Friday, January 13, 2012

The Age of Tranquility and Peace: Heian Japan #11: Sokutai and Noshi, the Tuxedo and Business Suit of Heian Japan

Welcome to my continuing series on Heian-era Japan. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, just click here for an overview of the Heian era.

I'm a bit behind this week. I apologize for the delay.


In my last Heian entry I discussed the beautiful but cumbersome garments worn by aristocratic females. What then of formal menswear?

For the most formal of occasions, men would wear the sokutai. The sokutai (a tunic over loose trousers) was worn over a kosode smaller (narrow-sleeved robes). So, it was layered like the formal wear of women, but it lacked the huge number of layers typically associated with women's wear. A key element of the sokutai was a long tail attached to a kosode. The tail's length varied with the relative status and rank of the man--something very critical to the rank-obsessed Heian aristocracy.

A kammuri, a stiffened gauze hat with a long tail, was the typical head gear. Accessories included a cypress fan, something associated with masculine authority during the Heian era, and a baton (typical ivory or wood).

A modern Japanese man in a sokutai and  kammuri during  a 2009 festival.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons/Photographer "Corpse Reviver"

If the sokutai was the rough equivalent of a tuxedo, the noshi was more your standard issue everyday business suit. The noshi was was also worn over kosode, but was unlined and worn with very wide trousers that provided better mobility or a hakama (a divided skirt). Though the kammuri might be worn with the noshi, the eboshi, a tall cone-shaped linen hat was more common.

In general, when one compares women's clothing to men's clothing are similar in that the aesthetics of both are based around the emphasizing of the clothing rather than any element of the body. Despite the rampant sexism of the period, there was no particular elevation of the unadorned male body as an aesthetic ideal above women. Male aristocrats, however, weren't burdened with clothing that made moving nearly a much of a chore. They, of course, had more freedom of movement in general, evenin formal wear, so it only makes sense that their clothing wouldn't be designed in such a way to effectively cripple their movement.


Helen Hanson said...

I've spent time in both Japan and Korea. The Koreans have a long memory of the many invasions by the Japanese. I was told that on one such invasion, the kimono, a female garment in Korea, was given to the Japanese men in order to shame them. I can't speak to the historical accuracy of that anecdote, but it is intriguing.

Take care,


J.A. Beard said...

Unless there were time machines involved that's very unlikely.

Besides, there's no great fashion mystery here. You can basically draw a line in Japanese fashion, ultimately, back to ancient Imperial Chinese influences, particularly the Sui and Tang dynasties (influences that were many centuries before any invasion of Korea).

Proto-kimonos were being worn by the Japanese centuries (and arguably 1000+ years, especially given that many Nara/Heian inner layers were basically just somewhat smaller versions of modern day kimonos) before any Japanese invasion of Korea.

I like Korea and the Korean people* (I lived there for several years), but they are not exactly great sources of historical accuracy when it comes to anything involving the Japanese (and vice-versa). Though the emperor admitted several years ago that the Japanese were likely descended from people on the Korean peninsula.

*I actually want to do several HF products set in the Joseon Dynasty.

Helen Hanson said...

I suspected the comments had more emotion than fact.

p.s. I still miss the cold radish soup they served at meals in Korea. Thought it was vile the first time I tried it. Do you know the name of it?

J.A. Beard said...

You're probably thinking of dongchimi.

Andre Jute said...

Taken with a long draught... The Daily Bev has put this article into pub talk.