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Honba Kihachijo ( 本場黄八丈 )

If one of your friends wears a yellow suit, you might well think that it is too flamboyant unless he or she is so glamorous an icon of fashion. However, if what they wear is yellow kimono, your friend must be attractive without doubt. So, what if the yellow kimono were even special one? Honba Kihachijo is such really special cloth of kimono. The “Ki” in “Kihachijo” means yellow, not energy; well, it is made by very energetic people, though.


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What is the yellow of Honba Kihachijo?

The homeland of Honba Kihachijo lies 300 km of Tokyo; the island is named “Hachijo-jima”. There are abundant of tropical plants, including palm trees and hibiscus in the island far from the main island of Japan, and you can enjoy many seasonal flowers in the colorful landscape. However, what they use to make the beautiful yellow fabric is not such a tropical plant; actually, it’s a kind of almost nameless weeds, which grow even in the main island of Japan. This is called “Kobuna-gusa”. They found this weed dye beautifully yellow, and cultivate this plant as one of their precious treasure.

The yellow from Kobuna-gusa, which the islander calls “Hachijo Kariyasu”, is said to last for 3 generations, and the more you wear and love the yellow, the yellower and more beautiful the kimono becomes. Of course, the strings to weave the fabric are also strong enough to last almost forever.

The history of Honba Kihachijo

Hachijo-jima was thought to be “the island where even a bird does not perches”, which means the nature of the island was so wild. However, the islanders were originally great at making cloth, for they had communicated well with the people who came from the main island. In 14th century, they began to offer their fabric to the tycoon in the main island. Because of the perfection of their fabric, even many biggest figures from the main island tried to control the manufactures.

In early 17 century, the Edo era in Japan, they began to offer their beautiful yellow fabric to the tycoon, the Tokugawa. This offer had lasted for more than 300 years, during which they are thought to have made almost 300,000 Kihachijo.

By the way, yellow was thought to be a purifying color in the Edo era. So, many doctors preferred the color to put himself in. On the other hand, the color was also the best clothes among low-class samurai or such women.

But I digress. Now, what made Honba Kihachijo famous? It was a play of Japanese ballad drama, “Joruri”. In the play named “Koimusume Mukashi Hachijo”, the yellow kimono of the island was used as the costume: the dawn of skyrocketing popularity of Honba Kihachijo. Actually, the term, “Kihachijo”, used to refer to general yellow-stripped or -checkered fabric, but by the popularity of the yellow, the term came to refer to only the fabric made in the island. Also, the name of the island, “Hachijo-jima”, is derived from this “Kihachijo”. Yes, this yellow fabric saved and established the whole island indeed.

Various Kihachijo, including not yellow ones

If you look for Honba Kihachijo in market, you rarely find the plain yellow fabric of Honba Kihachijo. This is because it is so difficult to dye not blocky with Kobuna-gusa that the fabric of Honba Kihachijo is mainly striped or checkered. These patterns are one of the reasons why many people love Honba Kihachijo: it’s modern and so fashionable.

Actually, there are Kihachijo, whose main color is not yellow in spite of the name: they are mainly brown or black. The ways of dying of these two fabrics are also different, and the black one is another special fabric for the method. In this case, the strings to weave the fabric were dyed by a plant, ” Castanopsis sieboldii” in the scientific name, and then by mud. Through dipping into mud, the tannin of the plant and the iron of mud are conbined to dye the strings black. This black fabric is called “Kurohachijo” (Kuro means black, as you guess), and it is all the more precious because it takes a long time to make one for the time-consuming ingredients and method. However, here is one thinkg to note. There is the other “Kurohachijo”, which is made in Itsuka-ichi, Tokyo. If you look for the former one, you should ask for “Kurohachijo” of “Kihachijo” (Confusing?).

By the way, the “Honba” in “Honba Kihachijo” means “authentic” or “bona fide”. Is it another Kihachijo? Yes, it is. It is the one made in Akita prefecture; this Kihachijo is dyed by rugosa roses, not by Kobuna-gusa. Of course, it does not mean this Akita Kihatchijo is a fake. Don’t get it wrong.

How to be fashionable in the yellow kimono

Perhaps, you may well think: Okay, fine. But yellow kimono? It’s too vivid! Maybe you are true. Yellow and checkered (or striped) kimono must be conspicuous and some of you may feel it embarrassing. However, Honba Kihachijo is too good to miss. How should we wear this historical and traditional masterpiece? The answer is “Obi”.

Obi is a Japanese belt or band to wrap and squeeze your waist on Kimono. Choosing right obi is totally necessary to be fashionable in Honba Kihachijo.

For example, if you choose brown or black one, your total figure will be less conspicuous and chic. With red or green one, the style will be much more eye-catching, so it must be perfect in speech or when you stand in front of big audience to receive their attention.

If you want to wear it in Western style, it may be possible to use the fabric to tailor your suit. Of course, the yellow-checkered suit may be perfect for very limited people, but how about making your vest with this fabric for instance? Imagine you have vivid yellow in your black or gray jacket. Now, you have to think about the tie and handkerchief to go with. There are so many things to perfect your style, but it is a part of amusement to be fashionable, isn’t it?


日英対訳 日本の歴史100

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