“you are clothed with splendor and majesty.” Psalm 104:1b
We hadn’t been in Japan long when I summoned up my courage and ventured forth to find a suitable birthday present for my wife. Shopping is not one of my favorite activities, but I was rather pleased with my eventual purchase: a stylish yukata. A yukata is an informal (and inexpensive) kimono, consisting of a single layer of cloth that is usually made from cotton. It is particularly popular among young women on festive occasions during the warmer months of the year. Being new to Japan, I thought a yukata would make an excellent gift for my wife, but we were both surprised when she opened her present. The item was advertised as a yukata, but closer inspection revealed that it was just a bolt of cloth.
A kimono (着物), which means literally a “thing to wear,” is a traditional Japanese wrap around, T-shaped garment with large, square sleeves. Kimonos have disappeared from everyday life in modern Japan, but they are still commonly worn at weddings, funerals, graduations and other formal occasions. A broad sash, called an “obi,” holds the kimono together at the waist and it is further accessorized by special socks called “tabi” that are worn with “zori” sandals. Kimonos were originally introduced from China into Japan many centuries ago and since then have undergone various transformations to the present form. The formal versions are almost always made from silk and the more expensive kimonos may sell for more than US $50,000. While the usage of this traditional Japanese garment steadily declines, the expensive, colorful cloth of older kimonos is often repurposed for other fashion designs.
As I belatedly discovered at my wife’s birthday, kimonos are usually sold as a single bolt of cloth which is shaped, without cutting, and stitched together by an experienced seamstress to a desired size. In the past, when the garment became dirty, the stitches were removed to clean the kimono and then it would be sewn back together to its original shape or to another size. Patterns and styles of kimonos differ according to the age, gender and marital status of the wearer or the season of the year. Women’s kimonos come in a variety of styles, colors and decorations, whereas men’s kimonos are generally much more subdued, using darker colors with minimal patterns. Those who are inexperienced in wearing a formal kimono may pay a professional to help them correctly put the entire kimono ensemble in place. The left side of the kimono is always wrapped over the right side, except in the case of a funeral, where the deceased’s garment is wrapped right over left.
Appropriate clothing that reflects one’s particular status or a specific occasion is a common topic in the Scriptures. For example, the ornate clothing of royalty or the priesthood is sometimes described in great detail, but the same is true for the garments of the contrite or those in mourning who choose to wear sackcloth as an expression of their grief. The subject of clothing is also frequently used in a figurative sense to describe the majesty of God (Psalm 104:1b) or the spiritually impoverished state of man who is depicted as wearing “filthy rags” before a holy God. (Isaiah 64:6) Sometimes a double and deeper meaning is intended, such as in the case where God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins following their disobedience (Genesis 3:21). This same God mercifully clothes us with His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) through the death of His Son. Revelation 3:19 testifies that the people of God will one day be clothed in white but while we linger here on earth, we are exhorted to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12b) This godly fashion will never go out of style.