Obi (sash)

Back of a woman wearing a kimono with the obi sash tied in the tateya musubi style

Obi (?, おび) is a sash for traditional Japanese dress, keikogi (uniforms for Japanese martial arts), and part of kimono outfits.

The obi for men's kimono is rather narrow, 10 centimetres (3.9 in) wide at most, but a woman's formal obi can be 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and more than 4 metres (13 ft) long. Nowadays, a woman's wide and decorative obi does not keep the kimono closed; this is done by different undersashes and ribbons worn underneath the obi. The obi itself often requires the use of stiffeners and ribbons for definition of shape and decoration.

There are many types of obi, most for women: wide obi made of brocade and narrower, simpler obi for everyday wear. The fanciest and most colourful obi are for young unmarried women.[1][2] The contemporary women's obi is a very conspicuous accessory, sometimes even more so than the kimono robe itself. A fine formal obi might cost more than the rest of the entire outfit.

Obi are categorised by their design, formality, material, and use. Informal obi are narrower and shorter.


A Japanese woman tying the obi for a geisha in the 1890s.

In its early days, an obi was a cord or a ribbon-like sash, approximately 8 centimetres (3.1 in) in width. Men's and women's obi were similar. At the beginning of the 17th century, both women and men wore a ribbon obi. By the 1680s, the width of women's obi had already doubled from its original size. In the 1730s women's obi were about 25 centimetres (9.8 in) wide, and at the turn of the 19th century were as wide as 30 centimetres (12 in). At that time, separate ribbons and cords were already necessary to hold the obi in place. The men's obi was at its widest in the 1730s, at about 16 centimetres (6.3 in).[3]

Before the Edo period, which began in 1600, women's kosode robes were fastened with a narrow sash at the hips.[4] The mode of attaching the sleeve widely to the torso part of the garment would have prevented the use of wider obi. When the sleeves of kosode began to grow in width (i.e. in length) at the beginning of the Edo period, the obi widened as well. There were two reasons for this: firstly, to maintain the aesthetic balance of the outfit, the longer sleeves needed a wider sash to accompany them; secondly, unlike today (where they are customary only for unmarried women) married ladies also wore long-sleeved kimono in the 1770s. The use of long sleeves without leaving the underarm open would have hindered movements greatly. These underarm openings in turn made room for even wider obi.[3]

Originally, all obi were tied in the front. Later, fashion began to affect the position of the knot, and obi could be tied to the side or to the back. As obi grew wider the knots grew bigger, and it became cumbersome to tie the obi in the front. In the end of the 17th century obi were mostly tied in the back. However, the custom did not become firmly established before the beginning of the 20th century.[3]

At the end of the 18th century it was fashionable for a woman's kosode to have overly long hems that were allowed to trail behind when in house. For moving outside, the excess cloth was tied up beneath the obi with a wide cloth ribbon called shigoki obi. Contemporary kimono are made similarly over-long, but the hems are not allowed to trail; the excess cloth is tied up to hips, forming a fold called ohashori. Shigoki obi are still used, but only in decorative purposes.[3]

The most formal of obi are about to become obsolete. The heavy and long maru obi is nowadays used only by maiko and brides as a part of their wedding outfit. The lighter fukuro obi has taken the place of maru obi. The originally everyday Nagoya obi is the most common obi used today, and the fancier ones may even be accepted as a part of a semi-ceremonial outfit. The use of musubi, or decorative knots, has also narrowed so that women tie their obi almost solely in the simple taiko musubi, "drum knot".[5] Tsuke obi with ready-made knots are also gaining in popularity.

Tatsumura Textile located in Nishijin in Kyoto is a centre of manufacturing today. Founded by Heizo Tatsumura I in the 19th century, it is renowned for making some of the most luxurious obi.[6] Amongst his students studying design was the later painter Inshō Dōmoto. The technique Nishijin-ori is intricately woven and can have a three dimensional effect and can cost up to 1 Million Yen.[7][8][9]

The "Kimono Institute" was founded by Kazuko Hattori in the 20th century and teaches how to tie an obi and wear it properly.[10][11][12][13]

Women's obi

Women's obi in scale:
1. tsuke/tsukuri/kantan obi
2. hanhaba obi
3. Nagoya obi
4. Fukuro obi
5. Maru obi

The wide women's obi is folded in two when worn, to a width of about 15 centimetres (5.9 in) to 20 centimetres (7.9 in). It is considered elegant to tie the obi so that the folded width is in harmony with the wearer's body dimensions. Usually this means about a tenth of her height. The full width of the obi is present only in the decorative knot, musubi.

