Murasaki Shikibu writing her stories about Genji, wearing jûni-hitoe.

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 JÛNI-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.


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 shôzokushô). 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.

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Scroll from The Kura

Scroll from The Kura, Kyoto




The formal court outfit known as JÛNI-HITOE, translated as
"12 layered kimono" which in one period had up to 20 layers but later, controlled by the government, held about 5 layers of kimonos, was composed of the following items of clothing:

KOSODE, underkimono with small sleeves.
Chemise or unlined first layer of a set of gowns.
The 5 layers of lined UCHIGI or KINU robes
Is worn between utsutsuginu and uwagi.
Made of beaten down silk, stiff silk garment that hardly
showed but provided stiffening for the formal gowns.
Formal over-robe. It´s fabric was prescribed by rank
and contained woven patterns. Had a trail, the longer the trail
the higher the position of the lady.
Short chinese jacket.
Worn with the mo, brocaded or embroidered or painted.
Apron skirt that was worn on the back as a “train"
HI-ÔGI or AKOME-ÔGI court fan
Underneath the whole outfit a HAKAMA or HARIBAKAMA (extra long trousers) are worn in the colours scarlet-pink
or purple, depending on the combination chosen.
Additionaly it is possible to wear a:
Dressing gown. Patterned small cut robe
that could be thrown over the layered uchigi to give a slightly more dressed effect


The colours used were controlled by the governement. Certain colours were only worn by people in certain levels of the japanese population. For court outfits the following were the main basic colours used. Lighter and darker variations were made by dying the material more or less times than the base colour needed.

For more variations see the Colours page.

Japanese name


HTML code

ao blue green #465B22
moegi sprout green #519324
shiro white #FFFFFF
yamabuki golden-yellow #F2C539
kuchiba old leaf tan #F6C64F
suo maroon #990000
kurenai scarlet pink #CC0000
murasaki purple #721C65
kobai plum-pink #D25376


MADE BY: The Takata Institute of Japanese Imperial Classical Costume in Tokyo.


NYÔBÔ SHÔZOKU (costume for a Court lady-in-waiting) and the equivalent male version.


How the MO is worn!

Colours of the different layers of the costume seen at the sleeves.

From the right to the left:


KARAGINU murasaki

UWAGI moegi

UCHIGINU dark yamabuki

ITSUTSUGINU the first dark kurenai,

the second dark yamabuki

the third light moegi

the fourth moegi

the fifth dark moegi

HITOE kurenai


Empress Consort Haruko
Empress Consort Haruko - 1849-1914 (Empress Shôken, consort to Emperor Meiji)
Emrpess Teimei -1912
Emrpess Teimei - 1884-1951 (consort of Emperor Taishô) Photograph 1912
Empress Nagako - 1926
Empress Kôjun - 1903-2000 (consort to Emperor Shôwa or Hirohito) Photograph 1926
His Imperial Highness Kaya Tsunenori and  consor Toshiko
His Imperial Highness Kaya Tsunenori (1900-1978) and consort Toshiko (1903-1993)
Prince and princess Akishino
Prince and princess Akishino - photograph 1990



Liza Dalby – Kimono, fashioning cultura

http://www.sengokudaimyo.com/garb/garb.html a history of Japanese clothing and accessories

 http://www.kariginu.jp KIYOUKAI

http://www.iz2.or.jp/english/index.htm The Costume Museum, Kyoto

www.yusoku.com Yusoku

http://www.takata-courtrobe.co.jp The Takata Institute of Japanese Imperial Classical Costume

Takakura - Europalia 89, Japan in Belgium


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