It would take a folio volume elaborately illustrated to do justice to all the peculiarities of all the varieties of Japanese costume.
Speaking generally, it may be said that the men are dressed as follows. First comes a loin-cloth (shita-obi) of bleached muslin. Next to this a shirt (juban) of silk or cotton, to which is added in winter an under-jacket (dōgi) of like material. Outside comes the gown (kimono), or in winter two wadded gowns (shitagi and uwagi), kept in place by a narrow sash (obi). On occasions of ceremony, there is worn furthermore a sort of broad pair of trousers, or perhaps we should rather say a divided skirt, called hakama, and a stiff coat called haori. The hakama and haori are invariably of silk, and the haori is adorned with the wearer's crest in three places, sometimes in five. The head is mostly bare, but is sometimes covered by a very large straw hat, while on the feet is a kind of sock, named tabi, reaching only to the ankle, and having a separate compartment for the big toe. Of straw sandals there are two kinds, the movable zōri used for light work, and the waraji which are bound tightly round the feet with straw string and used for hard walking only. People of means wear only the tabi indoors, and a pair of wooden clogs, called geta, out-of-doors. The native costume of a Japanese gentleman is completed by a fan, a parasol, and in his belt a pipe and tobacco-pouch. Merchants also wear at their belt what is called a yatate a kind of portable ink-stand with a pen inside. A cheap variety of the kimono, or gown, is the yukata, -a cotton dressing-gown, originally meant for going to the bath in, but now often worn indoors of an evening as a sort of deshabille.
Take it altogether, the Japanese gentleman's attire, and that of the ladies as well, is a highly elegant and sanitary one. The only disadvantage is that the flopping of the kimono hinders a free gait. Formerly the Japanese gentleman wore two swords, and his back hair was drawn forward in a queue over the carefully shaven middle of the skull; but both these fashions are obsolete. The wearing of swords in public was interdicted by law in 1876, and the whole gentry submitted without a blow.
Besides the loin-cloth, which is universal, the men of the lower classes, such as coolies and navvies, wear a sort of darkcoloured pinafore (hara-gake) over the bust, crossed with bands behind the back. They cover their legs with tight-fitting drawers (momo-hiki) and a sort of gaiters (kyahan). Their coat, called shirushi-banten, is marked on the back with a Chinese character or other sign to show by whom they are employed. But jinrikisha-men wear the happi, which is not thus marked,-that is, when they wear anything; for in the country districts and in the hot weather, the loin-cloth is often the sole garment of the common people, while the children disport themselves in a state of nature. It is not unusual to see a kerchief (hachi-maki) tied over the brow, to prevent the perspiration from running into the eyes. Travellers of the middle and lower classes are often to be distinguished by their kimono being lifted up and shoved into the sash behind, by a kind of silk drawers called patchi, by a sort of mitten or hand-protector called tekkō, and by a loose overcoat (kappa). The peasants wear a straw overcoat (mino) in rainy or snowy weather.
The Japanese costume for women is less different from that of the men than is the case with us. In many districts the peasant women wear trousers and rain-coats, like their husbands. This, coupled with the absence of beard in the men, often makes it difficult for a new-comer to distinguish the sexes. In the towns, the various elements of female dress are as follows. Beneath all, come two little aprons round the loins (koshi-maki and suso-yoke), then the shirt, and then the kimono or kimonos kept in place by a thin belt (shita-jime). Over this is bound the large sash (obi), which is the chief article of feminine adornment. In order to hold it up, a sort of panier or "improver" (obi-age) is placed underneath, while a handsome string (obi-dome) keeps it in position above. Japanese women bestow lavish care on the dressing of their hair. Their combs and hair-pins of tortoise-shell, coral, and other costly materials often represent many months of their husbands' salaries. Fortunately all these things, and even dresses themselves, can be handed down from mother to daughter, as jewels and lace may be in European lands, Japanese ladies' fashions not changing quickly.
A Japanese lady's dress will often represent a value of 200 yen, without counting the ornaments for her hair, worth perhaps as much again. A woman of the smaller shop-keeping class may have on her, when she goes out holiday-making, some 40 or 50 yen's worth. A gentleman will rarely spend on his clothes as much as he lets his wife spend on hers. Perhaps he may not have on more than 60 yen's worth. Thence, through a gradual decline in price, we come to the coolie's poor trappings, which may represent as little as 5 yen, or even 2 yen, as he stands.
Children's dress is more or less a repetition in miniature of that of their elders. Long swaddling-clothes are not in use. Young children, have, however, a bib. They wear a little cap on their heads, and at their side hangs a charm-bag (kinchaku), made out of a bit of some bright-coloured damask, containing a charm (mamori-fuda) which is supposed to protect them from being run over, washed away, etc. There is also generally fastened somewhere about their little person a metal ticket (maigo-fuda), having on one side a picture of the sign of the zodiac proper to the year of their birth, and on the other their name and address, as a precaution against their getting lost. Japanese girls do not, like ours, remain in a sort of chrysalis state till seventeen or eighteen years of age, and then "come out" in gorgeous attire. The tiniest tots are the most brilliantly dressed. Thenceforward there is a gradual decline the whole way down to old age, which final stage is marked by the severest simplicity. Many old ladies even cut their hair short. In any case, they never exhibit the slightest coquetterie de vieillesse.
Those having any acquaintance with Japan, either personal or by hearsay, will understand that, when, we say that the Japanese wear such and such things (in the present tense), we speak of the native costume, which is still in fairly common use, though unfortunately no longer in universal use. The undignified billycocks and pantaloons of the West are slowly but surely supplanting the picturesque, aristocratic-looking native garb,-a change for which the Government is mainly responsible, as it obliges almost all officials to wear European dress when on duty, and of course the inferior classes ape their betters. Nor have the women, though naturally more conservative, been altogether able to resist the radicalism of their time and country. In the year 1886, some evil counsellor induced the Court to order gowns from Paris-we beg pardon, from Berlin-likewise corsets, and those European shoes in which a Japanese lady finds it so hard to walk without looking as if she had taken just a little drop too much. Need it be said that the Court speedily found imitators? Indeed, as a spur to the recalcitrant, a sort of notification was issued, "recommending" the adoption of European costume by the ladies of Japan. In vain the local European press cried out against the barbarism, in vain every foreigner of taste endeavoured privately to persuade his Japanese friends not to let their wives make guys of themselves, in vain Mrs. Cleveland and the ladies of America wrote publicly to point out the dangers with which tight lacing, and European fashions generally, threaten the health of those who adopt them. The die was cast when, on the 1st November, 1886, the Empress and her ladies appeared in their new German dresses at a public entertainment. The Empress herself would doubtless look charming in any garb. Would one could say as much for all those with her and for those that followed after! The very highest society of Tōkyō contained, it is true, from the beginning, a few-a very few-women of whose dress Pierre Loti could say without flattery, "toilette en somme qui serait de mise à Paris et qui est vraiment bien portée." But the majority! No caricature could do justice to the bad figures, the ill-fitting garments, the screeching colours, that ran riot between 1886 and 1889. Since then there has been a wave of reaction, in consequence of which most ladies have happily returned to the national costume. How charming it is to see a bevy of them thus dressed, -dressed, mind you, not merely having clothes on,-such a symphony of greys and browns and other delicate hues of silk and brocade, the faultless costume being matched by the coy, and at the same time perfectly natural and simple, manners and musical voices of the wearers!