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What is what
Contemporary reproductions
Examples from the Tokyo National Museum collection

Examples from the Costume Museum Kyoto collection

Colour definitions
Textile designs
The wardrobe of Empress Tashi
Other combinations



Murasaki Shikibu writing her stories about Genji, wearing jūni-hitoe, looking at a silver moon.

Is the name used to define the colour combinations used for HEIAN (794 to 1185) period formal female court attire. During this period in the Japanese Court the ladies-in-waiting, princesses and empresses wore a specific style of dress that was based originally on a Chinese style of dress.

As always the japanese adapted this to their own desires and from that emerged the style of dress generally known as JūNI-HITOE, or roughly translated "12 layer robes". The name came from the many layers of robes, of the same shape but diferent colours, that were worn over each other. During the early HEIAN period the number of layers could go up to 20, resulting in governamental rules to be placed on the amount of layers that could be worn. Imagening the amount of weight that must have been to carry around, it is not surprising that these women didn´t actually walk much, but generally crawled small distances and needed help of assistants to move larger distances. The new laws decreased the amount of layers to around 5, not including any official over-robes that could be worn.

The name for these 5 layers is ITSUTSUGINU (being 5 KINU or UCHIGI robes. Below the ITSUTSUGINU a robe called HITOE was worn and a style of underwear known as KOSODE (small sleeves) which is the origin of the dress we know as kimono. Over the ITSUTSUGINU a few styles of robe could be worn, like ICHIGINU or UWAGI and a jacket known as KARAGINU with a type of apron worn at the back known as MO.

Nature, not only the heat and cold but also period of the year, had a large influence on the styles and colour combinations that could be worn during the year. This resulted in rules and regulations in colour and materials in diferent styles with names that would identify them. In the Japanese Court it was very important to be aware of the and dress accordingly. Making the right choice in dress could make or brake one´s career and name.

These pages try to explain and visualise in brief what it looked like to be dressed in this style of attire and how the colours and styles of material would have looked like.

Scroll from The Kura

Scroll from The Kura, Kyoto


Small book print

Court dress of that period is invariably described in the diferent novels or pillow-books of that period, ie. The tale of Genji and The pillow-book of Sei Shonagon. One oficial record that has been preserved is the list of combinations written by Minamoto Masasuke para Senior Grand Empress Tashi in around 1160. That document is known as " Colours for a Court Lady´s Dress" which is part of Masasuke's notes on court costume (Masasuke shōzokushō). It also contains additional notes assumed to be by the empress herself. These colour combinations can be found in the seccion The wardrobe of Empress Tashi.

Currently this style of costume is only worn by female members of the Emperor´s family coronation purposes or any princess at their wedding.