@ The kosode is referred to as the prototype of the present-day kimono. The term literally means ''small sleeve," and embraces a variety of kimono with close-fitting sleeves. The origin of kosode dates back to the mid-Heian period when this type of kimono was worn as everyday wear by commoners and as an under-garment by men and women of the court.

As the samurai class rose to power during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, clothing became simpler. Kosode, which had been worn as an undergarment by aristocrats, gradually began to be regarded as an overgarment, while the quality of the kosode worn by commoners was upgraded. After the political and cultural upheaval of the Ounin War (1467-77), these two garments became closer in design until they finally merged, estab1ishing a new category of kimono for all classes of people.

Kosode of the Muromachi and Momoyama Periods

In the Muromachi period, kosode consisted mainly of woven textiles. In the Momoyama period, kosode became very elaborate, employing such various techniques as tie-dyeing, embroidery, metallic leaf (surihaku) and free-hand painting. These were further combined resulting in such technique as tsujigahana dyeing and nuihaku (combination of embroidery and metallic leaf), which are now considered to epitomize Momoyama period textile design.

The outstanding features of Momoyama kosode, apart from the way it combines dyeing with other decorative techniques, are the use of motifs, composition, and the style of artistic expression. Whereas the Muromach kosode utilizes a single motif or only a small number of motifs, the Momoyama kosode features a sophisticated combination.

The rich assembly of floral, plant, animal and other figurative motifs reflects the aesthetic taste of the Momoyama period. Absent are the literary motifs that were to become popular in the Edo period. Also noteworthy is the restricted arrangement of motifs on the kosode surface. For example, on the katasuso kosode, only the shoulder and hem carry motifs, while the remainder of the surface is left free of decoration. In other kosode designs, the surface is segmented into bands or blocks (dan-gawari), or the right and left sides are divided in vertical contrast (katami-gawari).


Kosode of the Early Edo Period

A category of kosode of the early Edo period, known as Keicho kosode, is fashioned mainly from black, white, or red figured satin (rinzu), or from figured satin segmented in these three colors. These fabrics are decorated by using an under-pattern of metallic leaf (surihaku) and an over-pattern with embroidery and minute tie-dyeing (kanoko-shibori). Presumably, they were made in the late Keicho era (1596-1615) and during the Genna and Kan'ei eras (1615-44).

Characteristics of Keicho kosode are as follows:
I. Most fabric is figured satin (rinzu) instead of the nerinuki (plain-weave silk fabric using raw silk warp and degummed weft) of the Momoyama period.
2. The colors are dark and subdued in sharp contrast to the rich, bright colors used in the preceding period.
3. Intersecting straight and curved lines divide the surface to create a complex, abstract design, in contrast to well-balanced, orderly composition as seen in Momoyama period katasuso kosode and in dan-gawari and katami-gawari style kosode.
4. Three-dimensional decoration is achieved by means of combining an under-pattern of metallic leaf (surihaku) with an embroidered over-pattem. This is in contrast to Momoyama kosode, in which all or part ohhe surface was adorned in a two-dimensional way.

In the history of kosode design, the Keicho kosode represents the transition away from Momoyama-period composition to the new artistic expressiveness of the Edo period.

keicho kosode

Kosode of the Kambun Era

According to descriptions in old documents, the Keicho kosode was presumably for the high-ranking samurai, while a different type of kosode was made for merchants. Books of kosode designs began to be published in the Kambun era (1661-73), indicating that, by this time, people gradually were be.coming familiar with this type of kimono. Probably in or around the Meireki era (1655-58), when the merchant class was becoming economically powerful, kosode began to reflect its taste. The high-ranking samurai drew on the Momoyama-period kosode tradition, combining the traditional techniques of nuihaku and tujigahana dyeing to produce the refined Keicho kosode. On the other hand, the progressive merchant class, attracted to avant-garde fashion and the attire of courtesans, encouraged the development of a new kosode design similar in artistic appeal to the tujigahana kimono worn by the Momoyama-period warlords.

These two types of kosode design played distinctive roles in the early Edo period, influencing each other until finally, in or around the Kambun era, a new type called Kambun kosode emerged. This kosode serves as a strong indicator of the then-prevalent taste of the merchants.

Kanbun kosode

Today, the term "Kambun kosode" refers to a style of kosode characterized by a unique choice of motifs and dynamic arrangement of patterns which prevailed in or around the Kambun era, The characteristics of Kambun kosode are as follows:
I. A wide use of the teclmique known as kanoko-sibori, often in combination with embroidery and stitch-resist dyeing (nui-shibori).
2. Large and dynamic patterns, usually extending from the left back shoulder to the right-hand hem, or from the right-hand shoulder to the left-hand shoulder and right-hand hem.
3. The use of various motifs including plants, animals, even objects and Chinese and Japanese characters.
4. The use of literary and other motifs with symbolic and witty allusions reflecting an increasingly powerful merchant class preference for a simple yet impressive artistic expression.

