Chūya Obi - Kitsuke of Yesteryear
This Meiji period photograph is interesting in a number of different ways - the various hairstyles, (which Okinawa Soba and his readers discuss), the more relaxed kitsuke, the black covers on the collars and the stripes - however, this article is going to discuss the type of obi that at least three of the ladies are wearing: chūya obi.
For those who don't collect vintage items, chūya obi (also romanized as chuuya) may not sound familiar. Chūya essentially means day/night obi and is an obi that:
- has one patterned fabric on the front, commonly a brocade of sorts
- a different fabric on the back that can be either be:
- different brocade to the front
- a flat silk with a different pattern to the front
- plain shusu silk, often in black, but can be other solid colours
- is lined, but is often softer than modern obi
History of chūya obi
There is unfortunately very little written in English about chūya obi, so the history and origins seem to be mostly speculated upon. With that said, according to Kidorakujapan.com, the first known use of chūya obi was from Edo period, around 1680 - 1690 and was originally a reversible obi of black and white - which gave it's name chū being day and ya being night.
In Liza Dalby's book, Kimono - A Fashioning Culture (pg. 342), Dalby theorised that this style may have originated among geisha (who often influenced kimono fashion):
"[...] I suspect that this style may have originated among geisha (who influenced so many kimono fashions) because, upon rising around noon, they could well have worn such a thing until they changed into elaborate brocades for their evening's work of entertaining. I have never read anything that suggests this origin, but the designs on many of these old chūya obis are often quite chic -- just the sort of thing one readily imagines a geisha wearing."
Chūya obi are also known as kujira obi (鯨帯), with kujira meaning whale, alluding to the black and white of a while's body. Additionally, The Book of Kimono explains that the chūya obi falls under the hara-awase obi (腹合わせ帯) category, with hara-awase being a lined obi created by sewing together two pieces of cloth over a stiff lining and Ruth Shaver in Kabuki Costumes lists katakawa (katagawa) (片側帯) as an alternative name.
One is left to wonder if the popularity of chūya obi comes from a need to be resourceful and thrifty. In an era where items were far less mass produced and disposable than what they are today, one had to be thoughtful to ensure the greatest amount of use out of any item. What better way to re-purpose an older obi with wear and kimono fabric to inject new life into it? While this is not the case for all chūya, there are certainly existing pieces that clearly look to be a maru obi / kimono fabric recycle.
In most cases, it appears that the chūya obi was for informal dressing, however there do exist chūya that are clearly of formal nature with the patterns graduating from tiny and subdued during Meiji era to the loud and brash styles of Taisho and early Showa.
While it's not certain exactly when chūya obi fell out of fashion, the decline may have started around when the Nagoya obi was invented (especially with the number of chūya to Nagoya converts that exist), and well and truly out of production with WWII. Post WWII, kitsuke became extremely regimented, structured, and used mostly only for formal situations, which would have seen no suitable occasion for chūya obi to be worn. This is especially notable in The Book of Kimono (first published in 1982), where Norio Yamanaka states that it "might be worn when going to the theater".
Since mid 2000s, however, there has been a dramatic increase with kimono being viewed as a fashion again, not just within Japan, but on an international level, which has seen a revival of chūya style obi. While these come mostly in hanhaba width, full width ones exist, along with antique chūya becoming very popular to both collect and wear.
Hikinuki obi and its relation to chūya
A hikinuki obi (引き抜き帯) has patterns specifically printed or woven upside down near the tare end of the obi (the end used to make the otaiko portion) and needs to be tied in a way that the upside down design ends up the "right side up". Hikinuki obi can be an all-over patterned obi, but with the pattern rotating in direction, or a solid base coloured obi with the pattern in specific places. Hikinuki obi are very commonly also chūya obi, hence the close relation. So close the relation is that most Nagoya obi in hikinuki style are more likely than not recycled from being a chūya obi.
How to wear chūya or a chūya hikinuki obi
Generally, chūya and chūya hikinuki obi are informal obi with a softer lining than you'd find in a fukuro which may make it difficult (but not impossible) to create a musubi that requires stiff, sharp lines. Otaiko musubi and tsunodashi musubi is achievable with no difficulty, and the softer lines produce an overall air of of a natural, casual grace. The all-over patterned chūya obi also work well being used for fancy, soft bow type musubi. A chūya obi that has an all over pattern that goes in many different directions is much easier to tie, as you don't need to worry about pattern placement.
A chūya hikinuki obi, however, needs careful thought and consideration in tying to ensure that the pattern on the otaiko portion is up the correct way. This often requires quite a bit of adjustment while dressing along with a different method of tying the musubi itself. Some longer chūya hikinuki can successfully be tied using the niijudaiko method, however, for shorter chūya hikinuki or one that has been converted to a Nagoya obi, this method from Toma-san's website will be of great help:
Two other methods of tying with chūya hikinuki. While these are with Nagoya hikinuki, the same method can easily be applied to an unconverted chūya:
Chūya Obi Examples
Chūya Hikinuki Obi Examples