regulated the way kimono were worn in minute detail in the O-oku, and the regulations passed on to daimyo families (feudal lord families), and finally the dress codes of the whole samurai class became pursuant to the codes and conventions of the O-oku (in and after the middle of the Edo period).
Some of the codes are follows:

In the beginning of the year, legal wife dresses her hair in osuberakasi style (a women's hair style in the court), and the legal wife of the shogun wears junihiote (a women's layered ceremonial robe) and the legal wife of daimyo wears keiko-shozoku keiko (a type of female formal dress in white kosode). On March 3, September 9 and on ritual days or ceremonial days, uchikake (formal dress of samurai class women) shall be worn. On May 5, katabira (light summer garment) made of kinu-chijimi (silk crepe) or asa-sarashi (bleached hemp) shall be worn, however, the base color shall be limited to white or black. On July 7, katabira shall be worn over koshimaki (a full length garment). Color of uchikake shall be limited to black, white, red or pink. Color of aida-gi (garment clad under uchikake) shall be limited to white, red, or yellow. Between the patterns, embroidery shall be processed so not to make a blank space. Formal attire shall be rinzu, a Japanese silk satin damask. Chirimen (Crepe Kimono) shall only be used as semiformal garment or casual wear. However, the formal attire of the lower-ranked shall be crepe kimono.

From April 1 to May 4, and September 1 to 8, awase (lined garment) shall be worn. From September 9 to the end of March, a wadded garment shall be worn, and from May 5 to the end of August, hitoe (single garment) shall be worn.

The dates shown above are all based on lunar calendar dates. And so on. Where the provisions were detailed as above, there was almost no room for originality and ingenuity, thus the fashion in kimono was never born from among those from the bushi class.

Though patterns are roughly demarcated to two types; one is yusoku-monyo (traditional design motifs, used either in single units or repeated to create patterns, based on designs from Heian courtly decorations) that are scattered over the whole of kimono between the embroidery of the beauty of nature, and another is that the motif are taken from traditional literature such as the Tale of Genji or scenery of a noh play called 'goshoge,' compared to the kimono of the court nobles and common folks as described later, it seems that the design lacks boldness and there is a tendency to avoid blank space.

These complicated systems that disappeared after the collapse of the Edo bakufu and were never passed over to the former daimyo families who later became kazoku (the noble class).

The pattern design currently called 'chayatsuji' is a remainder of a kosode stipulated as 'a summer garment' for the samurai families.

Kosode of Court Nobles

As mentioned above, it is thought that the time kosode became common among the society of court nobles was around the time when Masako TOKUGAWA (Tofukumonin) was sent to the Imperial court. After that, it is thought that dress codes regarding kosode were decided, however, the exact month and year is not clearly known.

Basically, it was demarcated as 'kaidori,' a full length outer robe as winter wear, hitoe as spring and autumn wear or summer wear, and katabira as mid-summer wear.

Kaidori' is the same as so-called uchikake, and there were largely three types of kaidori: 'Kenpo Zome no Kaidori' (Kaidori of Kenpo dye), which is said that Kenpo YOSHIOKA who was also known as a swordsman of Kyoto invented (also called as kenpo for short), 'Moyo no kaidori' (patterned kaidori) which is patterned with embroidery and dye, and 'simple patterned kaidori.'
Among these three, 'Kenpo Zome no Kaidori' which has a black background was treated as comparable formal attire with keiko shozoku, and sometimes they wore hakama (trousers) over kaidori. Aigi' (garment worn over an under-garment) worn under kaidori was stipulated to be a 'dark color' (thick red close to purple) for the aged and those younger 28-years old and those who are 29-years old to those under 40 shall wear scarlet crepe, and those on and over 40-years old shall be wear white habutae, a thin, soft, durable Japanese silk. However, color of the kaidori slip on the aigi was not stipulated.

Hitoe' is very close to kimono today, however, there was no hemming and they wore it and it dragged.

There were two types of 'katabira': 'hosozome' (narrow dye) which was patterned with embroidery and dyes and 'jishiro' (white dyed) which is similar to yukata of today. Hosozome was used as formal attire when combined with hakama. Its textile was not silk, but hemp (Nara sarashi, Nara bleach was often used) and has a hem like today's kimono.

Among the society of court nobles, kosode was just 'secondary' clothing and thus the dress codes are more relaxed than that of the samurai society. The character of the design is basically taken from Kacho-Fugetsu (beauty of nature: flower, birds, wind and moon, common Japanese motifs for art) and uses yusoku-monyo as juxtaposition pattern, or the kosode is patterned with embroidery and dyes all over the kimono, and has a similar atmosphere with Kanbun kosode.

Although these kosodes were gradually diminished due to the reactionary and westernization during the Meiji period, a part of them revived during the early Showa period in complying with Empress Teimei's wishes. However, these kosode were completely abolished from the front stage of the imperial family with the demise of Empress Teimei. Today, only a few court ladies who served at the kashikodokoro (palace sanctuary) in the Imperial palace maintain this manner.

Kosode of Common Folks

In the meantime, kimono fashion of common people gradually took a direction to obscure part of the kimono such as linings and hems due to the spate of thrift orders by the Edo bakufu. The patterns used were unique kinds of things such as the deformation of personal effects or groceries, and sometimes erotic and grotesque motifs such as skull and sex scenes were used, because of the ban on the use of yusoku-kojitsu (ancient practices and usages) by the Edo bakufu. In addition, regional differences are large, and at the time of Kasei culture, at Edo, 'Edo tsuma' of which the patterns were located in the foot of kosode while in Kyoto and Osaka, 'Shimabara tsuma' which was main pattern were located in aizuma (from hem to the collar tip) were in style. After that, while 'Edo tsuma' became an origin of 'Tomesode' (formal dress patterned only below the waistline worn by a married woman), 'Shimabara tsuma' prevailed only in the Kyoto and Osaka areas and finally diminished. Also in the world of kimono fashion, Edo was already in a superior position around this time.

Although 'miyatsuguchi,' small opening in the side of some traditional Japanese clothing (located where the sleeve meets the bodice, below the armpit) at sides also came from the kosode of common folks, its origin is not clear as to whether it is for convenience of putting it on and taking it off, or some say it is for heat release and others say it is an invention of prostitutes.

Many garments like 'tomesode' and also 'miyatsuguchi,' archetype of today's kimono are rooted in the kimono of common people prevailing around this time. Dispatchers of fashion were almost always prostitutes, geisha and kabuki actors. However, it is thought that beneficiary of these new fashions were just the rich local townsmen in the long run.

Although it is thought that 'uchikake' was not for common people, some townsmen who has quasi-court noble or quasi-samurai class clad uchikake for rituals of the family.

Incidentally, although in costume dramas, kimono of the common people are stock examples with black collars, this fashion came from the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, thus it is strange that this fashion appears in the TV drama 'Mitokomon' where time is depicted as the Genroku era.

[Original Japanese]