This is a lovely mother and daughter photograph I have in my collection. While I was drawn to it for a number of reasons, the fact all three of them were wearing plaid kimono really captivated my attention.
In the West, we might call this particular pattern (or variations of it) plaid, tartan, tattersall or madras. It may also fall within some variation of gingham. In Japan however, it is called kōshi (格子), which translates to “lattice“.
Kōshi by itself is a generic term for this plaid pattern and there are many variations. Quite a few combinations have their own special names, with name originating from how it looks or being associated with people who made a certain combination famous.
Historically, while occasionally appearing on the kasuri cloth of farmers, kōshi became a popular pattern during Edo and Meiji era along with shima (stripes). In his pattern sourcebook, Nakamura Shigeki explains that the people of Edo felt that regular checkered patterns (ichimatsu) were unsophisticated, however, the long thin shape of the lines in kōshi was considered elegant and unusual. Kōshi was adopted primarily by the women of Shitamachi (low-city) – merchant wives and daughters, women of the red light district, etc. In Dalby’s book, Kimono: Fashioning Culture, she mentions:
“In early Meiji, for example, the outfit that epitomized the taste of a young woman from the low city was a kimono of yellow plaid kihachiyō in taffeta or a similar stiff silk, with an attached black satin collar (kake-eri)”
However, towards the end of Meiji, heading into Taishō, while kōshi was still worn by low-city women, the fashion styles started to shift to take on those of high-city. Continuing from above, Dalby quotes from Playwright Hasegawa Shigure’s work title Zuihitsu kimono (essays on kimono):
“The girls from the low city thought the high city mode [of wearing kimono] was not chic at all. Yet at the same time, they could not avoid being impressed by the image of the ‘new intellectual woman’ projected by such a style. As a result, they took the black satin collars off their kimono and began wearing white unpatterned collars for their under-robes…
Whenever you saw a low-city girl wearing her yellow plaid kimono minus its strip of black satin, you would notice that her undercollar was white, and that she wore a floppy lavender muslin obi. Was her hair in a Gibson girl bun and decorated with a silver rose? Then you knew that you were looking at a girl who, whether consciously or not, was displaying her desire to pick up some of the new learning, to liberate herself from her family.”
Kōshi Pattern in Kabuki
During the Edo period, kabuki actors and geisha highly influenced kimono fashions and it’s not surprising to learn that a number of popular kōshi variations originate from kabuki.
Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi of kabuki actor Ichikawa Hakuen.
Image credit: kuniyoshiproject.com
A small example of kōshi patterns named after famous kabuki characters or actors who wore the pattern:
A plaid pattern often used on the costume of kabuki character, Benkei.
Made famous by Kabuki actor Matsumoto Koshiro – named after his family, Karaiya
Originated from kabuki actor, Ichikawa Danjuro
|Image credit: Melcer.Culture Tenugui Page|
Kōshi Pattern in Art
Kimono with kōshi pattern were depicted frequently in ukiyo-e, often on fashionable young women around town, geisha and kabuki actors. The artist, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, produced a series of ukiyo-e prints of women wearing “Benkei-checked” kimono called: Shimazoroi Onna Benkei Ichinotani Futaba Gunki (Beautiful Women Dressed in Kimono with Benkei-style Pattern: Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani).
|Image credit: kuniyoshiproject.com|
Kōshi Pattern Today
Kōshi patterned kimono are quite popular with modern day kitsuke enthusiast and provide a fantastic backdrop for all sorts of creative ensembles suitable for around the home, or dressed up for townwear. I personally don’t own a large number of kōshi patterned pieces, however a number of my kimono friends do – and they have kindly let me show them off to you!
My dear friend Diane, who proclaimed that being of Scots descent, she can’t resist buying plaid kimono:
And the fabulous Lyuba of Strawberry Kimono, who is an expert at creating wonderfully unique ensembles with stripes and plaids!
I wish I could provide you with further in-depth information about the history of kōshi pattern on kimono and specific meanings, but it was surprisingly difficult to research! If you have any tidbits that I’ve missed, please feel free to share.
P.S. Koshi (腰) and kōshi (格子) are two different things! You may already be familiar with the word “koshi”. “Koshi” without the macron means “hip” – as in ‘koshihimo’ – hip tie. An alternative romaji for kōshi would be typing the longer vowel out in full: “koushi”.”