A woman's obi is worn in a fancy musubi knot. There are ten ways to tie an obi, and different knots are suited to different occasions and different kimono.

There are many different types of women's obi, and the usage of them is regulated by many unwritten rules not unlike those that concern the kimono itself. Certain types of obi are used with certain types of kimono; the obi of married and unmarried women are tied in different ways. Often the obi adjusts the formality and fanciness of the whole kimono outfit: the same kimono can be worn in very different situations depending on what kind of obi is worn with it.[14]

Women's obi types

The Nagoya obi, the most popular type for kimono throughout Japan
Tsuke obi is much shorter than the other types of obi.
The separate bow part of a tsuke obi is attached using a wire hook.
Girl wearing a yukata. A striking effect is obtained by folding the reversible obi to reveal the contrasting underside.

Accessories for women's obi

The structure of the common taiko musubi (drum bow). Obijime is shown in mid-shade grey, obiage in dark grey. Obimakura is hidden by the obiage.

Men's obi

A reversible kaku obi,
about 6 centimetres (2.4 in) wide
Kaku obi

Formal obis worn by men are much narrower than those of women (the width is about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) at its most). The men's obi is worn in much simpler fashion than women's: it is wrapped around the waist, below the stomach and tied with a simple knot in the back.

Men's obi types


A netsuke is an ornament suspended from the obi worn by men.

Children's obi

A little girl wearing kimono. A simple soft obi is tied around the waist.

Children are dressed in kimono especially for the Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three) celebration, when girls aged three and seven and boys aged five are celebrated. Children's kimono outfits resemble those of adults and their parts are basically miniature versions from adult's pieces.[28] The youngest children wear soft, scarf-like obi.

Children's obi types

Obi in martial arts

Obi for budō. The colours shown range from yellow to brown, corresponding to judo kyū (levels) from 9th to 1st.
Main article: Obi in martial arts

Many Japanese martial arts feature an obi as part of their exercise outfit. These obi are often made of thick cotton and are about 5 centimetres (2.0 in) wide. The martial arts obi are most often worn in the koma-musubi knot; in practice where hakama is worn, the obi is tied in other ways.

In many martial arts the colour of the obi signifies the wearer's skill level. Usually the colours start from the beginner's white and end in the advanced black, or masters' red and white. When the exercise outfit includes a hakama, the colour of the obi has no significance.

Knots (musubi)

The knot of the obi is called musubi (結び, むすび, literally "knot"). These days, a woman's knot often does not keep the obi in place as much as it functions as a large decorative piece in the back. The actual knot is usually supported by a number of accessories: pads, scarves and cords. While putting on the obi, especially when without assistance, there is a need for several additional temporary ribbons.

There are hundreds of decorative knots[2][21] and they often represent flowers or birds. As everything else in a kimono outfit, the knots are regulated by a number of unwritten propriety rules. Generally the more complex and showy knots are for young unmarried women in festive situations, the more subdued for married or mature women or for use in ceremonial situations.

In earlier days, the knots were believed to banish malicious spirits.[2] Many knots have a name with an auspicious double meaning.[2]

Types of knots

Chōchō musubi
Fukurasuzume musubi

See also



  1. Fält et al., p. 452.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Yoshino Antiques. "Kimono". Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Dalby, pp. 47–55
  4. Fält et al., p. 450.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Dalby, pp. 208–212
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 "Types of Obi". Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Japanese Obi Types". Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Toma-san. 帯の種類について (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-03-08.
  17. 出張着付・半巾帯の販売・着付講習 <京都 宇ゐ> (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 "More about obi". Kimono Flea Market Ichiroya. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  19. 1 2 3 Toma-san. 浴衣の帯結びの色々 (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Glossary". Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 Kimono Place. "Glossary". Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  22. "What's HAKATA-ORI?". 21st Century HAKATA-ORI Japan Brand. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
  23. Toma-san. 作り帯のつけ方 (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  24. 1 2 David, Vee (2013). The Kanji Handbook. Tuttle Publishing. p. 1999. ISBN 978-1-4629-1063-2.
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Sailor Mo's Cosplay - Kimono Accessories". Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  26. "兵児帯". 百科事典マイペディア / Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  27. "角帯". 百科事典マイペディア / Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  28. "Children's Kimono". Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  29. 1 2 3 Toma-san. 七五三の着付け、女の子七歳編 (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  30. nickn. Sortie. "Ayame Obi musubi". Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  31. nickn. Sortie. "Bara Obi musubi". Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  32. Dalby, pp. 337–348
  33. Yamanaka, pp. 66–70
  34. 1 2 Yamanaka, pp. 7-12, 29-30
  35. nickn. Sortie. "Washikusa Obi musubi". Retrieved 2009-03-06.


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