Obi, a belt tied around the waist of woman’s Kimono to hold it in place is now necessary item when wearing Kimono. However, about 400 years ago, Obi was just a thin string as current waist cord. It is said that the width of Obi become a little wider in the beginning of Edo period (around 1600) and became as it is today in the middle of Edo period (around 1700). At the time, Kabuki, the traditional drama performed by male actors, was becoming popular among people. Because there are only male actors in Kabuki, they need to emphasize the feminacy by wearing thick and gorgeous Obi when they play a role of women.
- From Muromachi to early Edo period (around 1300-1600)
At the beginning, Obi was just like a thin waist cord of inner garment of Kimono. The outer garment called Kosode used to be tailored based on the length from one’s shoulder to the leg. The size of Kosode was much smaller than today’s one. At the time, Obi was made by waste pieces from cutting cloth and shaped as flat soft square called Hiraguke. However, from the Period of Momoyama through early Edo(around 1600), braided sash called Nagoya-Obi was also appeared and used among people.
- In the early middle of Edo period (around 1620-1650)
In Edo period, the outer garment called Kosode become just about the same size as today but the width of Obi itself was still narrower than the current one. The way of making a knot was easy. It was called Tsukomi-Knot and all you have to do is to tuck the end of Obi into the gap between the Obi and your body. However, in the mid of Edo period, Geisha started to use wider Obi. And after that a legendary Kabuki actor called Kichiya Kamimura known as one of the best actor of female role wore kimono with a wider Obi on the stage of Kabuki then wider Obi become gradually popular among people. Kichiya put lead on both ends of Obi and hang them down when making a knot. Everyone called the way of making knot as “Kichiya Knot” and it became hugely widespread through people.
- In the late middle of Edo period (around 1680-1750)
The widths of Obi become gradually wider and wider and by the late middle of Edo period, it became about 28cm. The material of the Obi was Shusu(saten), Rinzu(silk),mole, velvet, Donsu(silk damask), Shuchin(satin with raised figures) and Karaori (Chinese brocade) and there were patterns by Yuzen(dye),Shishu(emnolidery) and Mon(family crest) and so on.
Also, there were so many ways and kinds of making knots as Kichiya Knot, Mizuki Knot (named after another famous Kabuki actor called Tatsunosuke Mizuki ), Karuta Knot(named after Japanese card called Karta. The knot looks as if Karta cards are on one line), Hasami Knot (Tucking down both ends of Obi without tying), Hikake Knot (Hanging down the end of Obi without tucking down).
363.6cm in length and 27.27cm in width became standard of Obi from Kyoho era(1716) in Edo Period and the ways of making knots increased. Obi became the core of women Kimono dressing. Bunko Knot ( the knot looks as if old furnishing box called Bunko) was invented in Houreki era(1751) in Edo period and is popular way of making knot even now.
Also, Taiko Knot (making Drum knot), the most widespread way of tying Obi was invented in1813 when Taiko bridge (Drum bridge) at Kameido Tenjin Shrine was reconstructed. It is said that Geisha started the knot for celebrating the reconstruction.
Surprisingly, people tend to wear Obi as knot comes in front at the beginning. But around 1800, the knot placed in back called “Back Obi” became widespread. At the same time Obi-Dome (Obi clip) started to be used and the way of tying Obi( or making knot) counted more than 20.
The word “Obi” came from the word “Obu” which means “ to wear” in old Japanese. The transition of Obi is really deep and should be academically sorted out.
At the beginning of Edo period (around 1600), the place of tying obi left to women’s own choice. Some made the knots in front or back and some place the knot left to right. There were no actual rules. However as mentioned above, tying Obi in back is gradually popular and Obi in front was wearable by unmarried women.
- The latter phase of Edo (around 1750-1867)
Obi in back is wearable by married women and Obi in front is unmarried or widow women in the latter phase of Edo period. The place of knot standardized and unified only in back in Meiji period (1868-) and it has been a rule of wearing Obi. The decorativeness of Obi was dramatically improved as Obi developed. At the beginning, Obi was only like a subsequent tool like string or thin belt to hold Kimono. But it has developed to represent the beauty and politeness and became equivalent to Kimono itself.