Kosode of the Samurai Class

During its final stage of development in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, yu-zen dyeing achieved wide acceptance. Along with this, the possibility for designs of greater artistic expressiveness grew remarkably. New styles developed in rapid succession. Particularly in the case of kosode worn by the merchant class, the development of yu-zen dyeing prompted a dramatic shift toward the depiction of pictorial motifs. Designs inspired by paintings of famous sights and Korin-style motifs gained in populanly.

In contrast, because women of the nobility and those of the samurai class were expected to dress conservatively, new techniques were slow to be introduced into these kosode, and, consequently, they tended to be traditional in nature.

Katabira with Korin-style by yuzen dyeing

From the late 18th century toward the early 19th century, kosode worn by the merchant class underwent drastic changes, while those worn by the samurai class changed little. However, due to the influence of the mercham class kosode, two important styles emerged.

These design styles are evident in the uchikake (long overgarment) worn by women of the samurai class as well as kosode and katabira (unlined summer kimono), all worn on ceremonial occasions. ln one style, seasonal flowers of bouquets, flower carriages, and flower-bearing rafts are scattered over the kosode surface, while the traditional yu-soku designs, such as winding streams, key frets, and interlinking circles are used to fill the spaces between. This design style, mainly used for uchikake and katabira, is too conventionally stylized to appear as a significant departure. Nevertheless, it creates a rich, luxurious atmosphere with the use of embroidery and surihitta (stencil-dyeing technique which creates pattems resembling kanoko-shibori tie-dyeing).

The other style of design, called goshodoki, was primarily used for katabira and kosode (including long-sleeved furisode). It was used to render stylized, imaginary landscapes often incorporating symbolic motifs taken from classical literature or Noh drama.

Since goshodoki is essentially a kind of landscape design, the pictorial element is vital. In the late Edo period, however, visual perspective began to be employed in landscape scenes, along with the introduction of realistic expression. This trend was in response to the growing popularity of pictorial designs and the realistic expression in the kosode of the merchant class.

Decorative Hems and Center Front Panel

Decorative Hems and Center Front Panel

In and after the late 18th century, clear differences in design and decorative methods appeared between the kosode worn by rich merchants and those worn by middle- and lower-class merchants. Kosode for the women of rich merchant families often used figured silk (rinzu). The elaborate and sophisticated designs were rendered.solely by tie-dyeing, embroidery or free-hand painting, or through a combination of techniques. Kosode worn by women of the merchant middle-class frequently utilized a paste-resist technique to create neat white reserve patterns (shiroage).

At the same time, a design technique employing only embroidery (sunui) was also often utilized. There even appeared a linear design based on short-stitch embroidery, which creates the illusion that the fabric had been dyed with white lines in reserve, The textiles of this period, as evidenced in the techniques of shiroage and sunui share the characteristics of appearing simple, delicate, and even fragile.


The kosode designed for late 18th century middle-class merchant women generally follow the above trend, although they are often completely adorned with allover small-scale patterns and seattered motifs which, taken as a whole, constituted a single landscape design.

From the Horeki era (1751-64), kosode with pattems concentrated at the hem and center front panel increased so greatly that they eventually became the kosode design most favored by the 19th century merchant class. In " Toseimoyo Hinagata Chitosegusa," a book of kosode designs published in the 4th year of Horeki (1754), designs called Shimabara-tsuma and Edo-tsuma appear for the first time. Another book, "Hinagata Sodenoyama," published in the 7th year of Horeki (1757), contains a description of tsumashita. The term Edo-tsuma means the diagonal placement of patterns from the hem toward the center front panel reaching up to the lower neckband. The pattern used in Shimabara-tsuma extends up further, covering the upper front of the garment.

In the design known as tsumashita, patterns are confined to the hem and the center front panel. Although the position of the patterns differs from one arrangement to another, ali these designs consist of small unit patterns, which, when viewed as a whole, constitute one continuous design. In and after the Kansei era (1789-1801) in the late Edo period, a kosode design called "ura-moyo" emerged, with pattems that are strictly limited to the sleeve opening and hem of lined or wadded kimono (fuki) and the reverse side of the hem and the center fromt panel.

The art most typically associated with the culture of the Edo period flourished in the Bunka and Bunsei eras (1804-30), and was supported not only by the upper level merchant class, but also by its middle and lower levels. The aesthetic term iki (rakishly fashionable) emerged during this period, signaling a shift in artistic values. Designs appeared which placed importance on extremely sophisticated and teclmically advanced patterns confined to certain parts (e.g. the center front panel or the reverse side) of the kosode. This period also witnessed the development of kosode whose outsides were plain but whose insides were decorated.

Such kosode designs were popular with the merchant class from the late Edo period even until after the Meiji Restoration. In modern times, with several minor modifications, this kosode tradition continues to serve as the basis for contemporary kimono design.


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