A glimpse of this elegant Japanese attire
Do you know what is a Junihitoe? A kimono is a common sight in Japan but you rarely get a chance to see a “twelve-layered robe.” This traditional attire first appeared in the Heian period (794-1185) and now is only wore by a few for ceremonial occasions. The arrangement and colour of each layer is important and sometimes, these can weigh up to 20 kgs! Today, it is worn only for the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony and Royal weddings.
If you understand the characters of 十二単, then juni is twelve and hitoe means unlined or single-layer robe. So basically the junihitoe consists of twelve single-layered unlined robes worn one over the other. Each layer is a different color and as the layers overlap you can see only the borders of these rich, exquisite textiles.
Although each layer only shows only a little bit, each layer has seasonal elements, including the colors of different seasons, flowers, animals and so on. Different patterns are worn for different occasions. It is said that in the past some nobles wore over 20 layers which made it impossible for them to walk.
Transformation of the Junihitoe
The video at the top of this article is that of the modern junihitoe. The original style is actually closer to China’s Sui and T’ang Dynasties official attire. Let’s take a look at the evolution of this amazing outfit.
Asuka Period (538 – 710)
Nara Period (introduction to Chinese T’ang dynasty)
Early Heian Period
Mid Heian Period (formation of the unique Japanese junihitoe)
Heian Period (Insei system, an Emperor abdicated but retained power and influence; a period of luxury)
Early Edo Period (evolved into a dress for aristocrats)
Late Edo Period (hairstyle was changed to match that of the masses)
Present Day (worn for ceremonial occasions by nobility)
It is almost impossible to see this lavish garment in this day and age. The next time you would see it is probably when a new Emperor ascends the throne. Even though this attire has lost its charm and usefulness in everyday life, we hope it is preserved and valued as an important aspect of Japanese history.