Uchiki (also known as "uchigi") is a kind of kimono that is worn by women as part of Heian-period costumes, such as the twelve-layered ceremonial kimono and five-layer robe, although it may also be worn by itself. Its design is exactly the same as single robe, beaten scarlet silk robe, and patterned woven and decorated silk outer robe. The only difference is in its adjustment and the order in which it is put on.
In the Heian period, uchiki were worn so that the edges showed between each layer (a style known as omeri) but from the Meiji period, another cloth called a nakabe was inserted between the inner and outer layers, to make it appear as if the uchiki are worn in layers.
Theories include that the name comes from 'uchigawa no kimono,' which means a kimono to be worn under the karaginu (the outermost layer), or from 'uchikakeru kimono,' which means a kimono to be worn over another kimono.
As Japanese culture developed, the design of kimono changed greatly, with the sleeves becoming longer and uchiki came to serve an important role. The role of uchiki was to accentuate costumes with layers of colors, and wide variations were created according to the seasons or the occasion.
Meanwhile, kouchigi (literally "small uchigi") were created for occasions when juni-hitoe were too formal, but everyday clothes might be impolite. As the name implies, these were short uchiki and like karaginu and uwagi, they were usually made of expensive fabric but were worn without a mo (a kind of stylized apron). They were garments that only high-ranking women could wear. The practice of wearing nakabe as described above started with kouchigi.
Uchiki fashions also changed over time. In the 11th century, during the heyday of the Fujiwara clan, uchiki was made of twill with graduated colors. During the cloistered government period in the 12th century, embroidered uchiki decorated with gold and silver foil were fashionable. The decorations had been gradually escalated, and even jade, crystal, etc. were sewn on uchiki. During the heyday of the Taira clan at the end of the Heian period, the use of brocade meant that uchiki were too heavy to wear in many layers and as a result, layers became less important.
From the Kamakura period to the Edo period
However, uchiki, which have large sleeves and widely opened cuffs, became outdated with the collapse of the court noble society and the revolts of vassals against their lords following the outbreak of the Onin War. Women of samurai families no longer wore uchiki while court noble ladies wore kosode and hakama as formal dress.
By the Edo period, post Onin War customs had become fixed, and even in the court noble society, uchiki was worn only at a large event or by high-ranking court ladies.
Meiji period and later
With the restoration of Imperial rule, it was established that uchiki should be worn on visiting the Imperial Palace. The basic regulation was 'to wear white kosode and vermilion kiri-bakama (short ankle-length hakama) and hitoe under regulation uchiki, which is to be rolled to the waist and tucked into the obi when going out'. This style is called keiko-shozoku.
It was full dress for ladies of Meiji period, and it is told that many ladies went to the Rokumeikan (a building used mainly for housing foreign guests) wearing this outfit. However, the Meiji government's policy of 'further Westernization of clothing' meant that the costume was gradually worn only at special occasions, such as an audience with the Empress.
In the post-World War II period, although female members of the royal family wear the costume when they visit the Ise-jingu Shrine as a special event, there are very few opportunities to see it in general.
The costume of female Shinto priests specified by Jinja-Honcho (The Association of Shinto Shrines) is based on the 'keiko-shozoku.'
Uchiki and kouchigi
As described above, kouchigi was created as semi-formal outerwear. Wearing of uchiki and kouchigi temporarily declined with the simplification of dress after the Kamakura period, but they were revived as clothing for the royal family during the Meiji period. However, regulations of the time stated that kouchigi is longer than uchiki. This regulation is still used up to the present.