Furisode is a type of Japanese kimono worn by girls in their minority. Such kimono is called furisode because the portion of the 'sode' (sleeves) that dangles down is quite long. In recent years, furisode is often worn by young unmarried women as a type of formal dress, since furisode are now seen as equally formal and appropriate as black or colored formal susomoyo (kimono with a pattern on the skirt) and homongi (a kind of semi-formal kimono for women).
Classification and special features
For unmarried women, the furisode is the most gorgeous type of formal dress that can be worn in festivals and in other formal scenes. The most striking feature of the furisode is that the dangling part of its 'sode' (sleeves) are quite long.
The length of a sleeve actually refers to the vertical height of the dangling part of the sleeve (tamoto), not the length of the horizontal portion into which one puts one's arm. Depending on the Japanese clothing manufacturer, furisode are classified into three groups according to the length of the dangling sleeve (tamoto): those the sleeves of which measures about 114 cm in height are called long; those measures about 100 cm are called middle-length, and those measures about 85 cm are called short furisode. The section of the sleeve closest to the body that is not sewn shut but instead left open is called the "furiyatsuguchi;" furisode also has furiyatsuguchi. In the early days of the Edo period, tomesode (formal black kimono) did not have furiyatsuguchi, leading to the theory that once kimono with open furiyatsuguchi-style sleeves appeared, it came to be called furisode; according to this theory, the practice of calling kimono with long dangling sleeves "furisode" must have started only after tomesode sleeves began to be made in the furiyatsuguchi style during the Edo period.
This sort of Japanese kimono, furisode with long sleeves, has also appears in the guise of the uchikake (bridal robe, worn over the main kimono) of the bridal costume. Because the wearing of furisode is more or less limited to young unmarried women, married women generally do not wear them. However, in recent years, it appears as though a small number of married women have started to wear furisode occasionally, as well as Japanese enka singers (who often do so).
Today, hardly anyone wears the short furisode, which has the shortest sleeves of the three types of furisode; instead, it is the middle-length furisode that has become the most popular type of formal wear for ceremonies and the like, and the middle-length furisode is not necessarily seen as a step down in formality from the long furisode (indeed, the mid-length furisode has earned recognition as an even older, more venerable style).
The period during which furisode were first produced
The basis for what became today's furisode was the children's kosode (short sleeved) kimono, with sleeves left open in the furiyatsuguchi style. As can be seen in the Chigo daishi zu (a late Kamakura work owned by the Kayuki Art Museum) and other such illustrations, children's kosode during Japan's medieval period was made with furi-no-yatsuguchi in the sleeves to allow body heat to dissipate. The shape of kosode for adults, on the other hand, had featured short tamoto (dangling sleeves) since ancient times.
But with the transition to the Edo period and the onset of the pax Tokugawa, the general public began to take an interest in personal grooming and fashion, leading to the appearance, above and beyond people's everyday clothes, of both formal and gorgeous dress.
In the beginning, both men and women wore furisode for their Japanese dress; the story is told of a young woman who modeled after and then wore the famous furisode made of purple silk crepe of the young man she loved--which is said to be the cause of the Great Meireki Fire (of 1657, also called the "Furisode Fire")--which seems to suggest that in terms of color, pattern and composition, there was very little difference between men's and women's furisode at that time.
It was not until the Edo period that kimono that is called furisode in the modern times first appeared. During the early Edo period, the length of the sleeves on women's formal kimono gradually became longer. The sleeve length was about 55 cm to 95 cm during the Genroku era (1688-1703), it was increased to about 95 cm to 122 cm during the remainder of the Edo period (up until 1867). And ever since the Meiji period, the furisode has well taken hold as a beautiful type of formal wear for unmarried women.
As the dangling sleeve becomes longer, the total surface area of the cloth increases, and thus it is all the more spectacular to see. But the longer the sleeves become, they are more likely to be an impediment to the wearer's movement or activities. Hence, kimono with long sleeves was not worn as everyday clothing.
Thereafter, the furisode began to be developed exclusively as a kind of clothing for women, leading to such steps as the creation of a rule that unmarried women passing barrier checkpoints were not allowed to pass unless they were wearing furisode (because a woman was suspected at the barrier checkpoint that she tried to disguise her age or social status, unless she were wearing furisode), thus expanding recognition that "as for unmarried women, they wear furisode" (incidentally, it is said that there were furisode rental shops near almost all the checkpoints).
Causes and reasons for why the furisode came to be
There are several different theories about what may have caused the length of furisode sleeves to be longer during the Edo period.
According to one theory, the onset of an era of peace and stability was accompanied by growing interest in cultural pursuits among the general populace, leading to the rise of a new custom of having one's daughters learn how to dance, and that kimono sleeves were lengthened during this time in order to show off one's motions more gracefully.
The transition from ordinary kimono to furisode
During the Taisho (1912-1926) and early Showa (1926-1945) periods, the fashion trend--centered around the cities and towns of the Kamigata region (around the old capital of Kyoto) like Senba of Osaka (the modern-day city of Osaka) and Kyoto--was towards young unmarried women having their ordinary kimono made into gorgeous furisode and wore, but this fashion, apparently, did not spread nationwide. One viewpoint holds that the reasons behind the rise of this regional trend are that the Kamigata region and Kyoto, the manufacturing center for Japanese-style clothing, are geographically very near, and that the people of the Kansai region is characterized by liking for flashy, showy things, which can be seen even today. During this period, there were quite a few cases of what is now called culture shock, when brides from the Kamigata region married into families living in the Kanto region and had to adjust to the plain, subdued Edo-style Japanese clothing favored by their new family.