Obi: The Fascination Behind it

Obi: The Fascination Behind it

If you’ve watched anime and Japanese shows, you probably have noticed the presence of a wide sash or belt often used to wrap around the waist of its wearer in order to secure the kimono or yukata underneath. Yep, that long decorative belt is what we call obi! But the question is, what makes obi fabrics so fascinating to the fashion world? Well, there are a number of reasons as to why they are deemed captivating. Here’s to name a few:

A bit of History

Obi (not wan kenobi) originated as a simple thin belt in the Heian period of Japan and was later developed into a belt with different sizes, proportions, lengths and methods of tying. This long belt is worn with both traditional Japanese clothing as well as their martial arts uniforms. A woman’s obi usually measures around 145.7 inches long and 10 inches wide, while a man’s obi would normally be somewhere around 62.4 inches long and 1.7 inches wide. It was in the early 18th century that the obi evolved into the contemporary, wide brocaded or embroidered belt that we commonly see today.

The Various Types of Obi Belts

There are many types of obi present in Japan’s fashion scene. Each with their own unique style and size. Here are 4 of the most common ones:

a) Heko Obi - Originally part of the Satsuma’s soldiers’ uniforms in the early Meiji era. This obi is much thinner and softer than the other types of obi. Initially, only men would wear Heko obi but during the late 20th century, women also adopted them. In the present day, both men and women can be seen wearing this obi, especially paired with a yukata.

b) Nagoya Obi - This name comes from the city of Nagoya where it was first popularized. It is the most common obi these days. Shorter than other types of obi, Nagoya obi has a distinguished structure where one end is folded and sewn in half while the other end is full of width - all to make it easier to be used for particular knots such as the Taiko Musubi (drum knot).

c) Fukuro Obi - Your standard traditional formal style obi. Fukuro obi or ‘pouch obi’ is usually made from either a single double-width length of fabric with a seam down one edge, or from two lengths of fabric sewn together down each edge. It’s called a bag belt due to the fact that it is sewn in two parts. Some say that it is hard to tell Fukuro obi from Maru obi when either one is worn.

d) Hanhaba Obi - It is half the width of Fukuro obi, hence the name Hanhaba obi (half-width obi). Due to their smaller width, they are easier to tie when compared to Fukuro obi. They are a less formal choice among the obi family and are popular thanks to their colorful designs and relatively cheap prices. You can fold and twist them in several ways (this method is known as reversible Hanhaba obi) to create colorful effects.

Different Fabrics Used in Obi Belts

The traditional obi belts are made from different ranges of materials namely cotton, linen, hemp,  polyester, and silk, whereas the more modern obi are made of leather, denim, plastic, and lace.  Usually, heavy brocade weaves are worn for formal occasions whereas the lightweight silk obi are worn for informal events.

Plentiful Designs

In relation to the different fabrics being used, the design used on each fabric also varies from one obi to another. The most common ones include:

a) Floral theme designs featuring chrysanthemum and cherry blossoms

b) Natural theme designs that portray the auspicious bamboo, pine, and waves

c) Animal theme designs where cranes and pheasants are most commonly used

d) Geometric theme patterns that include hexagons and fans

e) Literary theme designs that showcase the entire scenes of any literature tales

However, don’t be surprised if you come across obi with anime characters or even random patterns such as candies and skeletons embroidered on them. They are most likely modern day obi created by modern designers.

How Much does it Cost?

The fancier the obi, the higher the price will be. Brocade or silk obi that are usually worn for special occasions for instance, would normally cost more than the kimono itself. However, an obi that is bought second-hand is much cheaper than a brand new one (a good option if you’re on a budget). There’s no specific range of price to be put on this unique fashion piece as the price varies according to the type of fabric used as well as the quality of the craftsmanship involved. But the lowest high quality one that we’ve come across is around $30 per belt.

That pretty much sums up what we’d like to share about this obi. Hope you learned something new!